Truly effective communicators possess unique and valuable talents that go far beyond the communications profession. Why more of us don't explore careers in other disciplines is a mystery.
I would argue that communications pros inside an organization are not the real communicators at all. The real ones are those that make up the organization – employees, managers, customers, etc. With that in mind, communicators who have truly assimilated the value of communications to the bottom line have an innate skill set that easily translates to general management, P&L management, sales, or marketing positions.
What kinds of traits does a communicator have that directly translate to a managerial or operations role? Let's start with perspective: the ability to see an issue from multiple points of view and anticipate how certain actions will be perceived by the intended audience. Think of the benefits of having a senior manager who cannot only develop and execute business strategy, but can also effectively communicate.
The skills required to be an effective PR person and a good operations or sales executive are nearly identical. Here are some examples:
• Relationship building. Ask any journalist and they will tell you not all PR people are alike. They definitely have their favorites and others that make them cringe when they are on the other end of the phone. Sales customers are the same way with the account executives they deal with. How do you become a favorite? By building relationships.
Relationship building is about doing things that improve your customer's satisfaction and increase their productivity. And it's an area where face-to-face rules. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that the time spent having breakfast or lunch with a journalist or customer could be better spent. But make no mistake: investing time to learn what is important to your customers – and having them know what is important to you – is a win-win scenario.
• Effective communications. Managing and selling both require listening, not talking. Leaders must articulate to all audiences the reasons why they should buy into their business strategy. Delivering a “key message” around this communications effort is the real bedrock to successfully influencing an audience or getting them to take a desired action.
• Developing and executing a plan. Communication pros routinely must devise plans to develop and implement a communications program. Done properly, this plan includes a situation analysis, objectives, implementation, and measurement.
It's no different in sales, finance, or marketing. Think of yourself as a salesperson preparing a proposal for a new customer, or a plan for selling deeper into an existing one. You need to know your customers' situation, how their business works, why they should buy from you, and then have a plan to make it happen.
Baby boomers who have dominated the operations, marketing, and sales management ranks are reaching retirement age in large numbers. With the increased speed of change, communications, and globalization today, communicators ready to break out of the typical career “box” are uniquely positioned to take their skills and claim their rightful place in the management hierarchy.
Rob Minton is national account manager for GM's fleet and commercial division. He has 20 years' experience in communications management.