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Corporate Communications

How Firms Build their Corporate Narrative

Many companies are updating and refining the unified story they tell the world; this has become more important to get across to an increasingly autonomous workforce, and in an increasingly complex and global marketplace

Corporate communications teams around the world are working hard at the moment to build and present a “corporate narrative” to the world. There are two factors that are the main cause of all this interest and investment. First, companies have become a lot more complex in recent years as they globalize and update their organizational structures; this makes it harder to communicate a single, clear company story.

Second, the amount of information available to people, and the ease with which people can tap into niche sources of information based on their interests – personal or professional – make it increasingly difficult to cut through the noise and engage people with a company story.

Two Trends

But without a cohesive company story, communicators — and their CEOs — fear that messages about the company’s identity and direction will be inconsistent, making the company appear disorganized, or even disingenuous. Early findings from a CEB survey on the topic show two interesting findings about the way firms build a corporate narrative.

  1. The corporate narrative is a small-team effort by the CEO and communications leaders: At most companies, the corporate narrative is conceptualized, constructed, and approved by just a few individuals.

    The conceptualization phase (distilling key themes or ideas) typically involves five people: the CEO, the head of communications, his or her direct reports, and the head of HR or corporate strategy (see chart 1).

    During the construction phase (producing copy or graphical elements), only three individuals are commonly involved: the head of communications and his or her direct reports. Finally, two people have ultimate approval over the corporate narrative: the CEO and the head of communications.

    Since the corporate narrative weaves together core ideas about who the company is and where it’s going, it’s natural to only involve people with an corporate-wide perspective. However, comms teams at a few companies say that conducted employee focus groups to make the corporate narrative feel more representative.

    Median number of people involved in building the corporate narrative, by process step

    Chart 1: Median number of people involved in building the corporate narrative, by process step  Source: CEB analysis

  2. The corporate narrative usually captures the organization’s identity and direction, rather than external dynamics: The typical corporate narrative weaves together eight components: the organization’s purpose, mission, values, vision, strategy, customer value proposition, brand, and culture.

    Just over one-third of companies include some external perspective, such as societal trends and issues that stakeholders care about, or a description of the market and industry trends that will affect company strategy. While this content can create a compelling “hook” for external audiences, it requires more frequent updating.

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