Evaluation will win communications the respect it deserves

By Steven Stokes,

The greatest irony about our profession as communicators is that we are poor at communicating our own value to our organisations. We are PR people who forget to PR ourselves.

We lament that fact that our profession is often not treated with the respect that it deserves. We see ourselves as a function within an organisation that is heavily relied upon but we rarely get the recognition we deserve.

However, the reality is that if we don’t actually promote and evaluate what we do, how is anybody going to know the value of our contribution? The more valued our profession is, the more respect we will gain and the more likely we are to be recognised as having a key role at the highest level of strategic decision-making.

For me, the past few months have brought together two interconnected themes – the strategic role of communications/PR, and leadership. It is fair to say that, in the past, the organisational hierarchy has treated communications and PR as a tactical, operational delivery function. However, for our employers to succeed, and for the benefit of our profession, it needs to be accepted as a strategic management discipline – with our feet firmly under the table of decision-making power.

Don’t get me wrong, the profession has moved forward a lot in recent decades. There was a time, particularly in the public sector, when roles in communications/PR were given to admin assistants with no background in the discipline. Now, it seems, these important organisational functions are recognised as professions in their own right and they recruit accordingly. Nevertheless, on this evolutionary trajectory, communications/PR is ready for the next step.

This is something passionately advocated by current CIPR President, Sarah Hall. Sarah has issued a rallying call to the CIPR membership urging us to take a proactive approach in helping to establish our profession as a strategic management discipline. During her talk at the CIPR Cymru Senior Practitioners Forum in Cardiff recently, she challenged us to evaluate our skillset to ensure that we have all of the tools to deliver at the highest level.

But, what do we measure ourselves against? Well, in April 2018 the Global Alliance published their Global Competency Framework for Public Relations and Communications Management. The framework, compiled following a two-year international study led by the University of Huddersfield, highlighted the key high-level deliverables required of practitioners. They are:

Communication Capabilities

  1. To align communication strategies with organisational purpose and values
  2. To identify and address communication problems proactively
  3. To conduct formative and evaluative research to underpin communication strategies and tactics
  4. To communicate effectively across a full range of platforms and technologies

Organisational Capabilities

  1. To facilitate relationships and build trust with internal and external stakeholders and communities
  2. To build and enhance organisational reputation
  3. To provide contextual intelligence

Professional Capabilities (those expected of any professional)

  1. To provide valued counsel and be a trusted advisor
  2. To offer organisational leadership
  3. To work within an ethical framework on behalf of the organisation, in line with professional and societal expectations
  4. To develop self and others, including continuing professional learning

This is a very useful tool to evaluate our individual strengths and identify areas for development.

Sarah also believes that in order to achieve our potential we need to learn the language of business. That means developing skills above and beyond those learned within our specialism. Positions of strategic ‘power’ require people with strong leadership skills. For communications professionals to make a successful transition into strategic management, they need to explore the field of leadership and develop their own leadership style.

I recently had the privilege of attending the Academi Wales Summer School – a week-long leadership conference for the public and third sectors. Being immersed in learning and self-reflection gave me a sense of clarity as to the type of leadership that will help organisations survive and thrive. These are:

  1. Brave leadership/effective decision-making – Whether you work in the public or private sector, these are unique times. Leaders are being asked to find radical solutions to thechallenges/opportunities (delete as appropriate!) that their organisations face. That requires brave leadership.
  2. Compassionate leadership – There are some high-profile ‘leaders’ in the world today who may give the wrong impression about what makes an effective leader. Be strong, yes – but treat people like people. That is how you get the best out of individuals and your organisation. Emotional intelligence is a vital attribute for any leader.

So, there you have it. It is up to us to move our profession forward. We need personal evaluation to ensure that we are operating at the highest level and we need to measure and communicate the value of our profession to our organisations. At the same time, we need to become effective leaders – not only making strategic decisions but also capable of taking the reins at the very top.

By achieving this, our profession will gain the respect it craves – and rightly deserves.

Steven Stokes is a Communications Manager for the NHS and Director, TEDxSwansea

Photo by Chris Liverani on Unsplash

  1. A good call for a more strategic and metrics-driven approach.
    The future I suspect will be paradoxical: on the one hand we need to strenuously develop precise measurement, evaluation and iteration.
    On tbe other, with greater knowledge and inderstanding from behavioural psychology, there will be the equivalent of what scientists call ‘dark matter’ and we will respect there will be some emotional stuff that will never be quantifiable.

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