Communication occurs both within an organization (organizational communication) and between organizations and other organizations or individuals (business and corporate communication). In the broadest sense, organizational, business, and corporate communication focus on establishing and managing relationships both internally and externally. Included in this broad field of communication are specialties such as integrated marketing communications, public relations, and strategic communication. This guide is designed to provide students with an overview of the roles and skills in the field, as well as various educational opportunities.
Students should be aware that the definitions discussed above and below that distinguish between different types of communication (e.g., organizational vs corporate) are often more academic in nature, and that in practice these types of communication often overlap and intersect with one another. For example, while some businesses may have separate departments for organizational communication and corporate/business communications, most businesses will combine the functions within one department or even within one or two positions.
Organizational communication uses verbal, written, and electronic methods (e.g. memos, meetings, emails, webinars) to transmit information within an organization. The purpose is to achieve both individual and common goals. Everyone in an organization participates in this flow of communication whether they are in a small business where the owner trains a new employee on how to use the cash register or in a multinational corporation where the CEO presides over a teleconference with all employees. Specific training to participate in organizational communication is not necessary; however, knowledge of communication principles and strategies can help members of an organization to shape their communication to boost efficiency, efficacy, and organizational transparency.
Business and corporate communication uses the same methods of verbal, written, and electronic tools to create and share messages with other organizations (e.g. suppliers, distributors, other businesses) and individuals (e.g. consumers, the public, current and potential customers). Unlike organizational communication, which concerns internal communications within an organization, business and corporate communication is external-facing, and its goal is to establish and grow commerce – the production and distribution of goods and services.
The Association for Business Communication notes that business communication is an interdisciplinary field, drawing from other fields such as communication theory and rhetoric, information systems, linguistics, management, marketing, and public relations. Practitioners may work for large corporations, small businesses, or nonprofits, or they may work as independent consultants. In addition, some choose to remain in academia as researchers and educators.
In addition to these broad fields, there are also sub-specialties or niches that function to promote organizational and corporate communications. These include, but are not limited to:
- Marketing Communications & Integrated Marketing Communications: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), employment growth in the marketing profession is expected to increase by 10% between 2016 and 2026 (latest available data from bls.gov). Marketing professionals assess the current market for their company, product, or service including tracking competing brands; designing and managing marketing campaigns in order to reach the appropriate customers; and tracking and measuring the impact of their marketing communication including the return on investment (ROI). Over the past decade, a growing trend has been to integrate all aspects of marketing efforts together to create a cohesive experience for the intended audience. This has led to the invention of integrated marketing communications (IMC) as a distinct and interdisciplinary field. Most recently, social media has also created a wealth of opportunity in the field of marketing and digital communication.
- Public Relations: While marketing is tied more directly with sales and revenue, public relations is a broader practice of creating a positive reputation for a company and its products or services. Public relations may also be used by individuals (to promote themselves), non-profit organizations (to promote a mission or campaign), and by government agencies (to promote an agenda or to create public support). Public relations professionals develop relationships with the press, with government officials, and with industry leaders. While marketing professionals develop advertising campaigns, public relations professionals write articles that associate their company or product with a positive social impact, and also handle company situations that may impact the organization’s reputation, such as product recalls or a shift in company leadership. Despite these differences, marketing and public relations often overlap, and as mentioned earlier, some companies may combine the responsibilities into one department or even one person.
- Strategic Communication: As both for-profit and non-profit organizations diversify their goals and products/services, strategic communications professionals are tasked with coordinating and integrating the vision, mission, marketing, public relations, and strategic planning for their organization. Just as IMC combines functions of marketing and communication that were previously separated, strategic communication attempts to integrate communication functions (e.g. internal and external communication) across an entire business into one coordinated effort.
A Brief History of Business Communication
Commerce – the exchange of goods and services – has always been a part of human relationships. Communication about commerce has been found in written records of China, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Phoenicia in glyphs, pictographs, ideographs, cuneiform, and alphabet, on clay tablets, papyrus, parchment, pottery, tortoise shells, and wood. There were protocols developed in each time period and culture for how to best communicate but there were no written, established rules.
