Hard truths behind trends in strategic communications
I watch trends. To be specific, I watch trends in strategic communications. I watch intently.
Over coffee or lunch during the past six months (more than 100 of them), executives and senior communications leaders candidly shared their concerns about the state of strategic communications. From these conversations, I see trends that cast the strategic communications industry as one challenged by credibility, technology, professional development and career pathing (and a few other issues some thought were relics of the past).
1. Many leaders report that they still can’t consistently reach non-desk or field-based employees despite apps that were supposed to make this possible. Apps like App:IC and Red E (among many others of their ilk), still can’t account for the habits of audience members who are in the car, on the production line, or shop floor. Text-to-speech technology has helped, but despite this, many companies have rediscovered lower tech methods such as small group huddles or paycheck stuffers to reach non-desk or field-based audiences. One other factor complicating the use of apps is the closed environment that isolates some apps from other communication channels within an organization.
2. A large segment of business executives are dubious about the contribution of strategic communications teams. These executives cite issues that have dogged investment in communications for years, namely:
Some executives candidly admit that they don’t understand technology that can help communications people better target and reach audiences.
Some communications departments are viewed as “order takers,” leaving them mired in tactics and execution only.
Many executives aren’t confident that communications can be accurately measured. Some make a comparison to marketing efforts, which they see as easily quantifiable.
3. Internal communications people are increasingly being brought in on employee retention and employer branding campaigns. This is a welcome development for the communications executives who brought up this fact. What’s more, employer brand efforts provide an opportunity for more communications people to be involved in broader business strategy and on a highly consequential topic.
One side note here is that evolving communications roles have led to titles that reflect the change. For example, we’re seeing more “Employee Engagement Directors” where we would have seen Communications Director titles in the past.
4. Despite the perceived proliferation of communications industry associations, there's an apparent dearth of forums for internal and executive communications professionals specifically. Groups like the International Association of Business Communicators, Public Relations Society of America, and others can meet the needs of their broad constituencies. However, based on input from many senior communications leaders, there’s a hole in the market for groups dedicated to internal, and especially, executive communications.
Overall, these insights point to a strategic communications discipline that needs to do more to justify investment in headcount, technology, measurement, and resources.