Over the years, while working as a communicator for multiple industries, I have learnt a great deal from the heads of organisations, who usually tend to be good communicators— it is one of the skills that gets them there. But then there also are some common pitfalls which many companies are prone to when it comes to dealing with their Corporate Communications department. What I have summarised below are some of the most prominent ones, which can easily be avoided by business leaders just by being aware of them. Hope you will find this checklist useful. In no particular order:
Assigning Communications tasks instead of sharing organizational priorities
Too often, and quite inadvertently, Executives resort to giving their Communications department direct communication tasks such as ‘I want a new Facebook page’ or ‘let’s start a monthly newsletter’, or ‘write a press release for this new launch’. This may be a common, or even the default, way of working with creative professionals in many companies but it is certainly not the best.
Want your communications team to get fired up about their work and come up with their most creative ideas? Tell them your organizational goals instead and let THEM come up with the communication plan to help meet them. This ensures the communications strategy is always aligned with that of the organization and the results are relevant to what you want to achieve. This gives your corp comm manager ownership of their decision and ultimately better engagement. Giving them communication tasks undermines their capability to process management issues and deprives you from fully benefitting from their experience.
Bringing in the communications team too late
Communicators are often brought in to the picture just to do the execution of a message. For instance, after a decision has been taken and it is time to put it in an email to all staff; or when the product is nearly ready to hit the market and its advertising plan needs to be chalked out. This is akin to getting a painter after the house has been built to whitewash the walls and make the place look pretty. Instead, consider them like an engineer who works with the architect.
All decisions you take are meant to add value —to your customers, shareholders and employees. In order for this added value to benefit your bottom line, it must be clearly understood and accepted by the stakeholders. For it to reach them and be understood, it must be clearly communicated. Actions often backfire not because they were bad decisions, but because they were badly conveyed or poorly understood. Get your Communications Director in the board room early enough to benefit from synergy.
Hiring people who are interested rather than people who are qualified
Communication involves creativity, and many people get attracted towards it because of the allure of working in a creative field as opposed to other departments that seem mundane in comparison. Therefore, a lot of people can be found interested in moving to this department. On top of that, this field has a low entry barrier—It is not difficult for people to write decent text or to start a Facebook page. Even launching a website has become relatively easy these days. The low entry barrier coupled with people’s interest results in people who take up this work and even make a good start. I have known of Marketing Managers who want to move to corporate communications because they now want to ‘take it easy’! No wonder then, many of them often fail to rise above the average.
Your communications officer has to be able to think technically and strategically, analyse data, talk to the techies, and have the knack of working with creative professionals. As far as personality traits are concerned, for best results, look for people who take it seriously and are ready to dedicate their careers to this work.
Confusing communication skills with writing skills
Agreed, good communications is virtually impossible without good writing. But good writing does not always equate good communications. The work of communications also includes visuals and interactive elements, and extends to taking your content to the right audience at the right time through the right channel, measuring response and evaluating the change as a result of it.
A person whose main skill is writing may be good at capturing abstract concepts into words, but unless they are genuinely interested in connecting with people and ensuring people get to know what they need to know and when they need to know, they will fail as a communicator.
Aligning Corporate Communications ONLY with HR and Marketing
One of the main aims of internal communications is employee engagement and in this sense, closely related with HR. Its association with Marketing department also comes naturally, because there can be an overlap between marketing communications and internal communications. What many companies miss is the alignment of communications with operations, among others.
Communications can play a vital role in improving efficiency of processes through effective flow of information within and between departments. The Operations department therefore can benefit tremendously by keeping Communications department in the loop of their thinking.
It is also important for it to be in touch with the IT department touch because all communication relies on technology. Any decision about changes in the IT infrastructure that may impact say, the intranet or the email backbone should be run past the communications department.