Everyone Thinks They’re Communications Professionals…Here’s the Problem

Let’s consider two facts:

  1. The second listed definition of “communications” on Dictionary.com is: “the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs.”
  2. Most adults are able to speak, write, or sign fluently and with ease.

Therefore, most adults are communications experts. Right?

Unfortunately, that statement is simply not true. While most people can speak and write, few understand the nuance and art of communications. Senior leaders think that just because they can write an email, they are experts in communications principles. They’re not…

Because what I’m referring to, of course, is strategic communications. But be aware: I’m not one of those blowhards who uses “strategic” in everything that I do. I do it in this case because there is a vast difference between communicating and strategic communications. The latter has a deeper purpose, usually one with a plan in place to convince others of an argument or to take an action using a variety of communication vehicles.

Recently at work, I wrote an internal online communications product about a major initiative affecting all staff employees. I met with the content owners several times to discuss the plan and structure of the article and ensure its accuracy. Throughout these conversations, I discussed that my plan was based off of proven digital marketing tactics and practices I learned through my digital marketing class at General Assembly, among others.

The article was structured as a logical story, using fractal headers to tell the overarching main themes. At the end of the article, I created several “buttons,” similar to icons on a smartphone, which used darkened graphics and white text to draw users to the main call to action and other supporting information.

After the article was blessed by several senior officers, my team sent the article to one of the highest levels of the organization for final approval. While I didn’t think that final step was necessary, my chief of staff thought it was. The response we got was just as you would expect: vague and disheartening. There were no specific edits but a direction saying “it’s too long.”

Too long? Based on what? They had no evidence that supported their claim. Conversely, I did. Metrics from my analytics database showed that readers of my products stayed engaged and read them to the end. Secondly, I had sent the draft of the article to several employees to see if the structure and content of the article made sense and engaged them. It was my own version of sample testing. Guess what? They all liked it.

When I explained the above information and other supporting data that the article was the best way to convey the information, my deputy director in my office said that he would push back and support us, that is, until he discussed it with the chief of staff, who said no.

So that meant I had to restructure the article, remove the fractal story structure, and delete some of the other proven tactics I used. I have no idea, at this point, how the bland article will fare with employees. And I’ll never know the difference between what could have been because my organization does not have the technology to let me A/B test my communications products.

I don’t go through my day telling other people their expertise and how to do their jobs. I just ask that I get the same respect. Strategic communications professionals need to be supported by their leaders and recognized as experts in their fields. Let us do our jobs and you’ll be impressed with the results.



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