On March 21, 2018, the EACD hosted its first flagship Debate in Oslo, Norway. This was in partnership with BI Centre for Corporate Communications at BI Business School. We gathered 74 communications leaders from Norway and Europe to discuss how corporate communication can be a catalyst for organisational success. 

The EACD’s Norway team  including Ingrid H. Warner, managing director, Leidar Norway;  Cathrine Torp, communications director, The Research Council of Norway; Dennis Larsen, managing partner, ReputationInc., and Torund Bryhn, the EACD coordinator of Norway - were given support to not only host an evening debate but extend this to a full one-day conference, including a working seminar and luncheon the following day on the future of communications.

The purpose of the Oslo debates was to explore corporate communication with the different leadership functions and experts to discuss how to unlock the power of strategic communication in building the organization of the future. We had 11 different speakers including communication leaders from Norway and Denmark, leaders in marketing, recruiting and academia, as well as a country director and a renowned futurist on Generation Z.

All the speakers agreed that 2019 is a great time for communication leaders to step up and carve out a role in corporations. Chantal Tregear, Leadership consultant in the corporate affairs and communications practice at Russell Reynolds Associates stated, “Influence and guiding around social purpose, societal impact and corporate strategy more widely is where corporate communications needs to develop.”

Five lessons from the conference

First lesson: know the C-Suite language of finance and business strategy and align communications goals with business goals.

We had an insightful dialogue between country director Stein Rømmerud and country lead public affairs and communication Per Hynne of Coca-Cola European Partners. They talked about how to effectively meet expectations. Stein stated that the main reason he was able to be the first one ever in Coca-Cola to transition from leading a communications department at Coca-Cola to role as the country director of Norway Coca-Cola was the ability to discuss and communicate effectively the financial numbers and business goals. 

As Per stated, “There are so many places in today’s society that we are relevant and where we need to act, so it is about prioritising according to the expectations from the outside and the inside.”

Professor Ansgar Zerfass of The University of Leipzig confirmed these statements and added that his current research showed that the excellent communications department were the departments that effectively aligned communication goals with corporate goals.

Second lesson: create business value.

“I think it is important to create business value through strategic communications. The way we do it at DNVGL is to create good content and use all available channels and then measure the outcome,” stated Ulrike Haugen, chief communications officer, DNVGL.

Good content is the most important tool that communicators have in creating value, and Eiliv Flakne, head of communications, ENOVA stated that the way to create good content is through storytelling as “Storytelling is the most effective way of gaining attention and penetrate towards the receiver of your message.” 

Third lesson: stand in the middle and be the conscience of the corporation.  

Both Kim Larsen, executive vice president, head of group communications and relations, Danske Bank and Håkon Mageli, group director, corporate communications and corporate affairs talked about the importance of being the conscience of the corporation and to stay engaged with issues that matter to the company. When asked about how to do this diplomatically, Håkon recommended that when possible ask questions in the meetings. He stated that the role of the communications leader is to ask questions. He recommended to continually ask questions until the others in the meetings see the challenge with the idea or project and enforce them to come up with the solution.

Fourth lesson: break the silos and collaborate

At the conference we had two leaders from marketing: Kathrine Mo, currently executive vice president/chief innovation and marketing officer at TINE SA, Norway’s number one dairy cooperative; and Kjetil Undhjem, senior category director for confectionery in Western Europe at Mondelēz International. Both stated their working effectively with communications brought more business value to the company.

But as Kathrine stated, the first step to break the silos between marketing and communications “is the we want to work together” and the second step is that “we need to be curious of each other’s functions. Too many people are only curious about themselves.” The third point Kathrine made was that, for the working relations to work, “we need to clearly define the goal of working together” and to ask, “what is my value add to this goal?” She concluded with “we are not work together just to engage, we work together to accomplish something.”

Kjetil thought this conference was of great help and stated, “When you put two different functions together, you get a broader breath of conversations and more interesting questions and hopefully learn and think more and add these new thoughts and ideas into their companies.”  He also stated that to have a successful working relationship with the communication department is to start the dialogue earlier even before the campaign or project has started. 

Fifth lesson: stay curious

 In conclusion, we were given a taste about how the future will look like with Generation Z in the work force by Chole Combi, author of the critically acclaimed book: Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives.  The main takeaway was that things will completely change and in order to successfully manage this change is to stay flexible, curious and open to the new generation that is coming.

Chantal Tregear seconded this advice and prefaced that in order for a communication leader to move up and have a seat at the C-suite table that is crucial to stay curios and learn. As Chantal stated: “I think looking forward in terms of career development to be very clear on business messaging, understanding and have intellectual curiosity, so notwithstanding the fact that communications are naturally extremely good at bringing the outside in and acting as the conscience of the company, but more specifically speaking the language of the leaders, so that they are not the add-on, but are in the meeting and they are integral to the corporate strategy.”