I love working alongside people with diverse backgrounds, interests and professions. Not just inside the comms function but outside too: neuroscientists, conservationists, accountants and nurses, I’ve worked with ‘em all.
I’d never tell a scientist how they should design an experiment, or an accountant how to calculate the year-end out-turn. Sadly the reverse isn’t always true. How many times have we heard this familiar refrain, usually over Friday after-work drinks: ‘The trouble is, everyone thinks they can “do” comms…’?
The comms profession has responded magnificently to the out-dated mindset that says anyone can choose nice colours for a leaflet, or give a media interview, and isn’t that all ‘comms’ is anyway? We are now recognised as professionals in our own right. We’ve taken control of corporate and marketing comms, in many cases winning a seat on senior teams and boards. We are chief execs of charities, and taking on more senior public sector roles.
So it feels strange to suggest that, having shown we are specialists who know our stuff and add value, we should be giving away more of our skills and knowledge to everyone else. But there are good reasons why upskilling staff in other roles can help us in comms:
- We can’t do it all – however well-resourced, your comms function will never be able to control and influence every comms interaction inside or outside your organisation. This is particularly true for local and central government comms teams, cut to the bone as Councils’ respond to cuts.
- We should focus on the parts we, and only we, do best – moving from day-to-day transactional comms to setting and overseeing comms and brand strategy, creating collateral and guidance that helps our priorities permeate the whole organisation. We should get directly involved in only the most reputationally-risky issues.
- Staff are doing comms anyway – a cross-section of staff (and volunteers), from your chief exec to your customer services team, are now tweeting and texting external audiences. Equally, internal comms messages may be developed by your IC function, but are best delivered by line managers: those with whom staff have the most critical relationship when it comes to employee engagement.
So offer training and coaching to help people who aren’t comms professionals communicate better. Produce tone-of-voice guidance for those who use social platforms and create publications. Develop key messages and brand guidelines that are easy to follow for anyone communicating on behalf of your organisation. Offer advice and guidance whenever people want it.
Letting people do more for themselves doesn’t mean relinquishing all responsibility. The right amount of centralisation and control will depend on your organisation’s culture. Decide your own protocols: where and when you still want sign-off, and the circumstances in which you will take ownership of an issue. Make sure these are understood, and stick to them.
Because wouldn’t it be better if at your Friday after-work drinks, you heard: ‘It’s so great! They really get comms…’?