Does comms need a rebrand?


I attended a ‘storytelling for social enterprises’ event recently where one of the workshops was a ‘comms clinic’. A brilliant concept – the facilitators had created a board game where each round saw the ‘patient’ pick a card from the ‘issues’ pile and the others had to give advice they thought could save them!

One of the questions that sticks with me is ‘How can I prove the value of comms to my board?’ I have some advice on this – skip to the end if you want to go straight to it – but before I share, I want to take a moment to explore why this question (or various iterations of it) comes up so frequently in my line of work. (If anyone reading this is working in non-profit comms and hasn’t come up against this, I would love to hear from you – and find out who you work for!)

At the heart of the issue – I think – lies a fundamental lack of understanding of the comms profession. This leads the uninformed to believe that comms is something that everyone can do. That communicating is a skill we develop throughout our career in all walks of work, rather than a profession in its own right. And who could blame them? In the world of work, we appear to communicate every day. Every job description – from Office Assistant to CEO – tells us that we must have ‘excellent communication skills’. And, time and again, we repeat that we most definitely do in our applications. And we are being genuine. We mean that we are comfortable talking to colleagues of all levels, that we can write clear and concise emails, that we can write a report that is readable and informative. But communications as a profession is so much more.

Sydney J. Harris, an American author and journalist, famously said:

Information is giving out, communication is getting through.

And, for me, here lies the difference. As capable employees, we should all be adept at sharing information, but getting through to an audience and empowering them to be part of the change is a whole different ballgame. 

Part of showing the value of comms is getting through with the message that non-profit communicators have a unique set of skills, honed through experience, mentorship, training and study. That there are various specialisms within non-profit communications… and that one individual is unlikely to be an expert in all of them!* To help those that matter to understand this – and thus understand the value that a well-resourced comms team brings to an organisation – does comms need a rebrand? And, if so, who better to do it than us?

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to be publishing a series of blogs that showcase the unique skills and talents of non-profit communicators. I’m going to share stories from my own and others’ experience on how to show the value of comms and the (sometimes hilarious) questions we field every day. If you would like to be part of it, please get in touch.

In the meantime, here are three top tips for showing the value of comms:

  1. Agree how you will measure success. When we’re feeling frustrated at work, my friends and I often joke that ‘If only everyone else was as wonderful as us, work life would be so much easier and we would achieve so much more!’ It can be frustrating when you come up against people who don’t share your views, but having a wide variety of skills, personalities and perspectives within an organisation is usually a good thing. As none of us are exactly alike, you and your board/CEO/manager might have different ideas of what success looks like. So when you are creating beautiful comms plans to improve the reach/profile/image of your organisation, agree from the outset how success will be measured. Think about gathering qualitative data such as comments from supporters, as well as showing the big numbers like social media reach.
  2. Learn from others, but don’t stand for being held in comparison. Nothing gets my hackles up more than the throwaway comment that ‘Such and such has achieved such and such and they’re exactly the same as us.’ No organisation is the same and being compared to another that may work in the same cause area but have a different approach, ethos and focus – or a team three times the size of yours – is not helpful. Learn about and from your competitors so that you can bat these unhelpful comparisons back like a pro. CharityComms publishes numerous case studies from other organisations to help us learn and grow as a sector.
  3. Be proud of being the expert! I was at a meeting once where, on being challenged on their plans for their area of work, a colleague proclaimed (tongue-in-cheek), ‘I’m not saying I’m the expert in X… but I am the expert in X…’ It was such a brilliant way of not only diffusing the situation but of reminding the challenger that they were not just pulling their ideas out of thin air, they were based on their vast knowledge of and experience in the subject. If, like me, you’re not normally comfortable being this bold, when you’re presenting plans always make sure you have some anecdotes from your previous experience and show what research you have done to help you field questions and challenges. The more we showcase our expertise, the more we will educate the uninitiated on what the profession is all about.

Until next time, happy communicating!

Director, Colvine Communications.

*CharityComms includes the following work areas in their description of communications: brand management, campaigning, consumer insight, digital and social media, fundraising communications, internal comms, marketing, market research, media relations, policy and public affairs, public/external relations, publishing and information, reputation and risk management and social marketing (behaviour change).

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