Corporate Communication

In a market in which products and services hardly differ from each other, where customers exchange information at any time and publish their experiences with companies and their products, it is increasingly important to ensure competitive advantage by successful communicational work. At this point, corporate communication comes to the fore. The corporate communication´s task is to arrange the interactions between the company and its environment positively communicative management of employees is just as important as the company’s image to the outside (Joep 2008: 4-6).

Corporate communication is the function and process of managing communications between an organization and important stakeholder groups  in its environment. Systematically distinct sections of corporate communication are internal communication, marketing communication and public relations (Zerfaß 2007: 7-8). Prof. Dr. Manfred Bruhn describes corporate communication as the “totality of all communication tools and activities of a company that will be used to represent the company, its products and its services at the relevant internal and external audiences“ (Bruhn 2005: 4).

If reputation is the primary goal of corporate communication the sizes of individual perceptions of relevant stakeholders such as  employees, customers environmental groups are key sub-goals such as trust and credibility. Since reputation depends not only on planned communication, but also on perceived unplanned action, the behavior management is central to corporate communication (Gabler 2012).

Debating crises: The relevance of crisis PR

In the field of corporate communication the crisis PR existed before the stakeholder dialogue. Thereby a crisis is defined by Jonathan Bernstein (1996) as “[…] any situation that is threatening or could threaten to harm people or property, seriously interrupt business, damage reputation and/or negatively impact share value.” Because the reputation of an organization is a nonfinancial but very important value, it is essential for a company to have a crisis strategy. Especially for “companies with strong public presence or whose value greatly depends on their public reputation” (COMMUNICATION Presse und PR 2012) crisis communication is pretty relevant. With crisis PR organizations can protect and defend a public challenge to its reputation activated by individuals, competitors, NGOs, media etc. In addition to handling urgent crisis, crisis PR also means developing preventive measures, establishing a notification system, identifying and knowing your stakeholders and anticipating crisis. If the worst happens: assessing the crisis and in the end riding out the storm as well prepared as possible (Bernstein 1996). Getting through a crisis with a well-thought-out crisis strategy is much easier. Today crisis communication is a part of the stakeholder dialogue.

B2B and B2C – the role of stakeholders

The role of B2B (Business-to-Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) has changed within the organization. Beyond producing goods, offering services and working on new innovations corporations have take social and environmental responsibility. Networking with the society and especially with certain groups has become a central part of their business. Therefore the role of so called stakeholders has become more and more important within corporations. Joep (2008: 42) defines a stakeholder as “[…] any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization´s purpose and objectives”. Stakeholders are differentiated into internal and external groups. Internal stakeholders such as managers, owners and employees are groups within the business that are employed by and work for the organization. External stakeholders are customers, suppliers, the government, press and the community that are not employed by the organization but have a special reciprocity with the firm.

Stakeholder dialogue

As companies aren’t always aware of actual and often inconsistent expectations of their stakeholders it is important to include their opinions (Van Tulder, Kaptein, van Mil and Schilpzand 2004).

“[T]he stakeholder dialogue […] [is therefore an appropriate] instrument […] for facilitating effective communication between company, government, NGOs, science and other societal groups.” (ibid.). In a dialogue, the stakeholders have consequently the possibilities to share views, discuss interests or expectations (cp. ibid.).

Strategies of stakeholder dialogue

Handling stakeholders, companies have several strategies: you can either (1) keep still and don’t give any information to the public, (2) shield and don’t respect the stakeholders’ demands (3) adapt by acting to stakeholders’ claims (4) anticipate by predicting future demands of stakeholders in order to avoid conflicts (5) react but just as the stakeholders articulate their claims or (6) compound the stakeholders’ claims and involve them in finding solutions (Mödinger 2011: S. 16-17).

Instruments for the stakeholder dialogue

There are several instruments that help companies to implement those strategies. Examples include sustainability reports, press releases, the company’s website, specialized publications, newsletters or quality labels though these instruments are rather used to inform stakeholders than to initiate a dialogue. In order to gain an interactive stakeholder exchange companies should add instruments like blogs, social media, roadshows, conferences, workshops or open days.

Instruments like conferences, cooperations, specialized publications or sustainability reports are suitable to address NGOs, politics and industry. In order to support the dialogue with employees one can use measures like newsletters, staff magazines, the company’s intranet or internal workshops. In contrast, roadshows, quality labels, blogs and social media enable a dialogue with customers and consumers ( 2012).

Particularly social media enable a simple stakeholder dialogue with consumers, NGOs or the general public. They serve as a news and information channel for companies as well as a consumer platform where customers can ask individual questions. While stakeholders can publish opinions or questions, companies can react immediately to their comments, select important issues and thus control the dialogue in an easier way. However, social media should not be underestimated since they also give stakeholders the opportunity to accuse a company in public.

Measurements of results and effects

Since the stakeholder dialogue is a part of corporate communication, it is necessary to measure the results and effects in order to legitimize the communication activities towards the management. Measurements can be questionnaires or personal interviews with internal and external stakeholders. As the stakeholder dialogue tends to improve the image of the company, one can use the methods just like rating scales or polarity profiles to get clear stakeholder opinions of the company. Checklists could be used to verify planned targets.

As always in corporate communication, it is very difficult to ascribe specific outcomes and effects to certain measurements, which creates the problem of causality.


Bernstein, Jonathan (1996): The ten steps of crisis communication. In: [Abruf: 22.04.2012].

Bruhn, Manfred (2005): Unternehmens- und Marketingkommunikation: Handbuch für ein integriertes Kommunikationsmanagement. München: Vahlen Franz Gmbh.

COMMUNICATION Presse und PR 2012: Handling crises with strategy and confidence. In: [Abruf: 23.04.2012].

Cornelissen, Joep ( 2008): Corporate Communication. A Guide to Theory and Practice. First edition published 2004, SAGE Publications ltd.: Thousand Oaks, Califonia.

Gabler Verlag (2012): Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon, Stichwort: Unternehmenskommunikation. In: [Stand: 2012; Abruf 28.04.2012]. (2012): Systematisch integrierter Dialog. In: [Stand: 2012; Abruf: 15.04.2012].

Mödinger, Wilfried (2011): Marketing 3.0 – New Issues in Marketing: from integrated marketing communication to the marketing of sustainable leaders. Stuttgart: Hochschule der Medien.

Van Tulder, Kaptein, van Mil and Schilpzand (2004): The Strategic Stakeholder Dialogue. [PDF-Datei].

Zerfaß, Ansgar (2007): „Unternehmenskommunikation  und Kommunikationsmanagement: Grundlagen, Wertschöpfung, Integration.“ In: Piwinger, Manfred/Zerfaß, Ansgar (Hrsg.): Handbuch Unternehmenskommunikation. Wiesbaden: GWV Fachverlage.

Tugce Dizdar, Julia Huebner, Eva Schubert, Natalie Skrzypczyk, Maria Trojan

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