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Leaders must embrace strategic communication

Opinion & Analysis
Prior to his latest appointments, he was an associate professor and a deputy head of communication department at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, Windhoek.

STRATEGIC communication is important for corporate and leadership effectiveness. Our columnist Jonah Nyoni (JN) engages Prof Admire Mare (AM), an expert with vast experience in strategic communication.

He is the head of department for communication and media studies at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also a research fellow at the African Centre for the Study of the United States, and also at University of the Witwatersrand.

Prior to his latest appointments, he was an associate professor and a deputy head of communication department at the Namibia University of Science and Technology, Windhoek.

He is an active member of various associations including International Communication Association, International Association of Internet Researchers, International Association for Media and Communication Research and South African Communication Association. Find excerpts of the interview below:

JN: How do we communicate and instil a culture of reinvention in a company?

AM: There is need to come up with a proactive and deliberate communication policy that prioritises stakeholder participation, consultation and ongoing feedback and feed forward.

Most companies are stuck in what I call corporate stasis because open and dialogical communication is rarely encouraged.

Most communication tends to be top-down which further reinforces the assumption that top executives are the only fountains of wisdom and inventions. This stifles corporate intrapreneurship.

JN: Strategic corporate communication (SCC) is building momentum. Can (or should) every company embrace SCC?

AM: Indeed, because at the heart of strategic corporate communication is stakeholder engagement and harnessing multiple communicative platforms so as to create mutually-shared meanings.

Communication that does not enhance mutual understanding between various stakeholders does not help companies to maximise their visibility, return on social investment and corporate image.

JN: How important is artificial intelligence (AI) in SCC and how can companies start to apply AI in their communication endeavours?

AM: AI is the current big thing in communication and other spheres of life. Although not entirely new, AI involves the use of systems, apps and algorithms that can undertake human-like tasks.

In corporate communication, we are increasingly seeing AI being used to write Press statements, schedule meetings, chatbots used to engage various stakeholders and answer queries.

We are also seeing AI tools used to transcribe, translate, conduct research, design posters and newsletters. These are tasks which were mostly done by human beings in the recent past.

Some forward-looking companies have started to experiment with a range of AI tools to create text, images, videos, audios and so forth.

JN: How does a leader re-build a damaged brand working collaboratively with team members and stakeholders?

AM: In contemporary firms, a leader is the chief communicator. Persuasive communication requires the leader to set the tone through showing empathy, explaining the efforts that the company is doing to turn the situation around and transparency in terms of acknowledging what the company did wrong for it to experience negative brand perception.

A strong and decisive leader does nor bury his or her head in the sand like an ostrich. He or she adopts participatory communication approaches so that both internal and external stakeholders are able to own and implement the strategy to turn around the fortunes of the damaged brand.

JN: How important is communication audit in improving brand equity?

AM: It is important to constantly conduct communication audits in organisations. Audits have the potential to identify blockages, map out solutions to such situations and diagnose the root causes.

Rumours and gossip are often symptoms of structural official communication breakdown within organisations. Communication audits are often able to trace the origins of communication breakdowns.

JN: How important is it for a leader to understand and appreciate the power of a feedback loop?

AM: Without feedback, communication tends to be linear and asymmetrical. It creates a situation where communication is relegated to giving instructions.

Transformative communication is dialogical. It is characterised by empathetic listening, feedback and feed forward.

The feedback loop helps organisations to listen better. Listening organisations tend to have healthy communication cultures and practices.

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