Jim Fogarty, Director, Strategic Partnerships, PublicRelay
With the communications landscape changing, the required talent is also changing. Now, communications executives must hire people with skill sets, that three years ago, were not necessary. People who understand – How AI is impacting communications. Business in general, including how to read a balance sheet. How fake news is impacting businesses. Even the role of a CCO is modernizing. It’s no longer enough for the role to be foundational. Instead, they must be an integrator across the business to create cross functional collaboration. And they need to use data-driven insights to make their organization more agile.
This topic was discussed in a recent CommPRO webinar by top communications executives. Here are five key skills for next generation communicators.
Storytelling with Data
Many communicators chose their profession to avoid having to deal with data and numbers. They tend to have very high EQs (Emotional Quotients) and great storytelling skills. And often feel that they are not as skilled in the more data-driven business skills found in branches such as finance or legal. David Chamberlain, former VP of Corporate Communications at PNC explains that communicators need to use the insights found by analyzing media data to make better decisions and have a clear understanding of what’s relevant and what is not. Are our CSR campaigns working to garner more positive SOV? Do we need to reallocate resources to messages that are not pulling through? Are our spokespeople staying on message?
Communicators can apply their storytelling skills to explain the insights that their analysis is providing. Charts and graphs aren’t very interesting without the narrative to explain what someone is looking at and why they should care. Insights from your analysis should ultimately answer the question “what do we do next?”
Bill Price, VP of Communications at Zoetis notes that having a playbook mentality with only one way of thinking will not make you a successful business partner. Instead, he explains that, “you have to be adaptable to the strengths of leadership and their priorities and what works for them”. Instead of being a coach that makes players adapt to a system, be a coach that understands the talent and build success with that talent. Being able to recognize priorities and adapt to them is an important skill to create great business partnerships.
Chamberlain also adds that it is important to pivot and find alternate solutions. Being a critical observer will make you a well-rounded teammate and help lead situations to a preferred outcome.
Having a level of empathy allows you to interpret signals and better understand others’ motivations. This is especially important when trying to understand signals the CEO is sending you, so that you can properly assess their concerns and come up with a solution. Graeme Harris, CEO of Strategic Profiles Management adds that “having that empathy and being able to decipher is a skill that you learn over time dealing with people. For some people its innate and easy, but others need to learn it”.
Unlike newer skills focusing on data and analytics, the art of persuasion is still a core skill that communicators must possess. Data will help your influence and support your strategy, but you need the soft skills to fully persuade audiences. Harris notes that “if you’re not able to impact and influence within your organization on behalf of your function, you are going to come up short as a communicator”. There are strategic ways to impact and influence your organization, but it takes creativity and strategic thinking.
Networking and Diplomacy
Bill Price mentions that “you must be able to understand the allies you need to make before a meeting, who you need to pre-brief and how to manage egos to get people behind an idea when you are not the final decision maker.”
To accomplish this, get better at networking and have a good sense of your internal network. Who are the people that can get things done? Who is going to teach you gaps in your own knowledge of the business? Build your network to get this insight because it’s not included in your orientation kit when you first join a company. Price suggests that you build relationships over constant communication, meetings, phone calls, etc. Over time, this allows you to understand the team, the culture and how to get things done within your organization.
While it’s important to have a great internal network, next gen communicators should expand even further. It’s easy to become internally focused when working at a large company, but this blocks out such valuable information from the outside. Stay externally focused to research best practices and even look across industries. Don’t get bogged down in your day-to-day to do list.
- Attend webinars, read books and even follow social feeds of other companies or executives.
- If your company uses an outside firm, consult them and ask what their other clients are doing.
- Build your network and consider creating a group of people you trust, who are in similar roles, to occasionally talk and learn from one another.