J-School professor co-writes book on employee communication

Mark Dollins and Jon Stemmle

By Gabriella Bain

Columbia, Mo. (Oct. 28, 2021) — There is an old saying that when opportunity knocks, you have to be willing to open the door. It was a literal knock at the door of Professor Jon Stemmle in early March 2018 that, three years later, has led to his new book, Engaging Employees Through Strategic Communication, published by Routledge.

In his position as the faculty chair of Strategic Communication in the Journalism School, Stemmle is often asked to meet with visitors. When Dean David Kurpius asked Stemmle to meet with one of his old friends, Mark Dollins, he didn’t think anything of it.

“I had done my homework on Mark and knew he had an amazing career in the corporate world,” Stemmle said of Dollins, who was coming off of C-suite communication positions at The Quaker Oats Company, PepsiCo and DuPont, to name a few. “It was honestly just a few meetings on my calendar. I thought it would be great to have students talk with Mark and show him what the school was about, but that’s about it.”

However, Stemmle and Dollins hit if off immediately and talked about the worlds of academia, corporate and employee communication and more. In one of those conversations, Dollins mentioned that one of his dreams was to write a book about his experiences to help those trying to get into the field of employee communication. That was the seed that resulted in the book, even though the two haven’t met face-to-face since that initial meeting.

“You wouldn’t think you would write a book with a person you met for a few hours over the course of two days,” Stemmle said. “It’s crazy when you think about it. Mark was just so passionate about this concept and I had thought about writing a textbook for a few years, but the timing never felt right. This was just a case of right place, right time for both of us.”

The duo started the process by talking through their ideas for the topics this book could cover, how to approach it and then seeing if there was even a need for it. However, it quickly became apparent that there were chapters on employee communication, there was nothing on this topic taking the strategic communication viewpoint or written for a dual audience of students and professionals. By early 2019, they had contacted Routledge with their book pitch and were on their way with a contract by spring.

“You wouldn’t think you would write a book with a person you met for a few hours over the course of two days. It’s crazy when you think about it.”

“It turns out that the collaboration between an academic leader and a business leader in communications is a timely, productive and highly valuable one,” Dollins said. “Jon’s skills and experiences, and mine, were highly complementary as we connected research and theory to real-world practices. It’s hard to imagine a better combination or outcome for readers.”

The book goes into depth about employee communication over 14 chapters from the history of the profession to various aspects of research and measurement to change management and the future of the field. Each chapter also includes an accompanying personal story from a global group of corporate communicators and an award-winning case study from PRSA or IABC.

“Corporate communication today is global in scope, so it’s only natural that we would think about that kind of diversity with the personal stories and case studies represented in the book,” said Stemmle. “Along with that, we drew upon leading experts in the field to talk about the issues facing employees in the corporate world right now from social justice movements to technology like blockchain and AI.”

Another topic that featured heavily in the book was the pandemic, given the profound impact it has had globally on the business world.

“There was a significant need for a book like this before the pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 on how organizations communicate with employees was nothing short of a seismic shift,” Dollins said. “From accelerating digital transformation to impact on culture and values — let alone advancing day-to-day needs of business — employee communicators have never had so much focus placed on them, and never have had such a big opportunity to show strategic value.”

With the book’s official launch on Sept. 30, 2021, Stemmle and Dollins have spent much of their spare time this fall doing promotional events, including podcasts and other speaking engagements.

But in the end, Stemmle and Dollins have a singular goal with the book: it creates awareness of this booming critical communication career track as they help build strategic skill sets for the next generation of employee communicators.

Updated: November 5, 2021

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