In my experience, communicators from various backgrounds and sectors share in an almost universal struggle to define the value they bring to organizations, and then communicate that value in a way that resonates with decision-making executives.
This challenge comes up in three main forms:
First, communications is often seen at best as overhead, and at worse, as a “nice to have” function that is often one of the first places where budgets get squeezed. This usually ends up being a death of a thousand cuts involving a slow, painful erosion of funding and staffing which renders the communications function so under resourced that a self-fulfilling prophecy ensues – sure, the communications function hasn’t done much for me lately, but how could it in those conditions?
Secondly, there is a pervasive under-recognition of the value of the communications profession in day-to-day operations, relative to other functional groups. This is classically demonstrated by the reality that when a subject matter expert or lawyer scribbles comments on a draft news release or announcement, the red ink is seen as the word of the gospel. In contrast, too often, a communications director’s comments are seen as subjective editorial comments and decision makers either take it, or leave it.
Thirdly is what I call the communications profession’s classic lament which is now emblematic of our industry. It goes like this: “Why can’t we gain access to the senior management table?” or “How can we get the C-suite to listen?” Flyers and seminars on “Getting to the senior executive table” are everywhere – and their proliferation is bad news for our profession. Let’s face it, if communicators were seen as mission critical, highly valued advisors, senior executives would be coming to us – we would not be worried about having to beat down the door to the senior management table.
If these signals seem familiar to you and your organization, the question is – what are you going to do about it?
I suggest the place to start is to really zoom in on the essential, unique value that communicators bring to organizations. Try thinking about it this way: if tomorrow someone swooped down and cut out the entire communications function and team from your organization – what would be missing? Where would the pain be? What would keep your executives up at night with worry?
These questions will lead you to crystallize the areas of unique value you contribute every day – and I’m betting it won’t be the “stuff” of communications. It won’t be the news releases, speeches or events. The area of unique, strategic value that will be most significant will very likely be the quality, insightful strategic counsel you offer. It will be in providing communications leadership and the discipline of bringing “outside-in” thinking to your organization.