External Engagement by Companies: Some Insights From Recent Research

A New Paradigm in External Engagement

The previous articles in the mass communication module have dwelt on the importance of public relations and media management by companies. The key themes that were discussed were how companies need full time corporate communications teams to interface with the external world and enhance the brand image of the company.

An often used strategy by companies when interacting with the external world or engaging with it is usually through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), high profile initiatives that are designed to generate publicity for the company, and publication of glossy and slick annual reports and brochures that highlight the progress made by the company. However, recent research into external engagement has shown that companies must move beyond these traditional methods of external engagement if they are to reap the benefits of projecting a good brand image.

Indeed, it has been shown that CSR alone has failed to do the job as is evident from the recent Occupy movement across the world where those who felt that the corporations are not socially responsible have demanded that the voices of the silent majority are to be heard. In this respect, companies can follow other aspects in terms of external engagement.

The Norms of External Engagement

The reason why many companies well meaning efforts at external engagement fail is that the expectations from society and governments from corporations have never been higher. This is because of the dominant corporate culture, which makes the citizens, and activists focus on the corporates with a keen eye and point out even the slightest signs of deviance.

Hence, more than ever there is a compelling need for companies to rethink their external engagement strategies and incorporate holistic patterns of engagement when they instruct their corporate communications teams to interface with the external world. The logic behind this strategy is compelling and simple.

A company’s relations with the external world depend on how it manages its interactions with consumers, activists, regulators, and legislators.

In short, the way a company communicates with these stakeholders apart from the shareholders makes a lot of difference to how the company is perceived by society. In this respect, companies have to ensure that external engagement is not standalone or left to the corporate communications team and instead, must incorporate all everyday interactions with the external world. Only then would a company succeed in managing the expectations from all the stakeholders.

The Elements and Components of External Engagement

The fact that every business makes a significant contribution to society however small it might be has to be underscored in this new paradigm of external engagement.

Indeed, businesses create jobs, provide capital, pay taxes, and generate ideas apart from pioneering discoveries and inventions that promote social welfare and social wellbeing.

Hence, the companies have to ensure that their good deeds are publicized far and wide and not through CSR alone. Of course, it can be pointed out that these activities are expected from businesses and hence, there is nothing extraordinary about publicizing them. To answer this, it needs to be pointed out that more often than not, society fails to understand the soundness of businesses and their operations and the trust that these businesses have built over the years.

Hence, companies have every right to reach out to the stakeholders and reestablish connections with them that emphasize the goodness of the company’s work and which result in appreciation of the company’s activities.

In other words, the external engagement must happen at all levels and must be integrated with corporate communications and CSR which means that companies must go all out to reach out to the people through a holistic communications campaign. This can include details about how many people’s lives have been touched and how much the company has contributed to the economy and to its stakeholders.

Finally, the message must be communicated keeping in mind the audience and hence, must be structured accordingly.

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