Answer: Organizational communication is defined as the channels and forms of communication in which organizations such as corporations, non-profits, and governmental bodies engage, including both the internal communications that occur within an organization, and external-facing communications between an organization and its stakeholders. Optimizing organizational communication can have a powerful impact on the efficacy of an organization. Individuals with a bachelor’s and/or master’s in organizational communication can work in human resources, employee training and management, public relations and public affairs, marketing, communications consulting, media management, policy and advocacy, and research and instruction, among other areas.

Organizational communication is a broad field that encompasses all forms of communication that allow organizations such as companies, government agencies, and non-profits to function, grow, connect with stakeholders, and contribute to society. Organizational communication includes both internal communications, such as employee training modules, messaging around an organization’s mission, interpersonal communications between management and employees, and professional communication such as emails. It also includes external-facing communications such as public relations announcements, press releases, marketing materials, and branding.

Organizational communication is complex in that there are many moving pieces within an organization, almost all of which require clear communication in order to maximize the efficacy of said organization. Indeed, organizational communication itself is comprised of many forms of information transfer and relationship mediation, from interpersonal communication, group communication, and cross-cultural communication, to mass communication and digital and social media.

Due to the complexity and the importance of organizational communication, there is demand for individuals who are well trained in how to optimize internal communications as well as external-facing communications for corporations, non-profits, government agencies, and similar organizations. Positions in organizational communication range from those in public relations and project management to human resources, marketing, and corporate communication management.

While organizational communication is primarily a professional practitioner’s field, there are also scholars who conduct research on the phenomenon of organizational communication, its components (i.e. interpersonal communication, group communication, media and its influence on human psychology and behavior, etc.), and its sociocultural, economic, and political effects. Scholars of organizational communication might study the impact of certain organizational and hierarchical structures on inter-team communications within an organization, or how internal communication dynamics within a corporation radiate outwards to affect external-facing communications with stakeholders, and subsequently the corporation’s brand identity. Other scholars might examine the intersection of organizational communication and cultural diversity or social justice.

Bachelor’s in Organizational Communication Programs

Bachelor’s degree programs in organizational communication give students a broad, foundational overview of the communication principles and tactics that are central to an organization’s success, such as corporate communication best practices, media relations, interpersonal and group communication, and communication’s role in building and maintaining a strong and trustworthy brand identity. Undergraduate students who major in organizational communication can expect to take courses on the essential theories of communication, communication research methods, interpersonal communication and relationship management, multicultural and international communication, organizational leadership, group and team dynamics, marketing and public relations, public speaking, communication ethics, and risk and crisis communication. Depending on the program, students might also be required to take courses in business development principles to supplement their communication-specific coursework.

Some bachelor’s in organizational communication programs require students to complete an internship in a relevant work setting, and/or a senior project wherein students work on an organizational communication project under the supervision of a faculty advisor. While an internship gives students real-world experience in the organizational communication space, the senior project enables students to research, design, and develop a professional artifact that reflects the knowledge and skills they have gained over the course of their undergraduate education.

Master’s in Organizational Communication Programs

Master’s degree programs in organizational communication equip students with both foundational and advanced training in all key aspects of internal and external communication for an organization, as well as the research methods that should underpin communication strategy development. These programs typically give students concrete skills in areas such as interpersonal and organizational leadership, conflict mediation, public and media relations management, corporate reputation management, crisis communication, and marketing and advertising, with the goal of training professionals to manage and optimize the communications within an organization, as well as the communications between an organization and stakeholders. While the concepts, skills, and research methodologies covered in master’s in organizational communication programs may overlap with those covered in bachelor’s in organizational communication programs, master’s degrees in this field tend to include more advanced research methodologies, and typically focus more on communication management and organizational leadership.

Students of master’s in organizational communication programs are generally required to complete a culminating experience, either in the form of a professional capstone project or a master’s thesis. A professional capstone project is a highly industry-focused deliverable that could take the form of an organizational communication plan, a media outreach campaign, a human resources or employee training module, or another similar project that involves optimizing communications within an organization or between an organization and its stakeholders. The master’s thesis generally has a more academic research bent, and involves students researching a particular issue, problem, or question in the organizational communication field, and conducting qualitative and/or quantitative research to arrive at an answer or potential solution to this question or problem.

While master’s in organizational communication programs tend to focus on communication concepts and skills that are directly applicable to industry, some graduate programs in this field may allow students to pursue a more academic focus in preparation for further study of communication dynamics at the doctoral level. Such programs may have classes that invite students to analyze an organization’s internal and external-facing communications, to investigate interpersonal communication within small groups and large organizations, or to use media relations theory to examine the role of mass rhetoric in shaping the public’s perceptions of a company. Master’s in organizational communication programs that focus more on research are more likely to require a master’s thesis, rather than a professional project, for students’ culminating experience.