In 1916, George Burton Hotchkiss published the first textbook on business communications: Business English Its Principles and Practice which was based on long-established rhetorical principles. It covered the essentials of good writing; business forms such as letters, telegrams, and recommendations; how to develop sales and advertising products; and different kinds of filing systems. His book promoted the 5 Cs of communication: clarity, consistency, creativity, content, and connections.
Since then, these simple practices have burgeoned into the many branches of organizational, business, and corporate communication methods, practices, and theories. These all continue to evolve as new technologies are developed. This was as true when the typewriter become widely used in the late 1870s as it is now with the widespread use of social media to promote corporate presence in the 21st century. .
Types of Organizational, Business and Corporate Communication
While all communication originates from one person or a group of individuals, organizational, business, and corporate communication can be categorized according to their source. The formal source of communication can be seen as from the company, where the individual is anonymous; from an individual; or from a system. The communication may be within the company (intra) or outside the company (inter). Examples of types of company, individual, and systems sourced communication include:
- Company sourced:
- Intra: company-wide meetings, employee newsletters, company intranet
- Inter: Twitter posts, annual report, fund raising campaign
- Individual sourced:
- Intra: annual review of employee by manager, team building meetings
- Inter: thank you letter to customer, pricing inquiry to supplier
- Systems sourced:
- Intra: shared files, automated processes
- Inter: ATM user interface, online purchasing, website newsletter signup
Examples of Business Communication Projects
The types of projects that communication professionals engage in will vary depending on several factors including their position, title, experience, the type of organization at which they work, and whether the type of communication is for internal or external audiences. Projects for internal audiences may include the creation or optimization of corporate training and development programs, working with executives to create internal messaging around a company’s mission and goals, or disseminating information to employees during a crisis situation. Typical projects for external communication may include conducting market research, creating or furthering a company’s brand, maintaining or growing a company’s digital presence including their website, monitoring and engaging with customers through social media accounts, or crafting press releases to promote product launches, organizational milestones, key hires, acquisitions, and more.
Below are a few examples of different types of communication projects.
Branding: Just Do It! Most people in the U.S. and many around the world will recognize this short, seemingly commonplace phrase as part of the Nike brand. Branding is a branch of marketing in which the goal is to create a name, logo, a specific set of colors, or even a simple image that consumers will remember. Consistency is key in branding, so that buyers can easily identify a company or a product through small cues such as the Nike swhoosh, the Pepsi colors, or the Apple apple. When a potential customer sees a brand cue they will easily associate that with something they may recognize, trust, prefer and eventually purchase. Branding is a company sourced communication intended primarily for other organizations and individuals.
Crisis Communication: In every company, large or small, there are situations when the company brand could suffer because of problems from executives, employees, products or services. A crisis communication plan is then developed and put into action by the public relations personnel along with the management team with the goal of limiting the damage to the company’s reputation and bottom line, as well as addressing any harm to customers or clients. One situation that has become common in the age of social media is an inappropriate post by an employee who has access to a corporate account. In this situation, the response of the company may be a public apology, the use of humor to defuse the situation, or the public reprimand or firing of the employee.
Other forms of crisis communication occur in situations such as negative online reviews from customers; recalls of medication, foods, or cars; or in extreme cases where there could be widespread employee harassment and/or discrimination, or environmental disasters like an oil spill. In each situation, the issue must be addressed quickly and in a manner that does not drive business away. While some crisis communication may be company sourced, it is most effective when it is presented through a respected individual who represents the organization.
Organizational Communication: Whether it’s a mom and pop market or a multinational corporation, information regarding the company must circulate among the employees. Some information is top down – from management to staff – such as performance reviews, department meetings, and company newsletters. Some information is bottom up – from staff to management – such as grievances, proposals, and reports. Some information flows horizontally among the staff members at similar levels with the organization such as management team meetings, employer supported volunteer teams, or project teams. One new form of organizational communication is online community intranet discussions. This often replaces the negative ‘I heard it through the grapevine’ gossip with more productive and empowering conversations between and within departments.
Press Releases: As media outlets become more fragmented and journalists are not always available to cover every situation, public relations staff and press releases are a bridge to the media. Most organizations have information that they want the public, their business partners, and/or their customers to be aware of following specific events. For example, quarterly financial reports, promotions or new hires for key positions, or upcoming product releases may all warrant a press release. Whether in the private, government, or nonprofit sector – good relationships with the media is essential and well written, targeted press releases are one way of maintaining those relationships.
