Can passion alone change how others view the comms industry? In our latest board blog, IABC EMENA board member Jennifer Olsen talks (passionately) about what she thinks we can do to improve perceptions of the communications industry.
I see gaps in how we are perceived as professionals in the communications field. How many sessions have you seen or attended discussing how communications professionals can ‘influence the C-suite’? The fact that we even need to talk about this says to me there is still only a superficial value placed on communications by leadership. I know some companies do a better job and truly value communications professionals, but as a whole, I think perceptions of the communications profession need to (and can) improve in a number of areas.
How do we get a seat at the table? This has been a topic that is frustrating to me and I know to others as well. When a communicator cannot influence leaders it is usually due to the reputation of our profession. So how does that happen? More than likely, it is due to that one moment when a leader asks an opinion and doesn’t get a confident answer with a business focus.
Recently, the leader of my department asked me what to do with regard to a staff meeting in which we will have to discuss layoffs. I told him in a brief conversation … I think you should invite these people, at this time because these reasons. As he likes to gather information before a decision, he asked a communicator in his former team the same question. They have known each other longer so I can understand why he was shopping for answers. She said she would come back to him with some analysis. She eventually sent him a PowerPoint presentation with a list of options.
That is not what he asked for. He asked what he should do. He came back to me and asked me to review her choices to see if I had a new view. I went through each one to explain how I think the team would react. We ended up doing what I suggested originally. That is what leadership wants, but I don’t see everyone in our profession having an informed opinion.
The general attitude of recruiting is that all communicators are the same. A communicator producing content is the same as a strategist is the same as an events manager. Our profession is so broad, it is very difficult to be a true generalist who is able to do everything under the umbrella of communications. I don’t think many company recruiters or people advising hiring managers understand that very few of us do it all.
I have worked with some great communicators who prefer to do more of the operational tasks. They like producing content, writing, and the creation of something tangible. I know others who really do prefer strategy. Great, the problem is recruiters/hiring managers have a difficult time advising on job descriptions that really reflect what the job is and are not necessarily good at understanding the relatable skills on someone’s CV/resume.
Professional Associations and Universities
So who can help the recruiters and hiring managers figure out what we do? I believe that is our responsibility in IABC and other professional associations. We have a responsibility as people who want to improve, to better ourselves and the discipline, to set standards. I think the new Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification is a great step forward in demonstrating a level of ability and quality in someone’s work.
I would like to take that a step further and get endorsements for this certification. I also want IABC and other professional associations to have a better dialogue with the top universities for communications. I look forward to a day when I am asked about professional certification in a job interview.
I have been through the hiring process many times and, especially here in Europe, no one seems to be interested in my involvement in IABC. They do like that I have a Masters degree, but don’t know which universities are well respected in the communications discipline. No one seems interested that my alma mater is one of the best schools in the world for Apologia (the rhetoric of apology).
It really comes down to this point. We can only change the perception of communications if we are passionate and active in doing it. The CMP will only become a respected certification if we buy into and promote it. If we hire people for our teams who seek out professional certification, are IABC members or come from a respected communications program we will set a standard of quality that others will soon notice.
As candidates, we also have to be clear about what we want and where our skills lie. Don’t take a communications job that doesn’t match your interests and end up not doing what you were hired for. That will damage the reputation of the discipline for everyone.
We can change the perception of communications by being better, helping each other to influence other groups and their perceptions of what we do. At IABC, I do think we challenge each other and try to find ways to improve our profession. I would just like to see more. I love what we do. I want the respect that I think we all deserve for doing something that does not come easily or naturally to a lot of people. We can change the perception if we put our minds to it.
About Jennifer Olson
Jennifer has worked in communications in a wide variety of companies such as Staples, Shell, the Royal Bank of Scotland and General Electric. She likes problem-solving and is passionate about improving the reputation of the communications profession. She earned a green belt in Lean Six Sigma in technology and is adept in areas of information and data management. Jennifer was also an actor for 20 years and uses her experience to coach, guide and mentor people to become better presenters and storytellers. She has served on the IABC Netherlands Board since 2014. She also has a passion for 16th Century European history and gives history tours in the Netherlands.
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