Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a panel discussion on Future-Proofing Your Communications Career at the uOttawa Institute for Strategic Communications and Change.
It was probably the most lively panel I’ve moderated, featuring a line-up of super savvy, experienced communications leaders including: Shirley-Anne Off (Justice Canada), Jamie Tomlinson (Public Safety), Christina Cefaloni (Canadian Institutes for Health Research) and Melanie Sullivan (Federal Communications Community Office). We had a full house of practitioners engaged in a frank and refreshingly pragmatic discussion around how to navigate the often choppy waters of career advancement in communications.
Here were the main take-aways:
Focus on continuous learning. Given that communications is a highly dynamic industry, staying still means falling behind. Practitioners need to invest in continuous learning and experimentation, particularly when it comes to digital.
Hone strategic skills. Highly skilled communicators are those that blend strengths in the key areas of strategic counsel, public environment analysis, evaluation and digital. Communicators were encouraged to hone skills in research and making evidence-based decisions.
Emphasize integration. Our industry has moved beyond the days of segmented functional expertise. In particular, it’s no longer enough to be a “social media expert” – we need to bring integrated skills to the table, principally in providing advice and storytelling across channels.
The soft skills are the hard skills. When asked what particular skills they hire for, the leaders on the panel uniformly stressed the importance of consultative and so-called “soft skills”. They are looking for communicators who can be agile, resilient and responsive. Teamwork, collaboration and a relentless focus on delivering value-added service and advice also came out as top priorities.
Shirley-Anne Off from the Department of Justice summed up the best advice for communicators in a smart acronym: She encouraged practitioners to be O.P.E.N., that is: Optimistic, Prepared, Engaged and Necessary (stressing that “N” does not stand for “needy”!) It was a great way to wrap up the main themes from the conversation.
We’ll be planning further outreach events at the Institute for Strategic Communications and Change in the fall, and look forward to continuing the conversation. If you have suggestions for upcoming speakers or panel topics, please drop us a line.