Communicators Need to Find Their Voice to Better Define Their Value

Communications executives have begun in earnest to make their way into boardrooms, C-suite meetings and the critical business conversations at their organizations. But the pace is not fast enough and the courage of their convictions not always on display. You could even say: “PR people need to get a spine.”

That, at least, is what one senior PR exec declared during the PR News Communications Leadership Roundtable held at the Yale Club in New York last week with partner PublicRelay. On the one hand, the group of senior level communicators at the roundtable agreed that we are in the Golden Age of Communications. Our storytelling abilities, the unprecedented amount of data at our fingertips and our unique connection to influential stakeholders position us nicely in this always-on environment.

On the other hand, there’s a general agreement among comms leaders that PR people need to perform more like business leaders and drum up (and elicit) more confidence in themselves. They need to use data to further their cause and stand up to their CEO and their directors, be it the CMO, COO or even a CCO who is not advanced in her thinking. Staying silent is no longer acceptable.

It was interesting to hear the dichotomy between what’s perceived as both a Golden Age and a Silent Age. A well-positioned communications/measurement pro shared with me recently that she thought the reason so many communicators have a hard time getting more budget or their voices heard is because they come into this profession with softer business skills and personalities that are undercut by their more outgoing marketing counterparts. This is quite a claim and if you are in communications you might take issue with it while conceding there’s room for personal improvement.

Whether you’re a soft-spoken PR Director or a hard-charging communications officer, the burden is now on you to make the best use of the data and analytics that are coming at you at warped speed and to be discerning in what you share and how you share it. As one roundtable exec interestingly reminded his peers, it’s as much about what you do say than what you don’t say. That applies internally and externally. Measuring the articles that don’t appear in the media, the statements that your CEO is not saying – now, that’s a unique challenge and one worth measuring. As for other things not to say or do, as one PR director at a large media company told me, “If I bring in a clip book to a meeting my CEO will say, ‘get that away from me.’” Instead, what’s required is gathering of insights that align with smarter KPIs, and shaping the narrative in a way that has long-term implications and is not a one-hit-wonder for your PR dept.

The careers of communicators are faster paced than ever and require an inordinate amount of flexibility, agility and business savvy. Knowing what questions to ask, when to push back and when to push forward will help us see more clearly this Golden Age that we are in.

-- Diane Schwartz