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Merging turf: why communication and business consulting are converging.

Why? Most of all, because business realities are rewriting the book on some critical fundamentals.

Take the term "headquarters." What is a "headquarters" in the world of modem global business? In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Robert Reich gives one answer: "Headquarters for the new global web (or corporation) can simply be an office suite near an international airport - a communication center where the web's threads intersect."

For a city to host a headquarters used to be big business. Reich talks about the 1988 move of RJR-Nabisco's from Winston-Salem to Atlanta. Atlanta was expecting the relocation of a Goliath. What Atlanta got was "leased space in a mall, housing only 450 employees."

To me, the key observation Reich makes is that corporate headquarters is now a communication center. As business competition becomes more international, the overriding purpose of a headquarters is to overcome the national and cultural differences that stymie business effectiveness.

That is the first of five reasons why business and communication consulting are converging. Here are four more:

As results are measured more often from the standpoint of the customer, the lines of responsibility inside organizations are collapsing. A recent piece in the Economist says, "In order to allocate work more effectively, companies are breaking down demarcation lines between white-collar jobs." Improving customer service is a strong force behind this. Why should it take an insurance company - as the article points out - 22 days to approve a policy application, if only 17 minutes of interdepartmental work are needed to get the job done? Teamwork solves the problem, and teamwork demands carefully thought-out communication.

There is more and more reliance on outside organizations. Be it strategic partnerships or single-source vendors supplying products, companies are no longer sole masters of their own destiny. They must communicate constantly and carefully to grow in importance. More and more communication advice focuses on the nuances of these relationships.

The pressure on bottom-line results is unrelenting. We have entered an era of continuous, if not perpetual, restructuring. How many companies are finding that they must re-tighten their belts at least once a year to deliver their financial targets? Executives are learning that the communication element of any reorganization is probably the single most crucial factor to its success.

Information has made the asset values of companies more volatile. The "most-active" list on the nightly CNBC business report is often a savage chronicle of what a single day's trading can do to the asset values of a business. Negative information cuts deeper and faster than ever in the past, and sturdy communication relationships with the financial community and the press are the only real protective strategy. This requires advice that is as steeped in business knowledge as communication know-how.

For these and other reasons, the kinds of advice top managers are looking for today is really a combination of sophisticated communication thinking and very strategic business insight.

If this is the trend, what should our profession be doing about it?

First, professional communicators need more business experience. It should be operational, and it should be early in their careers.

Second, we must condition management to involve communicators in business issues before a crisis percolates or a watershed event is announced. There is a communication flipside to every step of a business plan, but it is up to us to show management that it is beneficial to look at things that way.

Third, our industry frankly needs different role models, not technical communicators, but communication-skilled general managers. It is time that the communication curricula turned the spotlight to communication-smart general managers like Ge's Jack Welch and Wal-Mart's Sam Walton to find out what makes them tick ... and tick so well ... as business communicators.

Fourth, we need to anticipate issues and bring them to top management.

The changes in governance, the investor base and basic issues like health care costs have enormous implications for the future.

The merger of business counsel and communication counsel is irreversible, and we cannot be intimidated by it. But, communicators who do not put business first and who try to survive this change leaning on yesterday's skills and attitudes will find themselves chasing a fast-moving train into the next millennium.

Robert L. Dilenschneider is president of The Dilenschneider Group, New York City, which he formed in October, 1991.


Many companies profess to a commitment to communication, and print mission statements, posters and brochures outlining programs designed to provide information to various audiences and stakeholders. I believe, however, that in companies which truly understand the power of communication and public affairs as an integral part of achieving business objectives, there is one key distinction: Internal systems and structures support and reflect the company's commitment to communication through remuneration as well as through recruitment, promotion and appraisal processes. In other words, communication skills proficiency is incorporated into position discriptions throughout the organizations, and employees are routinely recognized and rewarded for their communication expertise as one of the elements of their jobs.

--Sharon Paul, ABC Executive vice-president,

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COPYRIGHT 1992 International Association of Business Communicators
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Section 2: Dealing with Today; Looking Back from the Future; includes related article
Author:Dilenschneider, Robert L.
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:From Canada to California: new directions in corporate communication.
Next Article:The legend of Lester.

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