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The Multi-Faceted Discipline Of External Communications - Can You Relate?

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The Multi-Faceted Discipline Of External Communications - Can You Relate?

Once upon a time the remit of an external communications professional was clear:

To reach and engage with identified audiences, via appropriate channels, to promote and enhance the company or organisation’s products or services.

While the world of external communications has always been a multi-faceted discipline, these days, with hybrid working, the advance of AI and heightened expectations from CEO’s, it’s become even more so. A recent external comms round table discussion, hosted by VMA GROUP, highlighted this when we invited a group of senior managers and Heads of Comms to share their thoughts alongside the findings from VMA GROUP’S The View, a snapshot of the external communications industry in 2023. We had representation from a range of industries including aviation, construction, housing, energy, and property, and it was interesting to hear these common denominators.

Perhaps these resonate? We would be interested in hearing from you:

The change in work patterns:

While by and large hybrid working has become the norm, the increased expectation from employees as to what this looks like, is presenting some challenges. Pre Covid the usual pattern was office-based, with flexibility of working from home, dependent on work remits. Now, Heads of Comms are expressing frustration with new employees joining their teams who seem to expect there to be specific reasons to come into the office. While most will agree that the best working patterns are about productivity, and not ticking boxes for the sake of it, the challenge of having to spell out why there is an expectation to be physically present at a place of work, which one is paid to do, is frustrating. Office working has many benefits: co-worker participation and learning through osmosis, that somewhat intangible but highly valuable learning curve of hearing how your colleagues do business, whether this be pitching media stories, dealing with tricky stakeholders, managing workloads, ideas sharing, problem solving, use of language and personal presentation. These skills are hugely important and while technology enables us to navigate all sorts of challenges, whether they be lockdowns, geography, or time zones, most agree that it has its limitations in a world where human interaction and engagement is key.

The growing challenge for line managers is how to keep their new recruits happy and engaged, while ensuring they are learning their craft.

The use of AI and its impact:

While the consensus is this is to be embraced and has considerable time saving benefits, all our attendees recognised the need for a comms professional to check and oversee the content created from its use. Right now, AI lacks nuance and empathy so the human touch to filter is required. However, with advances in technology, this will probably change, and some noted that initial copy drafts created by AI were of a higher standard than that produced by their own team members. Some managers were less concerned with its impact within the comms team but said copyright issues were of more concern to their colleagues in graphic design.

Many companies have strict company directives of not using AI due to legalities of patents and their company’s listed status. But perhaps the main concerns expressed were:  

a)    AI is growing more rapidly than the legislation to manage it, and

b)    Mistrust over content. This is potentially the most damaging, as for a comms professional, their work centres around positive engagement and if audiences no longer buy in to the messaging and narrative, their work implodes. As does brand reputation.

Are comms professionals appreciated?

It would seem senior management and CEOs are highly supportive of their comms teams and that there has been a positive shift in perception of what good communications is all about. However, having navigated the wealth of work created during lockdowns and restructures, there was frustration that teams remained lean and expectations of delivery very high. Maybe the downside of having done a great job during challenging times is that new benchmarks are created. The danger here is that good talent will move and VMA GROUP’s findings indicated that salaries were holding well, even though the volume of senior comms roles is currently lower than a year ago.

No doubt when VMA GROUP repeat their industry findings there will be new priorities and challenges. We are always interested in hearing from you, so please feel free to share your views on the above with Principal Consultant, Joanne Watkins via:


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