What’s in a Name?


What’s the best name for what we do as communications leaders?

As the shapers of corporate reputation, developers of corporate narrative and engager of employees, consumers, investors and communities?

Is it Communications? Corporate Communications? Corporate Affairs? Corporate Relations? Public Relations? Public Affairs?

Other corporate functions have simply translatable, one-word descriptors. Human Resources is about people. Marketing is about products. Finance is about money.

What is the one word that describes communications?

A look at the past, present and future may shed some light on it.

Looking at the past, “communication” comes from the Latin verb “to share.” And sharing certainly is at the heart of what happens in any communication. Yet there’s so much more.

Looking at the present, some of my colleagues in the field recently shared the names of their corporate functions. To my surprise, Corporate Affairs appeared twice as often as Communications.

Perhaps that has to do with the wide variety of functions captured under the corporate umbrella. They can include public relations, employee communications, investor relations, government relations, corporate events and trade shows, and corporate social responsibility, to give a few examples.

Looking at the future, one definition of corporate affairs that appeals to me is its focus on “future changes because they guide companies through industry trends.”

A future orientation is imperative in our rapidly changing world. And that requirement is mainly about our mindset.

The bigger determinant of a functional name is clarity. This takes on even more importance as humans are tasked to process more and more information in less and less time.

If “corporate affairs is essentially about communication,” as several sources stated, then the function should be called what it is. Communications.

One thing I find counterintuitive in the communications field is how much jargon can creep in. The Urban Dictionary defines jargon as “speech or writing having unusual or pretentious vocabulary, convoluted phrasing and vague meaning.”

How often to you come across jargon during your work day? Or in the space of one meting, email or conversation?

It reminds me of a teacher I had in elementary school. When we were learning about verbs, she would ask us to come to the front of the room to demonstrate the action of the verb – for example, crawl, walk or run. If we couldn’t physically show the verb’s action, she said, it probably wasn’t a verb.

That’s a good proof point for jargon. If you – or the speaker – can’t describe the action or the idea in simple, straightforward words, there isn’t enough concrete substance.

Hypothesizing that Corporate Affairs could fall into the jargon category, I conducted a one-day experiment. It had two questions. What do you think someone in Corporate Communications does? What do you think someone in Corporate Affairs does?

Who did I ask? A variety of college-educated people I came in contact with during one weekend day.

For Communications, I heard the words connect, network, brainstorm, innovate and deliver a message. Not bad for people who don’t work in the field.

For Corporate Affairs, I heard silence. I got puzzled looks.

I heard responses like, “I don’t know exactly what the functions are,” and “maybe it has to do with promoting a company’s interests and doing things that help the company behind the scenes.”

So I would advocate calling the function what it is – Communications. Or Corporate Communications.

And what defines the Communications function?

In a word: reputation.

A reputation for being a great place to work. A reputation for providing desirable products and services. A reputation for being an attractive investment. A reputation for being socially and environmentally responsible.

And that reputation must be backed by reality. The organization has to deliver on its promise – on its consumer brand about what the product or service delivers and on its employer brand about what the work experience delivers.

And those brands must be mutually reinforcing. One of the reasons an employer brand will attract the kind of top talent an organization needs is because of the strength and desirability of the consumer brand. And employees are the people who will deliver on the promise of the consumer brand.

These were the powerful learnings in creating an employer brand a few years ago, in partnership with Mark Schumann, author of two books on employer branding, and Michael Ambrozewicz, a communications leader on my team.

Our work led to the creation of an employer brand statement, an underlying strategy and a book that outlined its use for talent acquisition and employee communications.

Today it’s woven through the fabric of our organization and informs everything we do, as we entertain the future.


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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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