What does one write about when addressing an expert community of communications professionals on communications, I wondered to myself when this magazine very kindly invited me to contribute an article. I eventually found the answer to my question – communications professionals would probably be interested in their internal client’s perspective. Having worked with in-house communications professionals at various levels throughout my career, I have become a big fan of the work they do and the value they create, and the respect “bank account” keeps growing. I have seen how they have helped built businesses and managed reputational issues, and how their advice and counsel are sought after by their colleagues.
After reflecting on own my own experience partnering with communications professionals, it became clear to me that the ones who are most successful and who proved themselves invaluable to businesses demonstrate most, if not all, of these five personas: the Collaborator, the Marketer, the Numerati, the Producer and the Thought Leader. In my view, the best communicators are actually business leaders who also happen to be great at communications.
As the communications landscape continues to evolve, from print to digital and now social media, I have also seen how these professionals continue to remain at the top of their game. I hope that identifying these personas can help provide another perspective on how communications professionals can future-proof themselves.
1. The Collaborator
As an internal client, I have been most impressed by communicators who think business first. These professionals know too well that a communications strategy set in a vacuum (or “public relations for the sake of public relations”) – for example, driving stories that do not link to business priorities – is not as impactful as working in close partnership with business leaders to build businesses/address business problems.
Yet, being collaborative does not mean saying yes to every request for help. Where the expectations between internal clients and the communications team are not completely aligned (it is not a stretch to imagine how and why that could be), the collaborator proactively tries to bridge or narrow the gap where possible. The best in the business also understand that a lot of the value they bring comes from challenging their business peers and asking difficult questions such as “why are we doing this?” or “what does success look like to you?”, and following up with counsel and advice.
2. The Marketer
As the line between public relations and marketing continues to be less distinguished, some communications professionals are already acting like a Marketer would. They not only breathe the brand, but also keenly understand and leverage marketing techniques to drive public relations campaigns to deliver even more impact. They understand how to create campaigns that go viral in a positive way, by creating the necessary emotional connect with their audiences particularly on social media platforms.
The Marketer understands that one size does not fit all on social media platforms. Context matters here, just like it does in the brick and mortar world, underscored by the fact that more than 80 per cent of LinkedIn members prefer to keep their professional and social lives separate. The mindsets of people while they are on various social media platforms are also different. We found that on professional networks like LinkedIn, people are looking to invest their time to better their careers. Meanwhile on personal networks, their main objective could be to spend time on personal interests. We call that the Mindset Divide. Creating content for both kinds of networks requires a keen marketing eye, and knowing your audience and their mindsets - something that works on LinkedIn may not work as well on personal networks.
The last digital decade dominated by search engines and social media has led to an explosion in the volume of data all over the world. Every day, billions of these data points are generated on LinkedIn. The good news is that if you invest time to analyse these data points, there are many opportunities to make better and more informed decisions. For example, you may get insights into what kind of stories your audiences are interested in and increase your chances of remaining relevant to your audiences. You can also use these insights to provide counsel to your stakeholders. The bad news is your competitors are probably doing the same. The bottom line: you cannot afford not to do anything about it.
The LinkedIn communications team consistently does a great job of utilising data insights to tell compelling stories and help our over 347 million members around the world become more successful and productive. For example, it is now clear that having a profile photo on your LinkedIn profile is essential, as it boosts the chances of the profile being noticed by 14 times. It is also easier to make your LinkedIn profile more differentiated, by removing these most overused buzzwords – “motivated”, “passionate”, “creative”, “driven” and “extensive experience”.
4. The Producer
Although he or she operates behind the scenes, there is no question the Producer is the leader in the film making process. Like a film producer, an effective communications professional is adept at orchestrating every move, mustering resources and leveraging others, from junior level employees to top executives, to tell and distribute great stories. I am always fascinated by how, with seemingly little direct resources under their control, they are able to deliver a disproportionate level of impact.
In a world that is increasingly connected via social media platforms, the impact a Producer can create is even more outsized, by helping and empowering others to tell their stories on social media. A good place to start would be the employees in your company, who are often one of the best ambassadors to external stakeholders. Many companies have already embarked on this journey, and in my view LinkedIn is certainly at the forefront of the pack. I always smile when clients and contacts tell me they had read about the latest developments at our company on LinkedIn, posted by our employees.
5. The Thought Leader
Many of the communications professionals I work with are more accustomed to helping others (such as their spokespersons) shine, instead of stepping into the limelight. Most of the time, this is justified for business reasons. I do, however feel that communications professionals can do more to share their points of view, extensive knowledge and expertise to the world at large, in their own name. Not only will doing so help others in the profession become better at what they do, it is also a powerful way to underscore your expertise and extend your professional reputation.
LinkedIn offers a publishing platform to its members for this purpose, and many professionals are already leveraging it, including some of the world’s most respected leaders such as Richard Edelman (president and chief executive officer of Edelman), Tony Fernandes (group chief executive officer of AirAsia), Richard Branson (founder of Virgin Group), Arianna Huffington (üresident and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group) and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. Having authored a few blog posts on LinkedIn, I highly recommend you do so too, and start driving valuable conversations with the largest group of professionals ever assembled.
Personas aside (and there are obviously a lot more to what I discussed), there are many more aspects and pathways to success. One of these is how you relate to others at work. As a business leader, the communications professionals I most enjoy working with are those who dare to dream big and get things done, are fun to work with and are humble.
Communications is a critical function and partner to any business. I am looking forward to seeing more of the value and impact your profession is currently creating, and am confident you will continue to be successful.