A few years ago I was talking to a woman in Scottsdale, Arizona who was a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at Arizona State University. Even though I had been out of college for many years, I apparently look and sound younger than I am, so she asked me what my degree was in, apparently to stack her academic credentials against mine. When I told her my degree was in communication, she shot back, “Isn’t that one step up from basket weaving?” I was somewhat offended, yet had to couch my response knowing this woman had never worked a day in her life. Sure, academia is a wonderful place (my older sister is a business school professor and I admire everything she is and does in her career – even if I don’t fully comprehend her niche expertise), but don’t cast someone off based on the perceived complexities or simplicities of their worldly accreditations.
That exchange bothered me at the time. I chose an academic track that was rooted in my writing and mass media interests in the mid-90s. Communication is not as soft a discipline as the other “hardcore, tangible business fields” of finance, accounting, engineering and supply chain management may view it or look down on it from their perch. Many seasoned experts in PRSA and IABC have written and presented on this topic, which is often encapsulated as “Earning a seat at the management table.”
The primary facet that communications practitioners embody in an organization that other departments may overlook is that each discipline must inherently communicate in some fashion internally with other groups and externally with clients, suppliers and vendors. They need the communicators to bridge the groups, produce the core customer collateral and articulate the projects, programs, events and developments of the entire organization to media and other vested partners.
I presume the CEO or CMO would not tap one of his software engineers to write an industry article touting their latest achievements and milestones.
I’m fairly certain he or she wouldn’t call one of his accounting specialists on their cell phone on a Saturday morning to discuss a trend piece in the newspaper and strategize how to leverage their standing in the space via media outreach or messaging for spokespersons.
Shall we arrange an on-site, live interview for one of the lab techs to discuss the company’s latest position in the marketplace and highlight the business objectives with the local NBC affiliate?
Without communicators to steward units toward open, productive dialogue to enhance procedures and streamline and optimize the marketing channels to stakeholders and media outlets, the other services would be unable to adequately convey and deliver the messages, value promise and brand equity to the public.
Thus, communication isn’t a soft-serve service that should be relegated to the back of the office by the vending machines and water cooler. I trust this wasn’t a hard sell, either!