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To be or not to be a strategic communication professional

Well, the answer to that question is really up to you.

And much of that depends on how you want to be perceived. I always say, if you want to be a strategic communication professional, you need to act like one.

Recently I was asked to contribute my insights to a publication for communication professionals who work in local government.

One of the author’s questions was: “What advice would you give to CEOs and other executive leaders about trusting their communication advisors?” 

I responded by saying that my advice isn’t for CEOs or executive leaders, but rather for the communication professionals themselves.

Every CEO or executive leader with a functioning brain knows that communication matters. But what are you doing as a communication professional to demonstrate you add value to the business and its outcomes?

Your skill set should include courage and curiosity – courage to challenge the status quo and curiosity to ask important questions, like: What matters to this organisation? What does success look like? What does my executive care about? How can I help you become a better leader? Then, get to work demonstrating how you contribute to what’s important to the organisation and its success. You’re a businessperson first and foremost, just like everyone else. So, use your communication expertise to make a difference to the business.

This also makes you more trustworthy. And when you have a trusted relationship with your executive, they see you as someone they can talk to, and they trust and respect your opinion. You understand their issues and you also understand them as people. When you have this type of relationship, you’re likely to spend much of your time listening, advising, and coaching. In this way, over time, you also build your executives’ communication competence. What they get from you is a genuine business partner. While they may be more senior to you, as author Nancy Kline says, “even in a hierarchy, people can be equals as thinkers”. 

The organisation then benefits through communication that is grounded in the business strategy, employees who understand the purpose, mission, vision, and priorities of the organisation, leaders who understand their role as communicators, and increased collaboration and alignment.

Remember, if you want to be a strategic communication professional, you need to act like one.

How does your strategic communication impact the organisation?

Strategic communication impacts an organisation in many ways – or as one of my Canada-based colleagues always says, "strategic communication has a halo effect on all business operations".

Take internal communication as an example. When people in the organisation know why the organisation exists, where the organisation is headed, and they understand their role in it and how they contribute to its success – then that leads to:

Engaged employees – and these employees are more productive, and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. According to Gallup, those in the top quartile of employee engagement have 81% lower absenteeism. Engaged employees also love telling other people how great their organisation is, and let’s face it – that’s something every organisation wants, especially now in this global race for talent.

When employees are engaged they provide a better customer experience. You may have heard people like business tycoon Richard Branson say things like: “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your business.” That’s absolutely true. Engaged employees share the love.

And a better customer experience leads to improved business performance. According to Forrester and Adobe, experience-driven businesses see over 1.5x higher YoY growth than other companies in customer retention, repeat purchase rates, and customer lifetime value.

Which leads to more revenue. Which leads to increased shareholder value. Which leads to a stronger social impact and the elusive social licence to operate.  

So, anyone who says communication doesn’t matter or doesn’t impact on an organisation’s bottom line doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I still quote this gem from the 2013-14 Towers Watson Change and Communication ROI Study Report, which found: “Organizations with effective change and communication are 3.5 times as likely to significantly outperform their peers.” Seriously, if that doesn’t change your mind, nothing will.

The question is, are you using your expertise in the right way and demonstrating your value by focusing on what’s important? Again, if you want to be a strategic communication professional, you need to act like one.

How can you elevate your value and visibility as a strategic communication professional?

Strategic communication doesn’t just happen – it’s the result of deliberate and structured planning so your first question should always be: what is the business need and how can my communication make a difference?

Look at what’s important to your organisation and align your communication with business needs and outcomes. The real value in strategic communication is your ability to deliver against business results so you need to define what you want to achieve through your communication – i.e., what are your objectives? Good objectives are strategically aligned with the business need but should be framed from a communication perspective. That way you’ll stick to what’s in your range of influence and won’t blur the lines between what the business is responsible for (business outcomes) and what communication is responsible for (communication outcomes).

For example, if your organisation wants to improve the employee experience (business outcome), then align your communication objectives with that business need and look at how communication contributes to your organisation’s employee experience (communication outcome). Your objectives might include percentage increases in the perception of leaders as effective communicators, or how well communication functions at the team, business line, and organisational levels.

And never stop learning. Keep building your toolkit. What research do you have on hand that you can use to inform your approach? Some of my favourites include the European Communication Monitor – the largest transnational study on strategic communication in the world, USC Annenberg’s Global Communication and Relevance Reports, and Gatehouse’s State of the Sector (for internal communication professionals).

I’d encourage you to join a professional association like the International Association of Business Communicators (my association of choice) and get instant access to a wealth of insights about industry trends and the future of the communication profession. I’d also encourage you to get certified through the Global Communication Certification Council – because to maintain your certification you must commit to continuing professional development – and that means staying up to date with the latest industry trends.

We have the best job in the world. There is no other business function that has such an all-access pass to an organisation’s business, and right now, even in the midst of this global pandemic, there’s never been a more exciting time to be a strategic communication professional.

And don't forget: If you want to be a strategic communication professional, you need to act like one.  

About the Author

Sia Papageorgiou is a multi-award-winning strategic communication leader on a mission to elevate the value and visibility of communication professionals and help them become trusted, strategic, and in-demand advisors. She’s worked with some of the wo...