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Investor Relations is all about share price. Legal & Compliance ensures laws and regulations are followed. HR concerns recruitment, retention, development and engagement. IT is about tech stack and operations. What, then, is the purpose of Communications? This tends to be less clearly defined - or possibly defined very well but uniquely so by each practitioner and observer.
It’s worth going back to the root. “Communication” comes from the Latin, “communicatus,” meaning to share or make common. This hints at the real underlying purpose. Comms isn’t about what is projected, amplified or heard, but rather what is shared. In other words, it isn’t about the speaker or the audience, but what they have in common, ie the relationship between them.
The essence of effective communications, then, is about enriching a targeted relationship in pursuit of a common goal. It’s therefore not just a matter of words, voice or text, but the wider aspects of any healthy relationship, including action, ritual, reassurance, humour, physicality (Teams doesn’t cut it, sorry) and play. Technical abilities like pencraft are important but hardly enough. Skilled communicators also need the curiosity, empathy, confidence and intuition to tune into the needs of the relationship at any given time.
This is clear when someone awkwardly tries to get through to a person who isn’t ready to listen. However well they choose the words, verify the facts, polish their logic, repeat their points or raise their voice, none of that matters much if the relationship can’t bear the conversation. Like an unwanted gift, the speaker’s message is left abandoned. As John Maxwell famously said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. *
The takeaway? If you want your message to land, make sure it conveys genuine care. As in, considered, thought-through, tested and revised. That means a process requiring time, resource, iteration, and a good dose of humility. Too often this is made difficult or impossible by sheer churn of work, a well-meant instinct to please the boss, or by comms being brought in late (“Here’s the plan, guys. Now we need your help to get the message out!”).
Even in the most adverse situation, comms teams are skilled at coming up with creative content. But to ensure it’s authentic and well received, they need to be involved early and have scope to challenge as well as support. That way, they can help ensure impacted relationships have been genuinely and thoroughly considered. Get that right, and the content flows more naturally. Care for the audience, and the communication takes care of itself.
* This applies double among comms practitioners - somehow, we are often better at managing other people's comms than our own.