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One thing I’ve heard a lot recently is that ‘comms’ is not respected. “Everyone thinks they can do what we do”, “Would people treat legal advice like they treat comms advice”.

by Niel Stewart

Every time I hear things like this I have to bite my tongue.


Because if people think they can do what we do – we’re doing it wrong.

Everyone can communicate – that’s not the issue here. The issue is – what is the difference between a professional communicator and everyone else? If everyone can communicate, what is it that sets the professionals apart? That’s worth dwelling on because if there are no clear differences then the statement above is true – people can do what we do.

If you played any sport recreationally you’d expect to lose against a professional wouldn’t you? But why? Well they practice, they develop, they look for marginal gains, they execute more complex and complicated techniques, they have more experience to draw from and they constantly evaluate and evolve. They play the same game – they just do it better.

As professional communicators – perhaps we need to up our game.

I recently interviewed someone. They answered a question with “As we all know a good campaign starts with the messaging”.

I disagree.

I think a good campaign starts with the objectives. Always clarify the objectives. How can you design a campaign without knowing what you or your client wants to achieve?

Once you know what you are trying to achieve then work out who you need to talk with to achieve it. People tend to communicate well with people like them – as professionals we need to communicate well with a wide range of people – one reason why diversity in your team is essential, if you have a team that represents the clients or community they serve then you’re part way there. As professionals we need to be able to talk to everyone and for them to understand and engage.

Once you know who you need to talk to (to achieve your objectives) you can work out what you need to say to those people to get them to do the thing you want and how you’ll get those messages to them.  Think about tailored messages, audience segmentation, channel reach and channel specific messaging.

Think about behavioural insights and how people really behave, use your own experience and that of others by doing your research on best practice and previous campaigns.

Then evaluate. Evaluation is a key area where we set ourselves apart from the rest.

There are plenty of planning tools to help with this process.  The Government Communication Service (GCS) use OASIS, there is the comms2point0 planning guide – these are useful tools and worth a look.

Two quick examples:

We worked on a men’s mental health event.  Previous events had brought in 20-30 people, primarily women, for an event aimed at men.  Our campaign filled 350 seats with a waiting list, 80% of which were men.  The event organisers we worked with do not think they can do what we do.

We worked on a 3 month health campaign that turned a 90% failure rate (to keep health based New Year’s Resolutions) into a 79% success rate. The public health team we worked with do not think they can do what we do.

Move away from “I feel that” to “In my experience”, move away from “we think it did really well” to “We saw a 25% increase in”. Move away from “we can design that for you” to “What do you want to achieve” – push for the objectives, be clear on the victory conditions and evaluate. Invest in your own development and learning, network professionally and BE professional.

Everyone can communicate – but as professionals, if we all keep upping our game – people will be left in no doubt that they can’t do what we do, at the level we do it at.

Niel Stewart is deputy head of strategic communications at Kirklees Council. You can say hello on Twitter at @nielmstewart

Image via SDASM Archives

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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