DESIGNING AND MANAGING communications strategies in the development setting is hard. It’s a process loaded with challenges.
There are the technical elements like editing a documentary, or writing a radio drama script, or drafting a legislative brief. As well the more abstract considerations, like different cultures, languages, and security that impact the work.
But no challenge is more fundamental than the plain fact that communications is rarely prioritized in the development setting.
Let’s look at an admittedly unscientific, but common hierarchy of organizational priorities:
-Program (we need to deliver the services)
-Senior Management (we need to guide the process)
-Finance (we need to account for spending)
-Monitoring & Evaluation (we need to prove our results)
Operations (we need to need to sort the nuts and bolts)
-Human Resources (we need to structure how we manage the staff)
-Communications (we need to package the information)
-Information Technology (we need email capability)
We can look at most funding RFPs and proposals to see this trend. Key staff are almost always some combination or variation of Director / Chief of Party, Deputy Director / Chief of Party, Finance Director, M&E Director. Budget allocations and staffing levels largely follow this same hierarchy.
To be clear, this post is not a call to immediately re-allocate priorities and resources to communications departments because we feel we aren’t being taken seriously.
We haven’t earned that right, yet.
In fact, it’s a call to communications professionals. We need to do a better job.
We need to continue increasing the collective value of our work; to show how the communications field can have a greater impact on the mission of the program, company, and broader industry.
One area we can begin is broadening our definition of organizational communications and refining our objectives. Let’s take on more responsibility.
Communications positions (and teams) have traditionally been strictly tied to reporting and success story writing. (Yes, some elements of social media management have been incorporated into these positions over the years, sprinkled with some video or photography work, if lucky.)
But often, job descriptions promising management of a fully integrated multi-media, multi-platform, cross-stakeholder communications strategy ultimately, in practice, return to the faithful: report writing, success story, and fact sheets. (And surprise, no budget.)
This environment is easy to manage. It’s safe and inexpensive and it’s been done for years.
It’s up to us, then, to prove that organizational communications can be used more dynamically and contribute in a more meaningful way. Below are a few areas worth considering.
Relationship management is a crucial facet of any development program or organization. With so many groups and interests involved – government agencies, clients, end-users, partners – an organization must be pro-active in how it interacts with actors impacting its work. Managing these relationships involves a high degree of strategy and positioning, but it also relies heavily on the production and packaging of compelling content. Communications departments can easily be set-up to manage both high-level strategizing and the more practical content development and dissemination process.
Quality control, or the ability to “put it all together” is another area that we can add value. Communications teams are in a prime position to work across program and administrative departments to help senior management standardize its work and create a consistent storyline for the client and other partners. Report writing is core part of this process, but there’s plenty of other opportunities to accomplish this objective.
Even with experienced senior management teams, communications departments can serve as “sounding boards” for crafting and ongoing management of organizational-level messaging to clients and other partners.
And don’t forget about organizational networking and partnership development. Persuasive communications is an important facet of working across organizations / institutions and sectors to identify and negotiate new collaborative opportunities.
But it’s up to us, the everyday communications manager.
We must push. We must expand our expertise and deepen our understanding of how to apply communications fundamentals towards more dynamic solutions and meaningful contributions.
Let’s continue expanding our role and building that value.
Thanks for reading.