Recently I learned that a high-level position at a friend’s company recently had been filled, and the new executive was interested in hiring a “strong social media” talent to be his communications department leader.
To me, this was very narrow thinking, though I understand why. So much interaction between businesses and their audiences is conducted online, spending on social is growing exponentially and it’s a very obvious need to be fluent, culturally adept and intentional on social media.
However, while social media is certainly part of what communicators manage, it’s not all. If housed under communications, it lives under an umbrella that includes strategy(ies), public affairs, internal communications, external communications, brand management, crisis communications and planning, and sales support, to name a few of the hats communicators wear.
Any communications leader worth their salt knows that they also must be voracious consumers of content, news and data, as well as expert collaborators and strategic partners within and outside of their company.
To be a great communicator on behalf of a brand, you must understand all parts of the business, so you can uncover story angles of interest to publications, better ways to do business that inform presentations and internal training, connect the dots for employees and shareholders, and speak in an authentic voice for leadership.
I love social media—the immediacy, the intimacy, the opportunity to add fresh perspective almost instantly (and the ability to react to a crisis quickly and well, where once it took press releases and working the phones). However, I also understand that, as a standalone skill, it can’t be the only familiar tool for someone managing a communications division.
A corporate communications leader must collaborate with or LEAD a disparate group of professionals across public affairs, public and media relations, social media, graphic designers, art directors, IT, human resources and sales professionals. The role must look internally as well as externally at all times, and have a cool head in a crisis. It is a place where someone with a diversity of skills tends to serve the company better than one who specializes, especially today when corporate budgets are looking to get the most bang out of a limited headcount buck.
For example, a designer friend got an emergency call to help “fix” a client’s collateral materials, originally produced by a young designer who’d only designed for social media, not print. All photos were low-resolution (300 dpi for print). Each of the 22 pieces of collateral used black as a background on different substrates or digital (if you’re thinking “well, black is cool!,” it’s actually NOT, because different substrates mean everything will be a different color of black). Nothing was a standard print size.
My friend, agile across multiple disciplines, was able to communicate with both the CEO and the designer, then provide what should have come to her in the first place: a suite of collateral that would be uniform and would make the company look great in it’s LBC (little black collateral).
Similarly, social isn’t a bandwagon; it’s a wheel on the “brandwagon,” supporting a company just as internal communications, sales support and public affairs do, with marketing communications and branding sitting up front providing a ‘face’ for the company. All work together to move a company forward, driving engagement, loyalty, growth and revenue.
Do you agree or disagree with my post? What, to you, are the most important skills of a corporate communications leader? Do you believe that social will eventually become one of the only ways companies interact with customers? Let me know!
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