How would you describe what you do?

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If you “develop relationships with everyone and ensure stuff gets done; are naturally curious and inquisitive; question and ask why; listen and observe” then, according to Natasha Plowman of HSBC, you are a “Chief Communications Connector”.

In her very interesting article, Natasha argues that the silos we build around us are the ones that keep us from evolving and becoming trusted advisors, integral to businesses’ revenue generation and societal goodwill.

It’s a very interesting view, one which touches upon the need for an integrated “communicator”, not a “specialist” practitioner.

Perhaps, building on Natasha’s article, the one question that we’d have to ask ourselves is this – are too many definitions (of both practice and role) precluding most of us from having a voice and a presence in the higher echelons of the organisations?

Cristina Chapman of the British Geological Survey has one of the most beautiful yet comprehensive explanations of what we do that I’ve ever heard: “Communicators lay the breadcrumbs to make something happen and join the dots the others don’t see”.

If we are to assess both Natasha’s and Cristina’s views on what a communicator actually does, we see no specialist practices mentioned. Gordon Welsh of Dana Petroleum, a good friend of mine, defines what he does in very simple words: “I’m like the Chief of Staff”. As for my sins, I simply say “I make stuff happen”.

Joining the dots, making stuff happen and being a trusted advisor are characteristics many of us, regardless of our specialisms, can easily relate to.

Just like Natasha, I think we are constantly evolving in what we can do as a community of practice – not all of us are able to do more, nor all of us are willing to do more. But, for those who do, I believe the possibilities of development and recognition are immense and the only barriers we face are those we raise ourselves.

I spoke with a headhunter last week. I realised that my CV could have at least 7-8 versions, a version for each specialism I deployed in every job and project I was involved in. There are many other peers out there like me.

What we did and do does not fit just one box – it will never do.

Public Relations or Communications or Corporate Affairs or whatever you may wish to call what we do is very seldom about one thing or another … there is an internal comms component to every job, just as there is a risk component to it, a stakeholder engagement aspect or a marketing push.

How do we then call someone who, at some point, cannot be defined by strict pigeonholing? Are we “connectors”? “Dot joiners”? “Chiefs of Staff”? “Trusted advisors”?

Is it what we do that needs to be clearly explained or is it that, given our diversity of work and continuous development, we are still evolving and exploring our own limits?

I believe that the more we bang the drum about PR and Comms specialisms, the more detriment we cause to our organisational standing.

I do not believe for one second that an Internal Comms specialist only knows about channels and messaging – they must know something (if not a lot) about the importance of listening, research, analysis and change management. Equally, someone who specialises in Investor Relations should know a lot about negotiation, corporate risk and reputation, multiple stakeholder engagement, risk matrices, issues and crisis management etc.

Perhaps our almost obsessive desire to perfectly articulate what we are “experts” in is the one that is holding us back.

For instance, and ponder over the answer to this question, if you were the Chairman of a FTSE or NYSE listed company and you were told that someone specialising in media relations/external relations/community affairs/lobbying etc. would be a great addition to the Board of that organisation, what would your first reaction be?

To have any influence in and on any organisation, we must understand what it does and why it does it (other than making a profit). Then, we need to know how it does its business and what it is that we can do to make it better (regardless of what “better” may refer to).

It is only then that we can be the Connector, the Dot Joiner or the Chief of Staff – it is only then that our advice will be trusted and we can prove that we deserve a place at “the table”.

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