What communications pros need to do to stay relevant
In the second installment of the "4/4/4 Four Communications Issues. Four Perspectives. Four Weeks. Blog Series," inspired by the creative minds of Steve Farnsworth, Paul Roberts, Lou Hoffman and Todd Defren, the question is "To Stay Relevant How Do Communications Professionals Need To Evolve?"
Maintaining relevance is one of my personal favorite topics. It's something I discuss daily with colleagues and clients alike; however, mostly from the standpoint of what is going on in the market, with media, analysts, conversations and social media circles. I'll admit I don't spend enough time on openly discussing what advocates of Stephen Covey might refer to as "Sharpening the Saw" (or Highly Effective Habit #7) to make yourself a more meaningful contributor in communications.
With that said, I submit the following areas on which communications professionals need focus in order to be relevant. This may seem like a no-brainer list to many, but the challenge isn't in the list itself, it's in how you apply the list and prioritize the various elements in order to evolve in a meaningful way.
Everything we do is strategic
Rightly or wrongly, and I would say many of us who work with business-to-business or technology focused companies in particular, hear it often. The expectation isn't just on delivering quality service, it's basic understanding of why an activity is important. The expectation is that if you are undertaking speaking to a particular reporter or analyst or engaging with a particular blogger, there's a reason. And, that reason isn't just that they have a pulse.
Bear in mind, there may still be a level of education required on discussing an activity and why there is value in pursuing something or having a discussion with someone in particular. That's the moment to showcase your strategic thinking and to respond to the age-old, one-word question we all get in communications -- "Thoughts?" (More to come on that topic in a later post.)
It isn't everything, but knowing the importance of dates, anniversaries, days of the week, and hours of the day, is something that communications professionals need to understand clearly. In the old days when print publications were the end all and be all for news, communications professionals were trained to understand weekly deadlines, what needed to be done by when in order to maximize interest or coverage in a particular activity. Not many made the mistake of trying to reach a reporter on a Thursday deadline for a weekly print publication with something that may not be "timely."
I can recall many an "educational" conversation many years ago and I am sure many have more to share. But it's as basic as thinking through what time means. For example, would you expect a West Coast based reporter to take a call at 4:00 am PT? If you did, it better be something significant and major. So, the reasoning follows that there are moments in time that are more meaningful than others. The Internet changed the dynamic of when information was ready and available and as many of us in communications know, social media channels are changing the way in which "news" is delivered.
Social media savvy
We echo the sentiments and frustrations that many have uttered longingly and eloquently in the communications industry and with clients. It's very hard, if not impossible, to counsel on communications activities if you are not familiar at a minimum with the tools and opportunities available to do social media in a meaningful way.
As a long-time friend and former client joked with me recently as his VP, Corporate Communications mentioned to him that "messing about on Twitter is no social media strategy," avoiding it is not one either. With that said, and as mentioned before, the challenge isn't just on understanding the tools and channels available but in many circumstances the real value is in how to implement, measure, monitor and maximize them.
Just take a look at the recent Dilbert cartoon that made its way through many inboxes, Twitter updates and Facebook pages. It's a challenge to take advantage of tools if from an HR and corporate policy perspective, use of those tools is clearly defined and in some situations limited or forbidden altogether.
The devil is in the details
Maybe it's because we work with many engineering and technology professionals that while a cover story may appear in a major industry or trade publication, the first reaction in many situations may be that an individual's name is misspelled or that a title is not accurate. Take and make, the time to sweat the details. It's not just expected, it's important. The impressions you are trying to create are important. You don't want to leave a lasting impression that you don't pay enough attention to detail.
Communications is a practice and discipline
In order to be a better writer you need to write. In order to be a better speaker you need to speak. The nature of our profession means anyone involved in communications needs to practice, practice, practice their craft. If you are looking to evolve your profession, you need to understand what it is you are trying to do.
Maintaining a sense of humor
Having fun with what you do shows. Much like the release of the latest summer movie, there will be moments that will make you laugh and moments that may, just may, bring you to tears. We, of course will assume those tears are tears of joy, but it's important to understand context. With one popular story circulating through PR circles this week noted, while PR is a 24x7 practice, it's important to focus on what makes employees happy most. And last time I checked fun and laughter was high up on that list.
I know we may not have covered all the areas that communications professionals need to focus on in order to evolve and maintain relevance, and I'm looking forward to reading what others have to offer on the topic as well.
If you think we missed anything, let us know. We're always open to comments, suggestions and good jokes, as long as they're in good taste as well.