I’m one of those people who gets bored quite easily and who wants to try and learn about a lot of unrelated topics. Needless to say, this was quite problematic when trying to decide what I was going to do with my life when I was all ‘grown up’. It has been either by complete chance or by complete fate that ultimately, I have decided to go down the communications path. And while I always thought I would work in the not-for-profit sector, what I like about this choice of career, is that also allows me to work in the private sector too. Secondly, by doing communications consultancy work (the ultimate dream- for now anyway) I reckon it will keep me interested for longer as I won’t be working on any one job for a long period of time (unless I decide I want to) and that way work for different types of organisations, letting myself go down my never ending path of learning- I’m a curious being, what can I say..
I never studied anything communications, PR, journalism related, but for the most part I’d like to think it comes quite naturally to me. Sure, I still have lots to learn and in reality i’m only just starting to sprout and am a long way away from being an ‘expert’ , however, my limited but extremely beneficial experience has made one thing clear to me- we’re undervaluing communications work within our business (both for and not-for-profit). We are going about it in the wrong way.
The digital world we now live in has come leaps and bounds in the past decades, and yet while our communications departments have grown and have been given bigger budgets and slightly more importance, not much else has significantly changed. Most organisations will still have your token ‘comms person’ (or if you’re lucky-comms people), in charge of everything from developing and implementing communication’s strategies and guidelines, to managing the organisation’s online presence on social media platforms and dealing with media and press, just to mention a few. However, to actually and adequately be able to do any of the above that ‘comms person’ has also got to understand what the employee base – the busy bee’s making the magic happen- are doing on a day to basis so as to allow communication folks to articulate that message with the rest to the world and best position it. They need to be involved in the magic, understand how it works and what it means for the world and for the organisation. There is for instance, no point for a research institute to repeatedly tweet about their commitment to research- instead talk to the busy bees about what sort of research they are doing, the real life impact this has and convey that to the world instead. As the work place, becomes an increasingly transparent space, it is critical to retain your audiences (be it followers on social media, funders, board members, partners, network alliances) attention and engage with them around real life events. I know that personally, I often felt like a bit of a fraud pitching events I knew little about, or engaging in debate around topics I had only barely dipped my toes in- especially when I knew my colleagues would be able to contribute more genuinely. That is not to say I am calling for the communications position to be made extinct (It is a path i want to take remember) or that I am calling for every employee to get a grip on their own communications (although that wouldn’t be the worst thing), because I understand they have other priorities to focus on so lets not go there either..
Instead, all I am trying to suggest is that actually- Communication specialists can no longer function in silos, they need to be at the very heart of operations, in the thick of things with everyone else around them, to truly get a sense of what is happening, what it takes to make it happen and what it means for the world as well as the organisation. Communications work is no longer work that can be done within a single department, it is not a field unto itself. Communications work is not just about communicating with the world beyond your organisation and neither is it simply about creating the right working conditions that allow its employees to communicate with each other in the most effective manner. In my mind, communication’s work is really about understanding all that there is (maybe not ALL, but close) / all that there is going on, within each arm, department and breadth of an organization . If this is understood holistically, the organisations ethos, functions, operations, and perceptions can be presented to outsiders in a way that is accessible to the necessary audiences. It also allows the communications professionals to give back to those arms and departments, by contributing and delivering material, news, debates and events (that may have otherwise gone unnoticed or eventually gotten to but much later) to the relevant people -in a timely fashion. What does this mean? It would mean your organisation is able to keep up to date with the latest global occurances rather than falling behind and playing catch up.
I believe that this shift to seeing communications as an organisations wide, department wide necessity is the first step to holistic productivity that benefits both external and internal stakeholders. Think of the future of communications departments as a tree trunk- the bedrock and foundation (combined with other important foundational elements of course) from which different branches and departments stem. That is the critical nature of communications work in business, both now and in the future.