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The OCR Glossary

Corporate Communication Axioms

James S. O’Rourke IV

Corporate communication axioms comprise those principles known to be true about the practice of communication in a corporate environment. An axiom is a statement or proposition that is regarded as established, accepted, or self-evidently true. In mathematics and the physical sciences, axiomatic principles are derived from repeated, independent observation.

In large and complex organizations, senior management now regard independent, repeated observation of certain principles as essential to their management of corporate reputation. In particular, they see reputation as a strategic asset that is both measurable and manageable and that funnels direct value to the organizational balance sheet.

The most effective programs in corporate communication are all closely connected to and supportive of the goals and strategies of the organizations that employ them. In each case, they involve an effective link between corporate communication goals, strategies, tactics and activities, and organizational strategy. They also involve careful and continuing analysis of constituencies and appropriately crafted and delivered messages.

Corporate reputation is typically seen as the outcome of a competitive process in which management signal the firm’s key characteristics to constituents to manage its social standing. This process, in the majority of large and complex organizations, is overseen by the chief executive but managed day to day by the chief communication officer and the organization’s corporate communication staff. This entry explains the link between measurable business goals and communication strategy and then defines the three basic axioms of corporate communication.

The Development of Strategy

The development of strategy in a corporate communication program begins with an examination of the goals of the organization. This should include an analysis of its goals, how they differ from those of competitors in the same industrial category, the resources available to achieve these goals, the metrics for assessing the achievement of these goals, and the credibility of the organization among its key constituencies.

Strategy development seeks to analyze the constituencies with a stake in the organization. This includes identifying who they are, what they know of the business and its goals, and how they feel about the organization, its products and services, and the issues affecting its success.

The process then moves on to a development of messages and images. This customarily includes channel selection and message structure, including what should be said, how it is said, the approach and tone for carrying the message, and any visual images or iconography that should accompany and support the message.

Finally, communication strategy involves a careful assessment of the organization’s constituent responses. This includes an analysis of the audiences’ reception and understanding of the messages as intended, their response, and the organization’s expectations.

Three Axioms of Corporate Communication

To successfully manage corporate reputation, successful corporate communication professionals have shown three components of their strategy to be axiomatically essential.

  1. The first axiom of corporate communication is that the business organization must adopt and employ sound policies in the public interest. Since all business in a democratic country begins with public permission and exists by public approval, each business must seek to serve the interests of the public and eliminate policies that cause serious or widespread disapproval. Arthur W. Page, a former public relations executive with AT&T, said that real success lies in a big enterprise conducting itself in the public interest in such a way that the public gives it sufficient freedom to serve effectively.
  2. The second axiom involves competent performance. This means that the organization must deliver on its brand promise by doing for its customers and constituencies exactly what it said it would. There is no requirement of excellence here. Simple competence in fulfilling the policies and promises set forth by the organization will help it achieve the goals it has established. A manufacturing product recall, for example, is a clear indication of performance failure. The organization in question would not have established policies permitting the production of inferior products, yet this occasionally happens. The withdrawal or recall of those products from the marketplace, accompanied by an appropriate apology and promise of better future performance, is a pledge to uphold this axiom.
  3. The third, and final, axiom of successful corporate communication programs is swift and accurate communication. This means that those who communicate on behalf of the organization must convey information, images, and impressions that are accurate, fair, undistorted, and as complete as possible in a timely fashion. Upholding this axiom generally means using as much transparency in the information gathering, decision making, and execution of strategy as possible and ensuring that some action is taken. Given that management is a profession with a bias for action, stakeholders expect the managers of an enterprise to do more than talk about their intentions. They expect to receive a full explanation of the actions planned and actions taken on their behalf.

Communication is not first among the tools or concerns of an organization; its policies are, followed closely by its practices. Only then does communication come into the picture. These axioms ask the following questions: Who are we as an organization? What have we promised to our customers, shareholders, communities, employees, and others? Has this organization performed to the very best of its ability? Have our managers and employees delivered on the promise implied or expressed in our brand? And, finally, have we told the truth about the organization, its products, its services, and the role the company plays in the lives of those who have an interest in us and what we do?

Alsop, R. J. (2004). The 18 immutable laws of corporate reputation: Creating, protecting, and repairing your most valuable asset. New York: Wall Street Journal Books.

Carreras, E., Alloza, A., & Carreras, A. (2013). Corporate reputation. London: LID.

Doorley, J., & Garcia, H. F. (2011). Reputation management: The key to successful public relations and corporate communication

(2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Fombrun, C. J. (1996). Reputation: Realizing value from the corporate image. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Griswold, G., Jr. (1967). How AT&T public relations developed. Public Relations Quarterly, 12, 1.

O’Rourke, J. S. (2013). Corporate reputation and the discipline of management communication. In C. E. Carroll (Ed.), The handbook of communication and corporate reputation (pp. 72–80). Oxford: Blackwell.

Seitel, F. P., & Doorley, J. (2012). Rethinking reputation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

See Also

Codes of Conduct; Constituents; Corporate Advocacy; Corporate Communication; Corporate Communication Policies; Corporate Social Responsibility; Corporate Social Responsibility, Communication of; Disclosure; Ethics of Reputation Management; Ethos; Executive Leadership; Feedback; Issues Management; Leadership’s Role in Reputation; Message Integrity; Messages; Moments of Truth; Organizational and Corporate Image; Organizational Identity; Organizational Integrity; Organizational Listening; Organizational Trust; Source Credibility; Strategic Alignment; Strategy; Transparency

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