LISTED: The 55 skills a comms team needs in 2017



The best day to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best day is today. It’s the same for you and your team.

The skills you need to communicate have been changing. A few years back I blogged a list of skills that every team needed. This started as a list of 40 skills. No more. This is now 55. But do you want to know the good news? I don’t think everyone needs all of them. But your team’s strength should be drawn from different areas.

I’ve divided this into nine areas. Everyone should get the strategic. Everyone needs the core skills.


  1. Be clear about your organisation’s priorities. Its priorities are the comms team’s priorities.
  2. Report up weekly on . List what you are doing against the heading of your priorities. Otherwise you are just making noise.
  3. Be able to look finance in the eye. Attach a financial value to the results you are achieving. Fewer GP appointents because of that YouTube clip and receptionists who triage? Attach a value to that.
  4. Have a team of specialist generalists. If you expect everyone to know all the skills they – and you – will fail. Have them know core skills and excel at others.
  5. Be gate openers not gatekeepers. Some of your best comms work will be done by frontline staff equipped with a smartphone. This is fine. It is to be encouraged.
  6. To know what an income target is and to either plan for them or offer evaluated comms savings. A fifth of public sector teams have an income target. If you have one you’ll need entrepreneurial skills in the team rather than relying on ex-hacks to sell ad space.

Core skills the team will need

  1. Know how to evaluate. If you are doing something, know why. Count the tweets and press releases you send. But count what people did as a result of all that. That’s far more important.
  2. Know that social media isn’t about calls to action. Its being human and engaging 80 per cent of the time.
  3. Know all the channels and who uses them. There is no one size fits all channel that will reach everyone. You need to know the online and offline channels and their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Be more human. Everyone’s job in comms is to carry a Field Marshall’s baton to see the big picture, wear a lab coat to know the data and have a plate of cake to speak human.
  5. Always be learning.
  6. Educate the client. Comms’ job is to help the organisation communicate better. Your job is to advise them how to do that by knowing backwards the complex and fractured media landscape. You are a professional. Give professional advice.
  7. Be a diplomat, be small ‘p’ and big ‘P’ politically aware. Know how to handle people and give advice.
  8. Speak truth to power. Know that you are able to give the right advice.
  9. To listen to the public. Don’t be afraid to reflect their views back to the organisation even when it is critical.
  10. To be able to tell stories. In different formats.
  11. To know media law. McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists is your friend.
  12. To know the value of internal comms. Engage for Success is a good starting point.
  13. To know how to write a comms plan. Like this one.
  14. To know how to interpret data. And know the right data to interpret.
  15. To know how to respond as an organisation in an emergency. Increasingly, the emergency is what tests a team. This will happen to you at a time you need it least.
  16. Look for the influencers who can influence networks. The blogger. The community leader. The campaigner.
  17. To be able to communicate to the head and the heart. And know the difference.
  18. To manage time. To know what meetings to make and those to break.

In person

  1. To be professional, warm and engaging.
  2. To present. To create a deck of slides and stand up and speak to an audience.

In words

  1. To understand jargon but to communicate in plain English.
  2. To write effective emails.
  3. To write effective email campaigns.
  4. To evaluate and improve email campaigns.
  5. To write a press release.
  6. To be able to write for the web.
  7. To create and run a survey.

In pictures

  1. To find copyright free images.
  2. To take and edit
  3. To record the permission of those who are photographed, update and maintain a model consent database.
  4. To select information and create an infographic.
  5. To know what branding is and why it is.

In video

  1. Know the optimum lengths of video per channel.
  2. Know how to plan, edit, film and add text and music to a video shot in-house.
  3. Know how to plan and commission and external video.

In print

  1. To know when a leaflet works and to liaise with designers.
  2. To know when a newsletter or magazine works and to liase with designers.

In data

  1. To know what data to look for and what data to count.
  2. To know what open data is.

On Social media

  1. Know the Paretto Principle. The 80-20 split is what works on social media. Make 80 per cent of your content social and engaging to earn the right 20 per cent of the time to make calls to action. People don’t want to be sold to on social media.
  2. Think of Facebook as a broad landscape rather than just your page. Most people who use your organisation aren’t following your page but they are using Facebook. But they are members of groups and pages. So go looking for them there.
  3. Make friends with Facebook group and page admin. They can help share content for you.
  4. Join Facebook groups and pages as yourself. By being a human being you can show that real human beings work for the organisation.
  5. To know what audience uses the main social media accounts.
  6. To create on each platform engaging content with words, text and video for them with the right tone for the right occasion.
  7. To know how customer services works with social media.
  8. To respond using social media in an emergency.
  9. To know new platforms and be able to experiment with them.
  10. To be able to create and schedule content at the right time.

Picture credit: Ryan Dickey / Flickr

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