For more information about the curriculum for master’s in organizational communication programs, as well as other degree requirements and a sample course schedule, please refer to our Master’s in Organizational, Corporate and Business Communication Programs page.

Careers in Organizational Communication

Graduates of bachelor’s and master’s programs in corporate or organizational communication can work at companies in both the private and the public sectors, facilitating and improving channels of communication between managers and their employees, company leadership and the public, and leaders of different companies in the formation of partnerships. Organizational communication professionals may specialize in one area of corporate communication, or oversee communications across multiple departments within a company. Examples of roles that graduates of bachelor’s and/or master’s programs in corporate and organizational communication may pursue after they graduate include:

  • Corporate Communication Consultants: Corporate communication consultants work for companies that help other corporations improve their internal and/or external communication. For example, they may design and implement initiatives aimed at improving employee engagement, team-building, or leadership training. Or they may work with the marketing department of a company to revamp the company’s brand messaging. They may even work closely with company leadership to help them clarify or revise their organization’s mission statement, and to change internal and customer-facing communications accordingly. Consultants also help managers within companies to communicate more effectively with employees under their supervision.
  • Marketing Directors: Marketing directors oversee the design and creation of advertisements and marketing content that promote a company’s products or services. They typically manage a team of marketing specialists, and supervise the progress of multiple marketing initiatives simultaneously. Marketing directors combine an expert understanding of their company’s industry (e.g. tech products, education, clothes and fashion, etc.) with their training in effective customer-facing communication to create engaging content that builds their company’s customer base and brand identity.
  • Public Relations Directors: Public relations directors manage a company’s public image, and its relationship with all parties external to the company, including consumers, investors, and other companies. They typically supervise a team of public relations specialists, who craft external-facing communications such as press releases, informational content both online and in print, social media posts, and speeches, all of which aim to maintain the positive reputation of a company and its leadership. PR directors and their staff also collaborate with other departments to organize speaking engagements and business events and facilitate partnerships with other companies.
  • Project Managers: Project managers, while not strictly communication professionals, employ strong interpersonal and organizational communication skills in order to push a particular project forward. They coordinate teams from different departments across their company (e.g. the finance department, the engineering or product design department, the marketing department, the legal department, etc.) in order to ensure that their project is adequately funded, is designed with the consumer in mind, passes legal considerations, and is launched at a time that aligns with when the marketing department can promote it. All of these tasks require that project managers possess a strong understanding of their company’s organizational structure, as well as the kinds of communication to employ when working with people from different departments.
  • Human Resources Specialists and Directors: Human resource specialists and directors serve as the point-person for employees within an organization. They guide new employees through a company’s internal systems and protocols, and also develop training materials and modules to support employees’ development and success.
  • Managers: Managers across all fields, from product management to project management, employ strong interpersonal communication skills and a solid understanding of corporate communications to support the teams under their supervision, facilitate progress on key projects, and to uphold a company’s mission statement.
  • Public Affairs Specialists and Advocacy Specialists: Public affairs and advocacy specialists work in governmental agencies and at political non-profits to help these organizations connect with and educate the public. They use their strong understanding of organizational communication and sociopolitical issues to advance the policy and social service objectives of their organization.
  • Media Researchers: Media researchers use their understanding of communication theory, rhetorical criticism, and organizational dynamics to gather data on and analyze how systems of communication operate and evolve across a variety of contexts, from sociocultural to organizational to political. They often write about and publish their findings in articles that inform both people in academia and people in industry about the landscape of communication across different fields.
  • Professors of Communication: Professors of communication conduct scholarly research on how communication impacts society and social institutions, as well as how communication operates at the individual, group, organizational, and community levels. They also teach undergraduate and graduate courses in communication, providing students with theoretical knowledge and applied skills in general and specialized areas of communication. While some positions may require a doctorate in communication or a related field, others positions may be open to graduates of a master’s program. This is also typically true for teaching positions at the community college level.

Note: Organizational communication is a broad field that covers a diversity of professional roles, teams, and departments. Due to the diversity of roles within the field of organizational communication, employer expectations for candidates likewise vary. While some employers may prefer and/or require a master’s degree in organizational communication for management positions, others may only require a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication or a related field, provided they have professional experience to demonstrate the necessary competencies for the job.

Due to the variance in employers’ expectations for potential hires, candidates should research their desired places of employment, as well as the expectations for the specific positions to which they are applying. Finally, while a master’s degree might not be required for many organizational communication roles in industry, positions that involve intensive research and/or teaching in academia will generally require candidates to hold a master’s degree or higher.