Does our Comms profession have a perception problem?

It’s 11am on a Friday morning and an email has just landed in your inbox from the head of another department. You open it to learn a new business policy is ‘going live’ on Monday, but employees know nothing about it. You’re asked to draft the announcement for Monday.


Scenarios such as this one are all too common for communication professionals. We’re consistently perceived as the tactical doer and not strategic business partners. We’re the people you engage when it’s time to announce something. And when we are engaged, our internal stakeholders are telling us what they want – send an email they’ve drafted, create a poster or some other tactical request. Yet little or no consideration has been given to the business need, who actually needs to know and what behaviour needs to change.


So what’s causing this perception?


Two things. Number one, communication professionals are people pleasers. By our nature, we are warm and engaging, and like to help others. So when we are asked to announce that policy tomorrow, we do it. (We also know how to operate in a crisis, so that has a lot to do with it, too.) And by continuing to do what our stakeholders ask when they want it, we perpetuate this perception that we are just tacticians. Our stakeholders don’t see the strategic value we provide.


Number two, time. Whenever these last-minute requests arise, we’re reminded about the need to invest the time in educating our stakeholders about what we do. But, of course, we never get to it because other, more ‘urgent’ work always gets in the way. And so, the cycle of endless tactical requests continues.


How do we shift this perception?


By getting our house in order. We need to change our approach and prioritise educating our internal stakeholders. Essentially, we need to do what we do best: undertake a strategic campaign.


1. Develop rules of engagement


Take the time to document how other functions and stakeholders should work with the Corporate Communication function. It sounds basic, but it’s worthwhile investing the time to do this. Be creative with it and show the benefits of early engagement. It will prove a useful discussion document.


2. Don’t be afraid to push back


Stop saying yes to those last-minute requests to launch a new policy, system or change. This is the best way to change the perception of what we do. This doesn’t mean pushing back on crisis/issues communication; this is about communication that is not urgent and should be more planned. Pushing back opens the door to educating your stakeholders and establishing relationships.


3. Build relationships with your stakeholders


Identify who your key stakeholders are, meet with them and build a rapport. Talk to them about their priorities and challenges, and how they relate to the business strategy. Use this as an opportunity to gain some basic insights into the perceptions, attitudes and behaviours they might need to change.


If you’re business partnering, build a plan of key milestones and initiatives for the year so you can plan ahead, leverage opportunities and drive engagement in a more integrated way.


4. Demonstrate the value of partnering early


Using the insights gleaned from your stakeholders, follow up with ideas that show how a strategic communication approach can meet business needs. Back it up with the latest research and proven examples that have achieved results.


We all know the importance of measurement, so use it to educate. Conduct research internally to better understand your audience and the impact of your work. Stay across professional research. Use the results to hook your stakeholders in and demonstrate why effective communication is so much more than writing an email or creating a poster.


As communication practitioners, we all determine how our profession is perceived; we can all do something about it. So, the next time you’re approached with an urgent request to release an announcement, use it as the catalyst for change.


By Stacey Harrison