Monday, February 1, 2010

Paper #3

Based upon your supplemental readings and your past experience, identify the major themes in the historical development of the field of strategic communication. In other words, why does the field of strategic communication exist?

If we define strategic communication as communication designed to purposefully advance a specific mission, then organizations, corporations, and individuals have always communicated strategically. However, academic study and exploration of the field have been relatively recent. Theoretical focus has instead been on narrower uses of communication within an organization, such as advertising, public relations, and marketing.

By analyzing the roots of these traditional fields, we can better understand the development and uses of strategic communications. Based on our readings, I believe the rise of strategic communications as a defined field is based on three main trends.


Technology has progressed so fast and so far in the past two decades that the communications field has been entirely restructured. These advances have made it difficult to define communication channels and tasks by traditional titles - advertising, marketing, public relations. Communicating organizational goals to an increasingly fragmented media requires a broader study of communications, based on the end goal of the corporation rather than individual departments. Messages - no matter the channel - must be deliberate, focused, and coordinated. However, the increasing speed of these media channels means that real-time responses are required. In order to coordinate the speed and size of information, communications must be managed on a holistic and strategic level.

Sophisticated consumers

In today’s market, increased importance is placed on transparency, interactivity, and the customer experience, rather than one-way information transmittal. Customers demand a relationship with organizations, which is by nature more communication-intensive. This requires that management takes a more central role in developing communications to ensure consistency and high level strategic content. Managers can no longer delegate a one-off press release to a lower level employee and be done with it, nor can they rely on hyperbole and advertising to get their point across. Instead, they must actively manage a high level communications strategy based on honesty and openness. Sophisticated media consumers demand truth, and corporate reputations are increasingly based on this type of consumer goodwill.

The public audience/consumer market is also increasingly segmented, specialized, and global. A high level of expertise is required to adequately address the needs of these audiences, and strategic coordination is essential.

While this trend seems to be more prevalent in today’s technological market, it actually began in the 1920s as journalists exposed the hidden workings of many industries. This era saw the emergence of the first public relations experts, including Arthur W. Page, who stated that management must thoughtfully analyze its overall relation to the public in order to engender public goodwill. Despite economic and business changes, this statement holds true today as consumers continue to hold high expectations of organizations.

Large Corporations

As organizations grow, they tend to become more standardized, but often only within individual departments and functions. Communication between departments becomes difficult as organization charts become more complex, and organizational communications can suffer as a result. Because of this fragmentation, there has been a push to integrate interdepartmental communications at a more holistic strategic level.

Experts have suggested a number of structural changes to alleviate this tension, with the essential goal of making communications a function in and of itself, and not a division of other functions.

By allowing communications professionals to operate in different functional units, but under a centralized strategic command, allows even the largest organizations to standardize its message. However, the potential disadvantage of a centralized communications department is the loss of specific functional knowledge, which can be particularly important in a corporate setting. For example, technical communications must be done with an in-depth knowledge of the product/technology, not simply by a communications expert. This challenge of balancing product knowledge with communications expertise is an increasingly important area in the strategic communication field.


It’s particularly interesting to analyze the roots of strategic communications - the field of study is relatively young, yet the practice is as old as communication itself. It’s my belief that these three areas of discussion (technology, sophisticated consumers, and corporation size) give us a starting point for the analysis. However, the true roots of the field will most likely not be identified until many years later, when the field has better established itself and we can track trends over time.

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