There aren’t enough ‘real’ internal communicators practicing in the public relations and communications industry. It’s symptomatic of the chicken and egg conundrum of imbalance in the supply of and demand for properly qualified professionals. In the absence of industry regulation and barriers to entry into the profession, how can you find a real internal communicator?
There has recently been a lot of debate and angst shared on social media about professionalism in the public relations and communications industry, or rather the lack of it.
The debates have swung between greater regulation of the industry to the need to create some barriers to entry with compulsory qualifications and membership of a relevant professional body to be able to practice. There seems to be no consensus on how to resolve this and the compromise of self-regulation is seemingly the toothless and only solution being touted by some.
I’ve blogged before about my own concerns regarding the large numbers of internal communicators who are seemingly unwilling or unable to participate in continuous professional development, to become qualified or accredited, or to join a relevant professional body. These concerns are some of the reasons I created The IC Citizen movement to try to raise professionalism in our industry, and make a contribution to unlocking the full potential of all internal communicators. The movement is about investing in yourself and other internal communicators, so that we all develop our capabilities and become better as a professional collective.
As I see it, one of the main challenges which the public relations and communications industry needs to overcome is the current imbalance between the supply of and demand for properly qualified practitioners, including qualified internal communicators.
A chicken and egg conundrum
Unfortunately, it’s a chicken and egg styled conundrum. On the supply side, there are simply not enough of us getting qualified or becoming chartered. On the demand side, not enough employers, agencies and recruitment consultants are looking for qualified candidates, don’t understand what one even looks like, and are simply focusing on experience, experience, experience. Without supply there can be no demand, and without demand there’s seemingly no reason to increase supply.
As individuals, it’s a leap of faith that demand will increase at some point which gives us the impetus to take the plunge and make the effort to get qualified or chartered. Quite a few internal communicators have mentioned to me that they simply don’t see the point, in the absence of real demand for these attributes. However, I believe that we must nurture that faith so that we can create the supply and that once qualified it is also our individual responsibility to educate employers and other recruiters to create the demand.
As I see it, the only way to do this is to be really clear and even intransigent with colleagues in human resources, recruitment consultants and other stakeholders about what we are looking for when recruiting for a real internal communicator. As a veteran of recruiting quite a few internal and other communicators over the last 20 years, here are three tips on how to do that, create the demand and find the genuine article.
Be firm about including qualifications in the job specification
To create the demand, it is imperative that we start to insist that job specifications and descriptions for internal communication roles include a relevant qualification and membership of a relevant professional body in the selection criteria. There are currently too few that do, and instead just include the wishy, washy requirement of ‘a degree in a relevant subject or equivalent experience’.
Over the years I’ve been challenged by others inside organisations about including these sorts of specific requirements on the basis that this unnecessarily narrows the potential pool of candidates. These people are quite simply, and foolishly, missing the point. If you want to recruit a real internal communicator, and not someone who is masquerading as one, then there must be reference to something which defines them as such beyond their ‘experience’.
For now, I think that getting these requirements into the desirable category of job descriptions is a reasonable first step (or compromise, if you want to be collegiate). However, at some point in the near future when the supply is there, all internal communication job role specifications and descriptions should include them in the essential category.
Be clear about the skill set
I often browse through internal communication job adverts as a source of amusement and am frequently astonished and dismayed at the huge and disparate range of duties and tasks which can be shoehorned into the responsibilities of an internal communicator. In a recent Twitter discussion about one such unfortunate example, a contact of mine referred to it as a ‘kitchen sinker of a remit’.
There are too many internal communication roles described in this way and we must get rid of the kitchen sink and focus on the purpose of the real internal communicator. Otherwise, we are just perpetuating the understanding of the internal communicator as a generalist and not a professional.
Again, to do this we must be clear about the skill set and experience which we are looking for when dealing with human resources, recruitment consultants and other stakeholders. I frequently see requirements in internal communication job roles for image processing, video production, design and web skills dominating the essential requirements. Let’s be clear, these are not the core or essential skills of an internal communicator. They are the core skills of the designer, graphic artist, rich media and web developer. If you and your stakeholders are looking to recruit someone with those sorts of skills, you are not looking for a real internal communicator and need to change the job title.
The core skills of the real internal communicator include planning, strategy, measurement, stakeholder and relationship management, listening, storytelling, ethics, organisational culture, coaching, facilitation and channel management, amongst others. These are the things which are covered in internal communication qualifications and which feature in the competency frameworks of professional bodies such as The Institute of Internal Communication.
To create the right sort of demand amongst employers and others for properly qualified and real internal communicators, we must shift job descriptions to include the things which they are being educated about and getting qualified to do.
Select for genuine interest in internal communication
There are some people who are just looking for a job, any job, and who also think that organisational communication is something which anyone can do with no specialist skills or knowledge.
Using my previous two tips will prevent these sorts of delusional people from ending up in internal communication roles, and stop the perpetuation of the myth that anyone can ‘do’ internal communication. However, there is something else which I really think sets apart an internal communicator as a real professional from those who just ‘have a job’ in internal communications. That’s a willingness to continuously learn and develop within the discipline of internal communications and beyond it.
The world of work is changing fast, and with it organisational communication. Any internal communicator who isn’t committed to regular and meaningful continuous professional development (CPD) is going to quickly become irrelevant and unable to properly service their organisation or clients.
When I’m looking for a real internal communicator, I look for this commitment to CPD and that spark that tells me they are genuinely interested in internal communications as a discipline. To attract and identify these people, think about including a commitment to CPD in the job description and encourage stakeholders to actively look for evidence of this amongst candidates to help create the demand for true professionals.
The professional supply and demand conundrum in public relations and communications can be resolved, but only if we focus our concerted efforts as an industry and as individuals on supply AND demand, rather than just one or the other.
Now, let’s crack the eggs and make the omelette.
If you’d like to know more about the competencies which define the real internal communicator, The Institute of Internal Communication has an excellent competence framework you can refer to.
Find out more about The IC Citizen Manifesto which sets out the 10 principles of IC Citizenship which all internal communicators can use as a guide for investing in themselves and other internal communicators to improve the capability of the profession overall.
If you’d like to know which came first, the chicken or the egg…..here is the answer.