The CERN Communications strategy 2012-2016 was presented to the CERN Directorate in October 2011.
The purpose of this communications strategy is to generate and secure sustained political, financial and popular support for CERN’s scientific and societal missions from all its stakeholder groups. In capitalizing on its current visibility, CERN will build the communications foundation to engage with many aspects of society and thereby contribute to embedding science firmly in mainstream culture.
The role of communications at CERN
Communications is a core strategic function of any organization, and with the diversification of the global information landscape it has increasing importance. Driven by the revolutionary change in the way that information is channelled and consumed, leaders of organizations can now engage with their target audiences in hitherto unimaginable ways. Opinions are built and shared globally, 24/7, through and in web-based communities and media. These new processes represent a huge opportunity, but also a risk and an obligation.
The role of communications is to plan strategically, manage and sustain an organization’s relationship with key audiences, taking responsibility for the organization’s reputation and thereby helping the leadership to achieve its strategic and operational goals. As such, communications is an integral part of management responsibility.
Always important, the communications function becomes all the more vital the more visible the organization’s brand and its activities become. According to generally accepted practices in public relations, private sector organizations typically devote 1.3% of gross revenue to the corporate communications function (excluding marketing and product advertising), while for public sector organizations the figure is 1.9%, the difference being due to larger private sector revenues for similar sized organizations rather than to the absolute level of resourcing for communications. Through the Communications Group (DG-CO) CERN devotes about 0.25% of its resources to the function with further resources being deployed in other Departments and Groups.
Given the importance of communications, organizations of CERN’s size and complexity have this function represented at the senior management level to ensure seamless processes and workflows. Usually, they have the position of Chief Communications Officer (CCO) or (Vice) President Corporate Communications, with corresponding hierarchical lines. As management, communications and IT- infrastructures have become more interconnected and interrelated, the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO) has also been introduced in many sizable public and private organizations at top management level, ensuring that all IT-infrastructures are synchronized, workable and state-of-the-art. Both CCO and CIO functions exist in comparable organizations such as Fermilab. By comparison, CERN currently has neither of these roles. Instead, the Organization has a very distributed communications function. At a time of unprecedented, global reputational potential for CERN, the current resource levels and structures, entail reputational risks for the Organisation.
These risks can also have a direct influence on the Organization’s budget and ability to operate.
A communications strategy for CERN
The communications strategy defines the messaging architecture, maps out target audiences, and formulates key messages and proof points. It also proposes a structural alignment of CERN’s communications functions in order to mitigate the risks and, just as importantly, to ensure that CERN is fit to meet the communications requirements of its stakeholders in the second decade of the 21st century.
 University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Generally Accepted Practices study, 2010