Press releases may also be used to inform the public. For example, with an outbreak of influenza in a particular region, the local media may not necessarily know this is a significant story for their community or that the outbreak has even started. The local health department will issue a press release to relevant newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations to inform the public. In addition, they will also provide a link to the press release on any social media accounts they manage. The press release may be published as is, or if a media outlet is interested in expanding the story from the basic facts provided by the health department, they will send a journalist to get more information and a more in-depth story may be written.
Careers in Organizational, Business and Corporate Communication
Within the field of communication, there are a wide variety of career paths and niches that can be pursued by students interested in a career in business communication. The following is a brief listing of some of the many fields that hire communication professionals:
- Business Analyst
- Communication Consultant
- Events Planning and Management
- Digital Communication (including: Social Media Marketing, Community Engagement, Web Production)
- Higher Education (including: Research, Teaching)
- Human Resources (including: Coaching, Employee Communication, Policies, Recruiting)
- Learning and Development
- Public Relations (including: Corporate Identity, Crisis Management, Media Relations)
Required Skills in Organizational, Business and Corporate Communication
Communication is a field that encompasses a wide diversity of possible careers; therefore, it is not possible to make a complete listing of necessary skills that professionals in communication must possess. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) recommends the following qualities and skills as integral to any practitioner in the field:
- Analytical: analyze trends to determine the best strategies for the organization
- Communication: written and verbal abilities
- Creativity: generating imaginative and appropriate ideas
- Decision making: make choices based on the best information available
- Interpersonal: being able to work effectively with colleagues and with business associates, clients, customers, and the public.
- Organizational: manage budget, people, projects, and time, efficiently.
Just as a group of master chefs can take the same ingredients and create very different dishes, the skills used by communication professionals may seem to be the same. The difference is found in the specific context – the company, the job title, the goal, the team, and the competition are just a few of the elements that make up that context. Individuals in leadership and administrative positions will focus on analytical, decision making, and organizational skill sets. Individuals who are tasked with developing a marketing campaign will draw on their creative skill set, along with their analytical and interpersonal skills. Others may have a role that calls primarily on only one skill set, such as a business analyst.
Examples of Job Titles in Business Communication
According to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook, the fields associated with Organizational, Business and Corporate Communication are growing. People with training and skills in these fields can be found in every professional niche including academic, corporate, engineering, financial, government, information technology, legal, media, military, nonprofit, medical, scientific, and transportation. A quick survey of recent job postings included:
- Annual Fund Manager
- Business Analytics Professional
- Communications Specialist
- Creative Events Manager
- External Relations Specialist
- Financial Relationship Manager
- Inside Sales
- Policy and Business Development Associate
- Pop up Event Coordinator
- Proposal Administrator
- Public Relations Coordinator
- Small Business Relationship Agent
- Strategic Business Consultant
- Technology Publicist
Education in Organizational Communication
Most jobs in the field require at least a bachelor’s degree and many require a master’s degree for more specialized positions. Typically, programs that specialize in business communication are not offered at the associate degree level, although there are general communication degrees for which students can earn an associate degree. Bachelor’s degree programs are available through both on campus and online programs.
At the master’s level, there are 158 colleges and universities around the U.S. that offer 192 master’s degrees in organizational, business, or corporate communications. There are 147 on-campus programs, 42 online programs (classified as those that require two or fewer campus visits per year), and three programs MastersinCommunications.com classifies as online-hybrid programs, which have a majority of their instruction online but require three to approximately six campus visits per year. The majority of these programs can be found in Schools or Departments of Communication or Communication Studies; however, some programs may be offered through Schools of Business, Schools of Journalism, or Colleges/Schools of Professional Studies.
While there are dedicated master’s in organizational communication programs, most programs are general master’s in communication programs with an area of emphasis or specialization in business, organizational, or corporate communication. There are also master’s programs with dedicated specializations or coursework in strategic communication, IMC, marketing communication, and/or public relations.
For more information on master’s degree programs, including a comprehensive directory of programs, visit our Master’s in Organizational, Corporate and Business Communication Programs page.
