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  • Writer's pictureAaron Zaslofsky

Why I Founded a Communications Industry Peer-Group

Orchestrating an industry peer-group is a significant undertaking, but it comes with rewards aplenty – many of them unexpected. This has been my experience since I founded the Communications Collective for corporate-side, senior leaders in executive communications, internal communications, and brand/reputation.

The "why” behind the Communications Collective

Minneapolis/St. Paul has reputable International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapters, among other communications industry organizations. However, shortly after starting my consultancy – Wheelhouse Communications – I realized that certain niches within communications were being underserved by these organizations, namely those for which I focus.

Established industry groups had intentionally broad constituencies for the purposes of programming, volunteerism, membership outreach, and others. Yet, there were thousands of people working right here in the same subdisciplines like executive positioning or employee engagement. These people had problems others in our field could help solve. So, I decided to do something about it and bring problem-solvers together.

Who participates in the Collective

Industry peers believed strongly that the group would flourish if membership was curated thoughtfully. I started with a list of corporate-side senior leaders I already knew, liked, and trusted. From there, I considered factors like personal generosity, willingness to share with others, dedication to networking, enthusiasm for the Collective concept, and commitment to regular participation. Then, I made the case and found 22 like-minds interested in helping peers, and themselves as well.

Building the Collective in this way was especially important since the group was founded for the explicit purpose of meeting in-person. Facebook and LinkedIn groups are easy, but people come and go because they can. I wanted members to feel ownership, while being accountable to peers who made the same commitment to participate and share.

What the Collective looks like

The Collective gathers every six weeks with a typical turnout of 8-12 members. I’ve been careful to manage group size so that we can have intimate discussions that provide everyone a chance to voice their perspective. As importantly, group size allows us to get to know each other and trust each other. With trust, we can have the candid and thorny conversations that arise.

Discussion topics have included professional development for communications executives, future structures of corporate communications departments, and the role of communications in equity and inclusion. We’ve also discussed the role of communications in the #metoo movement, how to counsel executives to connect emotionally with employees, and more.

What we’ve learned

Through the Collective, we’ve learned a great deal about ourselves and our profession, including:

  • Most corporate communications departments are too insular. Growth can be stifled when an organization believes all answers are in-house. Talent needs to breathe and groups like the Collective are oxygen.

  • Expertise is most useful when it has an outlet. Give good people a place to exchange ideas and help others and they will do just that.

  • Causes proliferate when shared by a critical mass. We’ve employed the Collective to discuss meaningful topics like the role of motherhood in public relations, which was the topic of a member’s master’s thesis (Amie Hoffner). We also invited Julie Burrows, the founder of UpTurnships, to share about her wonderful organization and how Collective members can help with internships for college students of color.

  • It’s OK to take. We allow others to help solve our problems (a.k.a., take) because we know we’ll return the favor (a.k.a., give back).

  • Mentorship opportunities aren’t only for seasoned professionals and younger colleagues. Mentorship can, and does, happen within peer-to-peer relationships. Our Collective is proof.

Parting thought

Exceptional people should know other exceptional people. If you know two people who meet this description, bring them together. And if you know 22 people who meet this description, bring them together too. That’s how meaningful relationships are built, and problems solved. This idea is the lifeblood of our Communications Collective.

Here’s to those who share wisdom, give back, and strengthen our professional communities.

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