One of the toughest tasks for communicators is to clearly show how we add direct, tangible value to a business. Communication professionals internationally believe proving our value is one of the most important issues confronting practitioners. Responding to this need, a practical Communication Value Circle framework has been developed, which helps communicators to explain the ‘big picture’ about their role and demonstrate how it adds measurable value to the organization.
All too often, senior managers don’t understand the full role of the function, and communication professionals have confused the picture by providing incomplete explanations of the communication value provided. As a result, the role has been perceived by management as a net cost to the organization rather than as a value creator. And yet, as an example, developing and promoting a strong reputation for the CEO as well as the business itself can be worth millions – and even billions to big public companies. This universal problem for communicators needed a solution.
Research laid the foundation
Ansgar Zerfass (Professor of Strategic Communication) and Christine Viertman (post-doctoral researcher) from the University of Leipzig in Germany reviewed hundreds of articles in international academic journals from several communication disciplines to find what the communication function is expected to do in organizations and how the value of these activities is determined.
They found 4 major goals for communication:
- Support business operations internally and externally to facilitate achievement of the organizational mission
- Build reputation, brands and corporate culture
- Encourage and develop trusted relationships with stakeholders to deal with uncertainty in the marketplace
- Monitor for changes in external and internal environments to refine communication strategy and planning if necessary, and to make recommendations about corporate strategy.
Using these broad goals as a foundation, Zerfass and Viertmann developed a ‘Communication Value Circle‘ framework in 2016, which showed for the first time how the communication function contributes directly to corporate success. Then two eminent consultant IABC members, Mary Hills and Amanda Hamilton-Attwell, added some explanatory notes to accompany the framework, as below:
- Defines the primary task of the communication function: To strategically manage and measure the company’s position in the market and with its stakeholders, listening and learning from the external and internal environments, and re-positioning the company and adjusting strategies as market and stakeholder dynamics shift.
- Integrates communication value measurement with existing value frameworks used by other functions in the business that measure value created by corporate strategy.
- Aligns communication measurement with measuring value created by corporate strategy – how the company plans to achieve its mission.
The Communication Value Circle shows an overall view of your corporate communication in a reader-friendly diagram. It enables you to explain to your own staff, to other departments, to executive management and Directors of your organization about the overall role of your communication function and its value. It can be shown to service providers and other appropriate external stakeholders so they clearly understand the scope of your role. The framework would also be valuable for consultants to clarify for clients what the most effective communication function is about.
You can customize the framework to your own situation, using the framework for planning, explaining and managing communication strategies. For instance, you can adapt the model to suit if you are in government, in a non-profit organization, or even in a consultancy of reasonable size. The framework links to established methods, tools and indicators. It shows where communication adds value, the terminology to use, and the communication activities that align with delivering value. By clearly demonstrating how communication contributes to organizational success you will be contributing to your own success in communication management.