Note: MastersinCommunications.com currently has 192 Master’s in Communication programs that have a specialization in business, corporate, or organizational communication, or offer at least three to four courses in these areas. This does not include other types of master’s programs that may provide coursework in business communication, like Master of Business Administration, Master’s in Public Relations, Master’s in Marketing, Master’s in Human Resource Management, or Master’s in Organizational Leadership programs.
Advice for Students Considering a Career in Organizational and Corporate Communication
For students considering a master’s program in the field of communication, it is important to understand some of the career options available before pursuing a degree, as some master’s programs are designed to prepare students for specific career paths (i.e., academia vs. industry, theoretical vs. applied).
Academic Track vs Organizational/Corporate Track
While students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree go directly into the business world, those who choose to go on for a master’s degree have the opportunity to choose whether they also want to go into the business world or if they would like to continue their education and conduct research in the field while pursuing a doctorate. While most people who complete their Ph.D. remain in academia (or pursue a research or teaching position), it is possible to enter the business world after completing a doctoral program.
There are significant differences between academic and corporate career paths, including: career advancement, collaboration, flexibility, individual impact, intellectual freedom, work responsibilities, and workplace culture. It is important that students considering these tracks understand the realities that each entails. In general, professionals can earn an average of 30% more in salary if they choose the corporate path, but they will also have significantly less freedom to determine their schedule. Someone choosing the academic path may be more likely to be recognized individually if they make a significant discovery or contribution to their field, but they will also be pushed to publish relevant work, write grant proposals, and typically teach multiple courses at the university level.
Research in Organizational, Business, and Corporate Communication
Each professional field is backed by a body of research and knowledge. Some of the research pushes the boundaries of the theories that underpin the profession; this is theoretical research. You may have seen it referred to as knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but expanding our knowledge is never an unappreciated or neutral activity. Each time a knowledge base expands, not only does our understanding change but our practices change as well. Looking at evolutions in the practices of a profession is also a field of research which takes the current knowledge and, rather than expanding, drills down into the real-world applications to see whether and how the theory is used in that profession. This is applied research. There are also research teams that seek to develop or explore a theory and then apply its use in the profession as a combined body of research.
Most research is done at academic institutions such as college and universities or dedicated research centers such as the Organizational Communication Research Center. Studies are published in journals such as Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, Communication Methods and Measures, Communication Research, Communication Theory, Corporate Communications, Human Communication Research, International Journal of Business Communication, Journal of Communication, Management Communication Quarterly, and Organizational Communication.
Examples of research topics include:
- Organizational communication: best practices, change communication and management, culture and values, employee alignment, employee communication behaviors, employee engagement, employee trust, leadership communication, measures and measurement, mentoring, organizational systems, and supervisory communications.
- Business and Corporate communication: corporate social responsibility, crisis communication in cybersecurity breaches, cross-cultural communication, crowdsourcing strategy, cultural influences on managerial communication, emergent social collaboration practices, hype and reality of social media use, impact of past crises on current crisis communication, leadership communication, nonfinancial information in investor communication, pragmatics of financial communication, and women in leadership.
For more information about organizational communication research, please see our Introductory Guide to Research in Organizational Communication.
Career Paths in the Business World
For students who are interested in applied communication, there are many different career paths and niches in the field of communication. Often, professionals will begin in one are and then decide to explore others. Unlike in past generations, professionals rarely have the opportunity to start and finish their career with one company. Instead, professionals tend to move to a new company or position every four years, on the average. Some changes are lateral career moves in which they take a position with a similar title, pay, and responsibility to the job they left. Other changes are upward vertical moves in which someone takes a new position with a higher title, pay, and more responsibility. Finally, it is not uncommon for people to choose to take a downward vertical career move for less pay and responsibility in order to break into a new sector where they have less experience.
There are several types of business entities which vary in size and mission. It is important to understand the differences between these different types of organizations as responsibilities for communication professionals may differ depending on the type of organization.
Corporate vs Small Business
- Corporate: A corporation is a business entity that has a legal existence separate from its owners. Generally, when we speak about corporate communication positions, we are referring to organizations with hundreds, if not tens of thousands of people. Corporations such as Walmart have over two million employees. Communication professionals work within departments, with interdepartmental teams, and with clients. The range of job possibilities within the communication field is almost unlimited. Work tends to be more specialized within a very particular niche (e.g., Engagement and Communications management for a particular state or region). Typically, within corporations there are numerous opportunities for advancement within the organization that could include transfers to different parts of the country or even other countries.
