I’m often asked what exactly I do for a living. Fair question. But tough question.
As a member of the Communicator Tribe, ironically, I should be able to answer that in a simple, short, elevator-pitch-style statement, but since that would require me to be brutally honest, I often end up with a long explanation that ends up confusing the person I’m talking to. I can see it on their faces: the only thing they’re registering is that I work in an office, in front of a computer. In these moments, I wish I was a firefighter, a doctor or a hairdresser: so much easier to explain... I have yet to hear a kid say “when I grow up, I want to be a communication professional”!
It’s time to come clean. To finally admit what the hell a “communication professional” does, completely stripped of all the fluff and sugar-coating. Reveal the truth, at the risk of being expelled from the communicator community for good. What should I really answer when I’m asked what I do for a living?
I’m The Communicator. I make your shit look real good. And I make sure it gets to the right people so you can shine. You’re welcome.
That’s pretty much it. The rest is variations on this main theme and scale, depending on the organisation’s size. There are several brands of communicators: marketing masters, corporate communication overlords, employee communication wizards, brand specialists, digital communication experts, public relation spinners, graphic designers (aka, the artists), webmasters, etc. Think of it as the person that will bridge the gap (or bring down the wall) between you and the outside world, in a way or another.
A communicator is also characterised by being on the fringes of other disciplines, which makes sense, since it’s the communicator’s job to communicate whatever needs to be communicated. For example, the employee communication person will have to work very closely with human resources. Very often against every party’s will. The corporate communication person is often affectionately referred to as “The Guardian of the Templates”, a glorified upgrade from the office manager position (in the team’s view). The marketing person is frequently superimposed on the sales person (wait, I see double: there are two of you!).
This makes it extra difficult for communicators to be viewed as experts in their own rights, especially that there are two types of non-communicators in this world: the ones that think they are communication experts themselves, and those who think communicators are a massive waste of money and resources. I like to believe that we exist for a reason. We add the sparkle. We push sales an extra mile. We help manage crises when you’re so bad at explaining what’s happening. We make sure you’re looking and acting professional in every situation, enhancing your credibility, even when it feels like chaos within. We are the catalysts to all your cool projects. In other words: you can live without us, but you won’t get far.
I understand that at this point, many readers are dying to know (ah, let me dream!) how that job translates in everyday work. I will give the example of my current position as Communication Manager at CENTR, a European association based in Brussels (don’t ask me what CENTR does, I already covered it in a previous post).
Among other things, I was brought in to help shape an overall communication strategy for CENTR and implementing it. That means that I took a close look at what CENTR was doing, how it looked (image of the organisation) and how it shared information with members and stakeholders (stakeholders = people/organisations that may care about what we say and do). I then put together a strategy based on my analysis and matched actions with the overall goals of the association so that they don’t look like artificial, stand-alone ideas. For example, one big important project to take on was to revamp the website, since members use it a lot to share info (which is the purpose of our existence). The website also needed an updated look, which would need to be consistent across everything else we produce (corporate identity). In addition, I proposed moving from text to infographics when relevant, updating the format of the newsletter to improve readership, producing video updates and interviews, etc., all with the high-level goals of (you’ve guessed it) making all our shit look real good and reaching the right people so our members can shine.
I’m also responsible for finding solutions to several targeted communication challenges as they come up, proof-reading, acting as the template police when needed, having sporadic interactions with the press, plus a few not-strictly-communication tasks, but very enjoyable and interesting nonetheless (support to some working groups, leading on a few fun events such as the CENTR Awards and Registrar Day, etc.).
To conclude, a communication professional does sit in an office in front of a computer (almost) all day. But the secret is: that's where the magic begins...