As any good communicator will tell you, there is no true preparation for what will happen in real business scenarios. You make your bones on the job, and often the one way to raise to the top in your profession is by sticking your neck out and not being afraid to confront some harsh realities.
There's plenty to be terrified of in corporate America these days -- botched or inexisting company community relations, even as companies do more in more channels and face potential customer issues or crisis, dwindling contacts at media companies that require some creative researching and relationships development with free lancer journalists and bloggers, and the old standby, imminent job reductions.
For this special Halloween edition of Conversation Agent, we will take a look at the things that scare communicators the most.
Monster in the closet: the truth
Why this puts communicators on edge: many are struggling with this one because they are often not in the loop with senior management until something bad needs to be fixed -- a crisis, or a layoff, a recall, consolidation, hostile takeover, service interruption to customers, or a known operational problem that needs fixing.
In some cases, the communicator learns about it at the same time or a little after management, or worse, from a customer or the media. In others, a report is filed, and the company doesn't do what it needs to do to fix the issue. Richard Becker provides a recent example or how ethics plays out in PR.
Trick or treating: it can be tricky, however, the truth needs confronting. My first question to management is usually "is it true?" and I know why many communicators may not ask -- they are afraid they'll need to take responsibility for what comes next.
Which is why working with management closely and developing relationships with your colleagues in legal and regulatory, for example, is an excellent idea.
Monster under the bed: the unknown
Why it scares communicators: PR professionals and internal communicators work in an especially symbiotic relationship with management, often reflecting senior teams own ideas and vocabulary in communiques and reputation-protecting activities (and now blogs), instead of driving a communications agenda that connects with stakeholders.
It's the latter that is scary -- it might put them at odds with senior leaders, or lead to uncharted territory. Worse yet, driving a conversation agenda might not play well with media's ambiguous relationship with its public and readers. See the reactions to Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity as narrated by Jeff Jarvis as further proof they are resisting getting a little of us on them.
Trick or treating: the job description did say "maintaining good relations with the press", "build up interest and awareness of the company", "control the amount of information that the public receives", "issue press releases to reporters and get placement of stories in the broadcast, print and virtual media", and so on.
What it didn't say is how you do those things. Being well versed in news and current affairs, immersing in popular culture, and being adept at researching information and displaying data are a good starting point. Listening to stakeholders and bringing their concerns and questions to the table is a game changing proposition.
Existential monster: you become closely associated with your job title and company. What happens if that goes away?
Why this is scary: because many still closely identify themselves with having a company job, and many have a hard time letting go of that identify in favor of a more fluid and differentiated approach that incorporates experimenting with new media, publishing, data and analytics, they have a hard time recasting their career.
I've talked to many communicators who were looking for exactly the same job they held before as the next one. The difficulty with that, and with not keeping up or being proactive in pursuing the potential of communications, is that one becomes very successful at what was, which is less and less in demand.
Trick or treating: communicators need to become better at stretching beyond their comfort zone, networking inside their organization, collaborating with their digital marketing colleagues and being enterprising in creating what's next for themselves and for the profession.
Specifically, learning how to build an audience or a tribe should be part of every communicator's toolkit.
What scares you as a communicator? How do you get over it or work to overcome it? Do you see the upside of your predicament? Can the question be reversed and help you open up a new path?
[image courtesy of Just Us 3]