Tips for furniture companies

How does good corporate communication work?

Companies want to communicate to their environment what they do and why it is worthwhile to trust them, their offers and products. We asked Stefan Gröner, Professor and Dean of Studies for Strategic Corporate Communication and Digital Management at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences in Munich, how this can be achieved.

Sep 08 2021

What does corporate communication mean, why is it more than PR? 

Here, as so often in science, there are many different definitions. From my point of view, a practicable delimitation is that corporate communication is essentially dedicated to the external and internal presentation of the company's purpose and guidelines. 

In this context, aspects of social and sustainable responsibility (CSR) are becoming increasingly important. PR, or public relations, is accordingly a sub-area of corporate communication and in its narrow meaning the targeted communication towards the most diverse stakeholders such as those from the media or politics. 

These forms are usually not associated with any costs (for example for media publication), but in return they are also difficult to plan in terms of the parameters of content, time and scope of the presentation. This is also the decisive difference to marketing, where the advertising effect can be better controlled, but switching costs are incurred.

In 2020, Handelsblatt named Prof. Dr. Stefan Gröner one of the Top 100 European Speakers Photo: Screenshot

What is involved, which media, methods, tools etc.? 

Corporate communication can make use of the entire range of classic media such as TV, magazines and newspapers. But also "below-the-line" activities such as events are suitable to put the company in the right light. Here, attention must be paid to optimal cross-media control according to the functionality of the individual media and the corresponding time planning. 

In recent years, the importance of digital media, especially social networks, has increased significantly. Here it is important to proceed carefully, especially in the identification and briefing of influencers, in order to avoid negative effects, especially with regard to one's own credibility. 

The newer forms of public relations, which are usually priced in individual coordination, include areas such as sponsoring and licensing. These are also more difficult to control than classic advertising and must be strategically planned in order to avoid damaging the image of the company in addition to the expenses for sponsoring, for example.  

How much effort or work does successful corporate communication entail? Does it require a separate department within the company? 

Successful corporate communication is of course not a matter of course, but on the contrary the result of hard, long-term and consistent work in the relevant fields. Since a company's public image is not shaped by communication alone, I am firmly convinced that the central guidelines must also run like a red thread through all areas of the company. 

Therefore, a corporate communications department as a coordinating body is certainly helpful. To be really successful, however, the central statements must be consistently lived by the company management, installed as a cross-sectional function and demanded in all activities of the company.  

Do you have an example of successful corporate communication from the furniture industry? 

There are many successful companies in the furniture industry, so it is always difficult for me to name a "primus inter pares". But certainly a company like Ikea, for example, has managed to maintain a largely sympathetic image over a very long period of time with strong social and technical changes. 

This is not a matter of course, because successful business is also often associated with potential reproaches in terms of fairness, sustainability, etc. The furniture industry is certainly not exempt from this. The furniture industry is certainly not exempt from this. Only if you act and communicate credibly as a company can you also avoid becoming the target of justified but also unjustified attacks.

When does it make sense to hire an agency for this purpose and how does a furniture company find the right one? 

Professional strategy agencies can certainly help companies identify weak points and develop strategic corporate communication in terms of creating corporate guidelines and mission statements. When it comes to the concrete implementation of individual measures, such as press roadshows or events, specialised communication or PR agencies with their experience and network are of great value. 

However, agencies can only help to a limited extent with the crucial task of establishing a long-term and authentic corporate image, both externally and, above all, within the company. Here, as I said, the management, the executives, but also every employee plays a decisive role.  

How do I find the right agency? 

When choosing an agency, you can certainly refer to references or ask which agencies have implemented measures that you yourself have found successful. However, the next step should be to find out what the actual share of service provision was on the agency side.

It is certainly not helpful to leave the research to reading the self-portrayal on the agency's website. Because there is often more reality than appearance with regard to the range of services and expertise. 

What do you recommend to furniture companies: What can they do to be perceived by the public as they would like to be seen? 

First of all, the classic to-dos certainly apply here: develop clear, forward-looking corporate guidelines that are compatible with social norms, live them authentically and communicate them consistently and across channels. Especially in the context of the digital transformation, however, I urgently recommend that all retailers - and also producers - take another self-critical look at their business field and adapt it if necessary. 

Because in times of increasing e-commerce, platform economy, Internet of Things and Big Data, it is highly likely that it will soon no longer be sufficient to "only" produce, present or sell good products. Rather, I am firmly convinced that a much broader service approach must be adopted to optimally satisfy the needs of the increasingly demanding young clientele. 

Here, individual counselling, flat planning, assembly aids up to the technical linking of all furnishing items are only the beginning. This requires completely new competences and also the will to cooperate with people from outside the industry.

Because the need of the target groups of the future and thus also the demand on furniture stores will not be furniture or living advice, but life advice. That is why I like the IKEA claim so much – "Are you still in the home or are you already living? 

© privat Stefan Gröner is Professor of Strategic Corporate Communications and Digital Management at the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences Munich.


Interview: Christine Sommer-Guist

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