Know thyself: What communicators are and aren’t

In our latest board blog, IABC EMENA board member Nada Haddad tackles the tricky area of communicators frequently being expected to be a jack-of-all-trades. But does the fault lie with us?

multitaskingDuring my experience as an independent brand and communications specialist, I have often been approached by international organizations looking for a trainer who can double up as a communicator. Some job descriptions mentioned a trainer who was to deliver training in finance, education or other sectors, while at the same time delivering communications activities. Others were looking for a communicator who would do communications and, within the same role, provide training in a completely unrelated field.

I have also come across job descriptions calling for a communicator expected to be a graphic designer, a photographer and a video editor. In my view, a person good with images is not necessarily good with words. Besides, all these professions require vastly different aptitudes, mindsets and skills: they cannot be mixed.

While budgeting and project requirements could be the reason behind such combinations, this nevertheless shows a total lack of understanding of a communicator’s role. One could argue that it indicates a belittlement of communications, a role perceived by these people as uncomplicated … so easy that any trainer or past finance manager, for example, could deliver it. Further, communications seems to be an unclear business function with undefined boundaries, where communicators can literally do anything: flattering!

There are several explanations for the above. Communications is a relatively new profession, depending on the country. In some, it is long-standing, recognized and state-of-the-art as in the US or UK; in others, it is recognized but still has a way to go to become established, as in Europe; and in others it still remains in an embryonic state, as in the Middle East or Africa.

However, let’s not forget, not long ago, communications often encompassed marketing, advertising or public relations. People are still lost with all these definitions (see my past blog “No to DIY in Communications”). Communications suffers from a crisis of identity. Like a teenager, it struggles to assert itself, be respected and recognized.

A bit of mea culpa too: communicators have still to clearly explain what they do. We seem very good at communicating a project or a company but very bad at communicating our profession.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that our work is not always tangible and even sometimes abstract: we work on building a brand, on creating an image, an impression, on raising awareness, on making a product known and also on influencing people in certain of their choices and decisions. We do all this, but it is not always easy to explain our job, especially to the neophyte.

Although communications curricula in universities are introduced or further deepened, and whereas a growing number of companies, VIPs, and others seek the services of seasoned communicators, there still seems to be a large crowd who does not know about communications: what it is and what communicators do.

While we may succeed in our role, we sill sit in the shadow of what or who we have put under the limelight. We are still not a widely recognized and established profession and one would hope that one day when we say “I am a communicator”, it will identify us as established professionals, like engineers, accountants, doctors or lawyers.

In recent trend articles and findings, the RoI of communications is no longer to be proven and is an emerging topic of conferences and thought leadership research. However, there is still a way to go for the public at large in understanding what communicators do or don’t do. What they are and aren’t. Communicators have to take a deep dive into explaining their job and clarifying their identity to their wider audiences.

Nada Haddad

Nada Haddad

About Nada Haddad

A specialist in corporate communications, public relations and strategic communications, Nada previously worked as United Nations’ communications officer, and built as well as developing the regional communications function for Deloitte and Touche in the Middle East. Today, she has her own agency and is an independent consultant in brand and communication in the aviation, luxury retail, IT and development sectors.