It is often well into an organization’s existence when leadership realizes they need someone to “do communications” full-time. When that realization does eventually come, the next steps can be scary and confounding.
“Communications” is one of those tricky roles in an organization that everyone thinks they can do, until they can’t. As a result, the role tends to be a catch-all of everything leadership realizes they are bad at: social media, digital strategy, brand strategy, marketing, public relations, media relations, graphic design, promotions, writing, events, creative strategy, and more. More often than not an organization loses site of what they are hiring for, increasing the likelihood that they hire someone who is better at blowing smoke than they are at actually making a difference.
We are here to help.
Just like organizational strategy, the process of bringing in communications support should start with answering the question, “What problem are we solving?” An overload of work is a different problem than the lack of a strategy. Both may be true and you will need a different set of skills to solve for each. Start by defining the goals for your organization and how you imagine a professional communicator making your job easier and the organization better. This will begin to outline the CORE COMPETENCIES of the professional you bring in. Core competencies for an effective communicator include:
Ability to write and speak persuasively
Creative thinker, a “what if we tried…” kind of person that can challenge tradition
Natural and talented storyteller, with an understanding of narrative and message
Understanding of key audiences and ability to adapt to them
Ability to set and track measurable goals related to communications
If the workload of a professional communicator can support full-time work all year AND the addition of communications support is a value-add for the entire organization, a full-time Communications Director may be justified. Those are not small criteria. Be specific about the ways in which the organization will improve as a result of communications support (more money in the door, more awareness of your issue, etc.) This will begin to outline the GOALS of the professional you bring in.
A communications professional’s goals should be:
Under their control. Do not hold someone accountable for limitless variables. Reflective of growth from previous year, campaign, etc. Progress is positive.
Realistic given your organization’s size, scope, reach, etc. An effective communicator can help, but cannot create miracles.
Aspirational, meaningful, and measurable. Goals should give a person something to strive for, be truly valuable to the health of the organization, and be objectively measurable.
When you have a rock-solid communications professional in-house, it can be a game-changer for any organization. There are specific functions, however, that I still recommend outside support for, even with in-house communications capacity, such as:
Strategy development. You want an external party with experience across issue areas to challenge you on the development of a communications or brand strategy.
Message platform. When organizational messaging – a brand narrative – is developed solely internally, it gets lost in jargon and unimportant nuance.
Creative design. Good design work is easy to find and very difficult to employ full-time. Farm it out and get better and more efficient results.
Incidental functions. If needs such as media strategy or campaign execution are annual occurrences rather than perpetual needs, consider using outside expertise and allowing your in-house employee to direct a team of vendors rather than get bogged down each year trying to make the same thing shiny and new.
When considering communications support, there are so many questions that need to be reconciled before deciding whether or not to hire someone on staff. Consider the problem you are trying to solve, the ways in which communications support will better your organization, and the broad, strategic functions you will still need budget for to hire outside help. Line those things up and the answer to “Hire or Not Hire?” will be easy to find.
Shaun Adamec is a communications professional, crisis planning expert, and recovering political operative. He is President and Founder of Adamec Communications, which helps those who seek to change the world find their voice.