Communications Contributions Framework

Even though most executives view communications as critical for corporate success, they lack an understanding of how communications contribute to the creation of value for the company. Explaining and reporting communication impact in the language of top managers becomes a key success factor. Our newly developed framework can help communication professionals overcome this challenge.

How do communication departments contribute to success?

Map - Hintergrundbild

CONVEY: By convincing key stakeholders of the corporate strategy, the communication department contributes strategically to corporate success. Therefore, the department uses its unique relationship network to influential journalists, politicians or critical stakeholders for the development of messages to convey strategic goals.

"The communication department develops communication plans for selected key stakeholders such as investors or internal leaders who are highly relevant to endorse the corporate strategy. This could be done via road shows and background talks."


ALIGN: Excellent communication departments ensure the strategic alignment of communication strategy with corporate strategy. They define objectives that either directly or indirectly add value to the company. Communicators need to know how to build reputation, manage brands, foster innovation, build up architectures of listening as well as how to set up communication strategies.

"The crucial task of the communication department is to translate the overarching corporate strategy into an aligned communication strategy and to define specific communication goals."

STEER: By steering key resources and critical processes of the communication department in a future-oriented and strategic manner, the department adds to the prospective performance of the organization. Communicators are required to have a solid knowledge of management and controlling tools to ensure the department's strategic management.

"The communication department offers programs to improve the communication staffs' competencies. It also develops effective structures in order to optimize internal workflows."

ADVISE: By consulting and advising the organization on its long-term strategic development the communication department gains influence in strategic decision-making processes. Research on the advisory function has recently seen a new rise under the terms 'listening' and 'internal counseling'.

"The communication unit is increasingly counseling top management with regard to the societal needs and expectations towards the company. By monitoring critical issues and trends, communications provide an early warning system for upcoming crises and offers strategic advice."

MULTIPLY: The communication unit contributes operationally to corporate success by passing on the corporate strategy and positioning to interested publics. Communication departments have to break down the strategy into comprehensible messages and distribute these in annual reports and CEO interviews, on websites or social media.

"It's a 100% communication for corporate strategy. Clear words as well as the right channels such as brochures, videos, press conferences, online communications and annual reports play a key role in explaining our company's strategy to all our stakeholders."

CONTRIBUTE: The communication department delivers professional communication measures and supports the day-to-day operations of other organizational functions. Cross-divisional communications have to be integrated and orchestrated. Furthermore, messaging and listening competencies are needed.

"The communication team is in charge of communication campaigns, product publicity, or employer branding, and thereby enables the operation of other corporate functions such as product management and human resources."

MANAGE: Through planning, budgeting, allocating resources and measuring success, this contribution includes the management of the day-to-day operations of the communication unit. Leadership competencies as well as excellent project management competencies are important.

"The communication department has to do things right, by implementing processes efficiently, reducing costs, controlling operations and reporting on the broad range of activities."

COACH: By coaching the communicative competence of employees and executives, the department helps and enables all members of the organization to communicate professionally. In today's media environment, every member of the organization is and should be a communicator.

"We have set up different formats to offer regular communication trainings and teach employees and top managers how to communicate professionally on behalf of our company."


Key facts

  • Consistent story needed: To increase the acceptance for their own work, communicators need to tell a consistent story of the various strategic and operational contributions to corporate success.
  • A new framework: The Communications Contributions Framework (CCF) outlines four core contributions. They are grouped into eight strategic and operational contributions and follow established management models.
  • Report various contributions: Communication managers should reflect on the department´s numerous contributions and report on all of them, and not only on operational performance indicators or key projects. Strategic contributions like adjusting strategies, ensuring the license to operate or advising the top management are equally relevant.
  • Speak the language of the managment: Communicators should report the success of their work in the language of management. That's why we have developed a framework that introduces a distinction between strategic and operational activities. This approach is often found in management literature.




The Communications Contributions Framework can be used for different purposes:

  • Developing a convincing story: The Communications Contributions Framework (CCF) can help communication professionals to tell a holistic story of communications’ impact and, ultimately, to become key players in the organization.
  • Making the different contributions visible: Reflect on the various strategic and operational contributions of the communication department in order to explain communications’ impact in its complexity. Develop a solid storyline which demonstrates that communications is a strategic facilitator, not only a service provider.
  • Giving guidance for decisions: Prioritize and manage communication goals, budgets and human resources in accordance with the multiple contributions. Check that the right measures are in place.
  • Showcase communications value-add: Report success in the same way as top managers to facilitate the cooperation with the board and other departments by demonstrating the positive influence of communications on corporate performance.



As a first step, an extensive interdisciplinary literature review helped to systematize existing academic knowledge on value creation. Publications from the year 2000 onwards were included and account for more than 800 academic pieces in 36 international journals. 

Secondly, empirical in-depth interviews with the CCOs of ten German and international blueship companies were carried out and supplemented by a secondary data analysis of more than 50 internal and external strategy documents, planning documents, and strategy formulations in annual reports of these ten companies.



Scientific background

  • Research gap: Previous research has shed little light on the communication department and its contribution to value creation. Large-scale empirical benchmarks remain rare. Most data available is based on singular case studies exploring the structure and size of communication units across different countries and industries.
  • Excellent communication department: Only few research projects have explicitly explored what makes a communication department successful and how to manage and steer the unit efficiently. The first large-scale study, the IABC Excellence Study headed by well-known American researcher James E. Grunig, identified several characteristics that make communication departments excellent. These include physical and mental proximity to the CEO to make strategic and lasting contributions.
  • Breaking new grounds: Recently, a new approach building upon excellence models in strategic management has been introduced. The Comparative Excellence Framework for Communication Management identifies drivers of excellence on the organizational, departmental and professional level. It names nine commandments of excellent communications. These factors are based on large-scale empirical surveys across more than 40 European countries.