Corporate communication teams are often based at the global headquarters, but they recognize that they can’t do it alone. HQ-based communicators often depend on people in regional offices who are responsible for communications in one or more countries. APAC (Asia-Pacific countries) and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), ECE (East and Central Europe) are common groupings.
Communications people in the countries and the regional offices are in a unique position. They have some support from corporate of course, but they don’t have deep resources of their own. They may be working in small, dispersed teams, or even entirely on their own.
How can the collaboration between HQ and regional communicators be optimized? What do they need from each other?
Inko Club invited Aniisu K Verghese, Director Corporate Communications at Sabre India, and independent consultant Ray Walsh to write a response.
Aniisu K Verghese
With the pandemic reshaping the workplace and expectations of staff in terms of what type and form of communication they prefer and expect, organizations need to revisit current practices. Operating in a hub and spoke model may not always work when digital communication is all pervasive. Local teams expect inclusion in key decisions regarding communications while HQ may need to provide broad direction on the overarching objectives. There needs to be mutual respect for the respective roles and functions, irrespective of where they sit or report to and through that stems collaboration and partnership. Stakeholders expect speed and a rigor to communications even if at times, aesthetics can be put aside for the greater good.
The model of internal communications and how it needs to function is determined by how the organization is structured, the goals of the function and the capacity the team has. Only when the communications function is deeply embedded and has goals aligned with the organization can they succeed. Therefore, sitting afar and assuming that teams will reach out when there is a need will result in the team’s credibility eroding swiftly.
Instead, the communications function needs to be actively engaged, seek to understand business problems and partner to succeed. In larger organizations where you have more internal communications staff, you can have a business partnering model. In small firms, you need to be more creative and involve and include staff to contribute over and beyond as communicators and advocates.
Communicators at corporate often ask for more from the regions than they give in return. As they design their campaigns, they imagine local examples, so they request photos, videos, and testimonials. Once the campaigns are designed, they expect distribution, event support, and sometimes executive hand-holding during on-site visits. These are not huge requests, but they add up.
Corporate teams at HQ will get much more if they can evolve and see their relationship with the regions as a two-way street. In fact, the support that they give can be much more valuable to the organization than the requests they want fulfilled.
High-quality corporate support for the countries and regions comes in two categories: practical and moral.
When you work at headquarters, it’s relatively easy to pick up on the zeitgeist and current preferences of leadership.
Those in the regions and countries are more isolated from these perspectives. If you expect them to create communications that are consistent with global deliverables, they need practical assets that are up-to-date and ready to roll.
At a minimum, HQ should provide regularly updated key messages for frequent topics, and templates designed for presentations, email blasts, social posts, video signage, or any other channel leaders and employees use on a regular basis.
Regions should have easy access to alterable visual assets, a global content/comms calendar, and reasonably efficient translation support.
Of course the regions can use much more. Specifics will vary with the company, but conceptually, I recommend imagining content operations. Content operations is a concept I’m borrowing from marketing and localization. Content operations allow us to create, adapt and re-use more efficiently. If we expect local organizations to create in parallel with HQ, we need to enable them.
There are tools that can help with the complexity and variability of global content delivery. Many of these tools are expensive, but even if it’s executed through spreadsheets, a content operations mindset could be a step up for most organizations.
Water-cooler chats with comms colleagues are sadly lacking for most country and region communicators. Their surrounding colleagues are often from other functions, and business people rarely understand the research and measurement that communications professionals require.
In other words, it can be a lonely place.
Whether they are formally part of the communications function, or whether they have some kind of hazily understood dotted line to HQ, communicators at the central office need to think about the long-term needs of those in the regions.
If you want them to stay, you need to think about their professional development. Life-long learning may be part of the culture, but what are you really providing them in terms of training? Resources for local training related to communications may be few in their market.
Routine collaboration should also be considered. Do they have access to creative resources that can help them adapt a template, add subtitles to a video, or give something a brand check? These colleagues may be readily available at corporate, and you can say that they’re available any time, but making that happen and budgeting time for it eludes many organizations.
Last, the mentoring of communications resources in locations outside of HQ cannot be assumed. Make sure that communicators of all ages and in all locations have access to mentors who can advise them.
In the long term, local teams can operate as centers of excellence to improve efficiencies, enhance value and drive standardization. Enabling cooperation doesn’t conflict with the traditional activities of communications at headquarters. On the contrary, it complements them and makes them more effective. Moreover, all teams can benefit as they learn more about the cross-cultural aspects of their work. It enables a free flow and exchange of ideas, where teams are better prepared for just about anything that comes along.