I’ve been in the public relations business long enough to remember when the role was all about writing press releases, long media lunches and distributing news via floppy disks or the fax machine. Two decades back, the role of public relations was to secure media coverage. We were tasked with shaping the story and pushing it out to the press.
Today, the story is different. The role of the communicator has shifted, to include everything relating to the concepts of reputation and engagement. The modern chief communications officer is a board member, responsible for internal and external communication, with creating and implementing communication strategies that help mould an organisation’s mission, vision, value, and character, and with building a firm’s reputation through stakeholder engagement.
That shift requires today’s communicator to be a master of multiple disciplines: they must be business-savvy, able to comprehend how communications aligns with the wider organisational strategy; communicators must understand both technology – how it’s impacting how we communicate – and psychology, the science behind attitudes and behavior. They need to be able to bring the outside in, and advise executives truthfully on how they’re viewed by the media, customers, governments, consumers and NGOs.
The role of the modern day communicator is both exciting and daunting. Where once we had a limited set of media to engage with, now our stakeholder base can include thousands or even millions, thanks to the reach of social media. We don’t have the luxury of time either; there’s a need to engage and react in real time online, through words, images and videos.
We must understand the art of influence – how it works and who plays a role in influencing our key stakeholders both in private and in public – and appreciate the notion that communication isn’t just about talking but also listening. While it’s never been easier to ask for and hear from our stakeholders thanks to digital tools, it’s also too easy to be distracted by what we want to hear online, and be stuck in an echo chamber.
Communicators also have to deal with how trust is shifting; the manipulation of the media, so-called fake news, trust deficits in contemporary politics and a widening gap in public discourse on topics such as immigration and race are all areas where the communicator must steer a course. The public wants to know what we’re doing when it comes to diversity and inclusion and gender parity, sustainability and transparency. How we engage on these issues can mean the difference between a brand and a CEO that is viewed as a leader and a company which is increasingly distrusted.
I’ve never enjoyed what I do more. The widening scope of my role means I can increasingly show my impact on the business. But I also realise that, regardless of the two decades I’ve spent in the business, I need to continually invest in my own development. I’m grateful for associations such as the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) who are promoting continuous learning through their podcasts, research and webinars.
I’m especially excited about the opportunity to meet with other communicators face-to-face, to hear how they’re implementing new ideas and approaches to communication. I’ll be traveling to Bahrain in February to attend EMENAComm, a one-off IABC conference that’ll feature experts from the world over who’ll share the insights, know-how and tools to help me and fellow communicators achieve a strategic transformation through communications.
We’re living in an age of change, and the notion of communications is also in flux. My job today is different to what I did a year ago, let alone a decade back. The shift from tactics to strategy is going to pick up pace, and this can only be good for everyone, for communicators, for our organisations, and for our stakeholders.
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.