The blurring of lines in corporate functions
This article was published also in Gulf News.
UAE businesses cannot let their functions be dictated exclusively by marketing.
Organisations in this region have traditionally placed more emphasis on marketing and sales than communications. This manifests itself mainly in local companies where chief marketing officers lead corporate communications functions.
Or at multinationals where a director of corporate communications usually resides outside the region. In some cases, the function even sits under the HR director.
Traditionally, companies looked at their external target audiences with dual lenses. Relationships with stakeholders were managed by public affairs and public relations professionals, while marketing focused on addressing consumers. However, the line between stakeholders and consumers is not so visible anymore.
Stakeholders are often the consumers of a company’s products and services, and their personal experiences with the brand can impact their overall perception. At the same time, consumers who may not have interacted with the company can now become important stakeholders through social media-driven consumer movements through which they engage with a worldwide audience.
This means a closer relationship between brand and reputation than ever before, making alignment of communications and marketing fundamental to a successful business.
For a long time, the communications department was seen as a support function. This leads to poor management of corporate reputation.
The alignment of communications and marketing also changes the role communications plays in companies. Reputation becomes an important non-tangible asset for businesses. Communication, therefore, defines how information flows within the company, engages important stakeholders, and drives relationships between the company and the external world.
Key managerial function
As such, it should be a key managerial function and top in the skill set repertoire of key corporate decision makers and C-Level business leaders.
But this doesn’t seem to be the case in the UAE, according to a recent survey by Leidar and Carma to understand what characteristics employees value in their leaders. The survey asked participants to consider 22 leadership characteristics and rate them in terms of importance as well as in terms of how these are displayed by their companies’ leaders.
The survey found that UAE business leaders are considered by employees to be mainly strong across six key characteristics: confidence, integrity, focus, passion, authenticity and accountability. Of the 40 different industry sectors that featured in the study, only C-Level leaders in the education and marketing sectors seem to have mastered the attribute of communication to an acceptable level.
Furthermore, the 21 UAE family businesses which were benchmarked for the purposes of the same study, were found to have significant gaps in the ways they present their corporate agendas on their websites and social media channels.
In an age when digital media dominate the information consumption habits, companies which fail to eloquently present their own strengths on their own channels are putting their hard-earned reputation equity on the line.
Companies can be damaged if they forget to consider the more intangible internal factors such as staff sentiment and corporate culture.
This growing complexity of the business environment requires new ways of managing people and organisations. The World Economic Forum research shows the evolution of skills needed in organisations facing challenges of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ — the increased building of technology into the way we live our lives.
It stresses a growing role of attributes such as creativity, critical thinking and cognitive flexibility in a future workspace.
Therefore, senior executives can address this challenge by focusing their efforts on developing new communication structures in their organisations that support their vision and engage employees at all levels of the business hierarchy.
Companies need to rethink the way they manage their external communications, by moving away from channel driven strategies to experiential ones, putting the customer and their brand experience at the centre.
UAE-based organisations need to align their business and communication strategies and activities, and work in an integrated manner — from strategies involving their top leadership through to the development and delivery of content.
Managing Partner, MENA, based in Dubai
George is Leidar’s Managing Director in Dubai.