How can it be that communications is still so misunderstood as a discipline? We must carry some of the blame. But poorly written, misinformed articles in magazines which should know better don’t help either. And exactly who has the job title ‘internal communications strategist’?
by Rachael Stray
Magazines such as Cosmopolitan have a long history of telling you what to change to improve yourself while simultaneously telling you to ‘love the skin you’re in’.
The pages are filled with images of perfection – hair, teeth, body shape the works.
So, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed and saw the below article, I have to say I wasn’t all that shocked but still disappointed…
Whether you’re internal or external comms, our teams are usually “busybusyverybusy” but our roles are about much more than dishing out outdated clichés, organising dinners and birthday cakes!
You have to prove your worth, whether you work in local government, the NHS or the third sector - many facing ever-changing demands with tightening budgets.
When I made the move to the ‘dark side’ from a reporter to a comms officer my former colleagues scoffed at me. Many of their views mirror those seemingly at Cosmo Towers – they thought I’d spend my day being at the beck and call of journalists and writing boring press releases. Unfortunately, for them I don’t have the time to sit by the phone waiting for their calls.
Perhaps, as many more journalists in their droves make their way over to the dark side, they too will see the merits of the world of PR and communications.
In the newsroom you’re competing against your rivals whether that is other news outlets or even your colleagues to get the story first but in our world I’ve found it to be more about helping and supporting one another.
Newspapers, local and national, used to set the news agenda but since the explosion of smart phones, better Broadband and the upskilling of small comms teams the tables have turned.
Our own channels, whether this be social media pages, websites, newsletters and so on, are the gateway to the audiences we are trying to reach – not news desks.
Speaking to fellow colleagues many have abandoned the churning out a press release and hope it gets picked up approach and are instead curating and creating their own engaging content. So many other tools, platforms and opportunities exist for us now. And we first create great plans to decide which ones are best suited.
A boring press release just doesn’t cut the mustard any more.
During the cyber-attack which hit the NHS in a massive way earlier this year I firmly believe this is where the comms teams up and down the country came into their own.
In my former role with a large acute NHS Trust my team were right in the thick of it. All of our IT systems went down and our phones were ringing off the hook. No email, limited telephones and no access to records.
We had to go old school pen and paper and finding a photocopier not linked to the network.
We used everything we had at our disposal. We posted key messages for staff in a closed Facebook group via our personal mobiles as the Trust phones were disabled. We walked the length and breadth of our hospitals to keep staff in the loop. Patients and the public were kept informed with posts on our social media channels.
Local and national media were all over it and I lost count of the calls from journalists asking for statements via email. We had no IT, so they were directed to our Facebook page.
We shared video interviews with updates which had thousands of views and we answered thousands of messages and queries on Facebook and Twitter.
This was crisis comms but the day job is far from boring, nor does it involve wearing a headset (who has the budget for that?). Every day is different and brings more trials and tribulations but I wouldn’t want to do any other job.
Rachael Stray is senior communications officer at National Energy Action
image via Andreas Wulff