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Topic management in agile organizations

Managing topics has always been a central task for communication departments. In recent years, the process has become far more interdisciplinary and agile.

The evolution towards topic-based communication is driven by digitalization, the battle for attention, mounting time pressure, and changes in stakeholders’ media usage. Internally, it is driven by limited resources, parallel structures, rigid hierarchies, and expectations of faster, more efficient and integrated communications. Therefore, silos must be broken down and a focus on the content instead of the channels is needed. These demands have led many companies to adopt newsroom-like structures and to introduce topic-based strategic communication.

The term topic management cannot be equated with content management and therefore needs to be differentiated. topic management can be described as a superordinate concept while content management only refers to individual contents, which can be assigned to the topics.

Topic-based strategic communication is the systematic management of strategically critical narratives, stories, and media content that define the identity of the organization in the eyes of its stakeholders and publics. (Seiffert-Brockmann & Einwiller, 2020)

 

 

 

What drives the change towards topic-based strategic communication?

How to develop relevant topics and organize strategic topic management?

 

 

 

Key facts

  • Organizations reorganize their communication processes in order to manage topics more efficiently and effectively. This development is driven through the changing media landscape, the changes in stakeholders’ media use, and the growing requirements of cost-effectiveness.
  • Topic-based strategic communication (TSC) is the preferred way how many organizations address these challenges. It requires a cross-functional, agile, and flexible collaboration of different communication units.
  • Therefore, many communication departments are changing their internal structures and processes to become more agile. Breaking up silos is key. Rigid hierarchical structures have no future in a corporate newsroom.
  • A clear focus on storytelling is needed as corporate communications must target stakeholders’ needs.
  • The ways organizations manage topics vary greatly, yet three approaches can be distinguished: 1) Traditional way: Topics are managed within traditional organizational structures and processes. 2) Newsroom light: Topics are managed in a new cross-departmental function, which adds new structures and processes to the old. 3) Corporate newsroom: Topics are managed in a completely restructured communication function, that takes care of both long-term planning and daily communication efforts.

 

Approach

  • Firstly, a systematic literature review of both academic and practitioner-oriented literature was conducted to get an overview of existing concepts and applications.
  • Secondly, 35 in-depth interviews with representatives of 14 organizations based in Germany and Austria were conducted from July 2018 to July 2019. Organizations from different sectors and levels of advancement in topic-based strategic communication were selected.
  • Thirdly, case studies on four organizations - Osram, voestalpine, Telekom, and Siemens – were conducted to analyze their newsroom concepts.

 

Scientific background

  • A growing number of companies have started to rethink and reorganize their strategic communication management toward stronger topic orientation. But these developments have not been analyzed in a broader context so far.
  • Despite its relevance to communication practice, research on the management of content and topics is scarce.
  • This study helps to fill this gap by exploring how organizations apply topic management as a strategic approach to corporate communications.
  • The research project is part of the larger research program “Corporate Communications in Agile Organizations” by the Academic Society for Management & Communication.

Downloads & further reading

  • Communication Insights – Issue 6: It’s all about content (full version)
  • 4 Fallstudien: Osram, voestalpine, Telekom, Siemens
  • Barker, R. T., & Gower, K. (2010). Strategic Application of Storytelling in Organizations: Toward Effective Communication in a Diverse World. Journal of Business Communication, 47(3), 295–312. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943610369782
  • Werder, K. P. (2015). A Theoretical Framework for Strategic Communication Messaging. In D. Holtzhausen & A. Zerfaß (Eds.), Routledge handbooks. The Routledge handbook of strategic communication (pp. 269–284). New York, NY: Routledge.