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The growing pains of communicators in the Gulf

Alex Malouf, board member of MEPRA and IABC; corporate communications manager at P&G


The growing pains of communicators in the Gulf

By Alex Malouf

The world of communications is changing. Read anything on the future of communications, and you’ll be served a dose of artificial intelligence (I’m still skeptical), the convergence of internal and external communications, the digital workplace and the like. Some knowledgable folks out there are even predicting that the role of communicators will look completely different in two decades time.

I do love a good prediction, but I’m always brought back to earth when I look around at what we’re doing as an industry. We’re able to create wonderful images of being the ‘conscience for the organization’, and ‘we’re speaking truth to power.’ We may even be ‘bringing the outside-in’, or looking to ‘give employees a voice’. In reality, our tools have changed, but our jobs haven’t adapted enough. We’re still sending out press releases, but we’re using emails rather than faxes.

And this is what concerns me. Have we adapted enough to be able to effectively communicate or provide communications in today’s world, let alone tomorrow’s? Do we understand enough about our expanded role, and about becoming a function that isn’t only strategic but which is respected enough by the organization and our leadership to be seen as essential to what they do?

So, what are the issues that we face?

First, communications is an exciting function to work in.

You’ll find people with a host of backgrounds who work as communicators. There’s a diversity of experience in our industry, but we’re not a profession. Far too few communicators have a formal degree. What’s even more damaging, too few people undertake training. Considering how fast technology is changing how we work, it shocks me how few of us are able to do such simple things as record a blog, set up analytics on a website, or edit a video post. Fewer still consider training or development in areas such as strategy, innovation or ethics.

If we are going to lead, then we must be prepared with knowledge, and be willing to continually invest in our own abilities through continuous development programs. We’ve also got to believe in certification, to professionalize the industry and give employers the confidence that we’re up for the job because we’ve passed industry-set exams and processes (a CV and an interview just doesn’t do it for me).

The second piece is the employer perspective.

How many times have you been interviewed for a comms role, only to feel that the interviewer(s) didn’t really know what you do? Or, how many of you have gone through a hiring process to then be told that the job spec is changing? Let’s be brutally honest: many employers don’t understand enough of what communications is about and what it can do for them.

I understand why there’s so much confusion about what communications does. Each department – finance, human resources, marketing and sales – sees communications from its perspective. And each leader feels a specific way about what their communicator should do for them. There’s also a short-term view on the day-to-day role of a communicator, rather than a look at how strategic the role should be. Employers aren’t reaching out to those who can help them to define what the comms role should be.

So, what’s the answer?

First, we’ve got to invest more in ourselves – either on the company’s budget and time or on our own. The second is we have to get serious about certifications, about adopting industry best-practices which define skill sets, knowledge and abilities for our milestones, from entering into the industry, to moving on up the career ladder (and that includes industry leaders, far too few of whom are certified).

How do we do this? The answer is pretty simple. Join a professional body which can offer you both. They already exist. There’s the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which offers learning and certifications either directly or through MEPRA, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), and the International Association of Business Communications (IABC). Both of the latter, the PRCA and the IABC, are holding events in the region this month, and the IABC is now offering certification here as well at its EMENAComm event in Bahrain.

If we’re serious about becoming strategic, the onus is on us to change. Enough of talk, let’s start moving on and transforming how communications is perceived by skilling up.

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