- Small Business: A small business is defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration as a for profit organization, independently owned and operated, with less than 1,500 employees. However, when considering a job at a small business, it is common to pursue a position in an organization with less than 100 people. Small businesses may feel more like a village rather than the metropolis of a corporation. Rather than working in a specialized niche, the communication professional is likely to wear many hats from writing and editing marketing and advertising to managing events to employee communication. The environment is more family-like, especially if run by multiple members of a family, with the benefits and drawbacks of more personal interactions.
Nonprofit and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
The specific roles and tasks assigned to communications professionals working for a nonprofit or an NGO organization are similar to those assigned in corporate or small business environments. Similarly, positions may require a specialized niche or may be broader based depending on the size of the organization. One significant difference is the salaries in nonprofit and NGO positions are generally less than those in for-profit organizations, while benefits in nonprofits can often be more generous (e.g., vacation time, paid time off, family leave). For people who are dedicated to the mission and values of the nonprofit organization this is often the best fit and a good way to break into a new field.
- Nonprofit: An organization considered to be a public charity formed to provide public benefit. They are answerable to local, state, and/or federal government for reporting income and the ways the income is distributed. Their focus may be charitable, educational, literary, religious, scientific, or sporting. Their scope tends to be smaller than NGOs.
- NGO: An NGO is a particular kind of nonprofit organization, often international, with a focus on humanitarian efforts including education, health care, human rights, and social justice. They operate without oversight or representation from local, state, or federal government.
Finally, professionals may choose to work for themselves rather than another organization, large or small. Self-employed communication professionals get to choose whether to focus on a specialized niche that they particularly enjoy or to spread a wide net to engage with clients in a variety of communications products and services.
The advantages of self-employment include the ability for professionals to control their own life and hours in terms of where, when, and how they work. They can choose the clients they prefer and help the people they want to help. People who are self-employed have a sense of self-fulfillment that is generally higher as they work on projects they feel passionate about. However, there are definitely disadvantages to being self-employed as well, including feeling isolated, paying higher taxes, being responsible for their own health insurance, the necessity of creating clear boundaries for themselves so that they are not working 24/7, and the need to ‘hustle’, especially in the beginning years as they establish themselves. Self-employment is a boon to some people with the right personality and experience and for others can be turn into a very bad experience.
Professional Organizations in Business and Corporate Communication and Related Fields
Whether you have a bachelor’s degree or a Ph.D., learning does not stop after you receive your diploma. One of the best ways to continue to be a life-long learner is through professional associations related to your degree, your current profession, or your future interests. The following is a list of some of the associations available to communication professionals:
- American Communication Association (ACA)
- Association for Business Communication (ABC)
- American Marketing Association (AMA)
- Association for Women in Communications (AWC)
- Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management (Global Alliance)
- International Association of Business Communication (IABC)
- International Public Relations Association (IPRA)
- National Communication Association (NCA)
- Public Relations Society of American (PRSA)
- Social Media Association (SMA)
Organizational, business, and corporate communications are broad and diverse fields offering a wealth of educational and professional opportunities. Communication professionals with a solid set of skills, the willingness to build their portfolios and experience, and a commitment to staying abreast of the latest advancements in the field can benefit from numerous prospects in this expanding industry. The field has changed radically as technology opens doors and pushes corporations, small businesses, and personal brands in unexpected directions. Individuals who equip themselves with strong writing, multimedia and media technology, interpersonal, and business strategy skills through a combination of academic preparation, networking, and professional initiative can be at the forefront of this frontier.
- Association for Business Communication. https://www.businesscommunication.org (accessed September 27, 2018).
- Evolution of Corporate Communications. https://bonfyreapp.com/blog/evolution-corporate-communications (accessed September 27, 2018).
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ (accessed September 27, 2018).
- What is Organizational Communication. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-introductiontocommunication/chapter/what-is-organizational-communication/ (accessed September 27, 2018).
- Working in Industry vs Academia. https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/working-in-industry-vs-academia/ (accessed September 27, 2018).