Our Research, Policy and Communications professionals share their insights
Imagine you’re playing a game of Scattergories and the question is ‘name 10 roles you’re likely to find in a communications team.’ Ok, it’s not likely to come up as a category, but play along…
You might say: public relations, media, campaigns, web editing, social media, digital media, marketing, stakeholder engagement, external affairs, publications, events, fundraising, internal communications, public affairs…oh wait, that’s more than 10 – and hang on, should public affairs be in there (surely that sits in a policy team?) and is marketing really a sub-set of communications? I thought it was the other way round…
There’s no such thing as a standard communications team, or least its make up would be contested.
"There’s no such thing as a standard communications team"
Take public affairs for example – does it sit with policy, or is it a part of communications? Of course the answer is both, which is why in some organisations you find it within the comms department, and with others it is a sub-section of policy.
There’s also the tricky matter of internal communications. You could argue that the skills required make it a natural fit for a communications team. But for some organisations, internal communications is about getting factual information to staff. It therefore often sits with HR, not comms.
With so much variation and no real ideal model, the key is to get the balance right for the organisation. Before structuring a communications team, there has to be agreement as to what the purpose of communications is within the company, and of course that has to be allied to the organisational goals.
"The key is to get the balance right for the organisation"
For example, a small charity that relies on donations for its income is going to build a communications team around a fundraiser. A media and campaigns post would also be useful, to help raise the profile of the organisation. But with budgets tight, you’d probably be looking for someone who had experience in media, campaigning, social and online media to fulfill a more general comms role, alongside the core fundraising function. A membership organisation which relies on members for income will likely prioritise its stakeholder relations, publications and marketing functions in its communications team. A think-tank whose purpose is to influence political policy will want to build its communications around public affairs and media. The communications team will obviously work closely with policy and those working in comms will need to be politically savvy.
Of course many communications professionals would classify themselves as all-rounders. Organisations that are low on resources and need a ‘bit of everything’ from their communications functions, will quite often appoint only one member of comms staff whose job description could be summarised as ‘everything and anything that can be classed as communications’ (and often a lot more besides!). The danger is that the sole comms person is spread too thinly and unable to make any real impact, however good they are. Quite often in these cases, the organisation and individual in post, would benefit from a more focused job description that perhaps leans towards two or three specific areas of communications expertise that would be most valuable to the organisation.
There is no doubt that communications professionals who possess a broad range of communications expertise can give considerable added value. The Media Officer who has a sound knowledge of public affairs is much more likely to have success in campaigning for policy change. The Publications Manager with stakeholder engagement expertise is going to create effective Annual Reports. And the Public Affairs Lead with experience in events is likely to be entirely at ease when it comes to organising Party Conference events. The fundamental function of a communications team is to bring the purpose of the organisation to life; ensuring its message gets to the right people at the right time. And if the purpose of the organisations is clear, the question when it comes to building an effective communications team is which roles will best deliver?
"The fundamental function of a communications team is to bring the purpose of the organisation to life; ensuring its message gets to the right people at the right time."
For the disciplines that could arguably sit elsewhere (Public Affairs with Policy for example), in reality, it doesn’t really matter as long as there is close working between policy, communications and public affairs. But without doubt any Public Affairs professional worth their salt will be a skilled communicator, and policy and communications are often brought together into a team for precisely this reason.
Communications is one of the broadest catch-all terms out there, which is why finding the right fit for the right role is not always easy. For job hunters, a Communications Officer in one organisation can have a very different role to that in another, just as the personnel in one communications team will inevitably differ from the next.
Any combination of roles named in those Scattergories answers could form an effective communications team. The key is knowing which skills your organisation needs most and building a team around that.
About the Author
Melissa Milner is Head of Media and External Affairs for Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) where she develops campaigns to promote research and advocates for child health through media and public affairs activity across the devolved nations of the UK.
Our guest blogger is Melissa Milner, Head of Media and External Affairs at Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)