GUEST POST: Why is comms so bad at describing what it does?

It’s the age old thing. We can tell a story we just struggle to tell OUR story. Like what it is exactly WE do says Manon Jones.

Are we just really bad at telling people what our job is? 

“So, what is it you do?” is usually a straightforward question to answer. That is, unless you work in Communications, apparently. 

Since upping sticks to Leeds two years ago, I’ve met lots of new people, so this gets asked a lot. But the more people ask, the more I notice their blank expressions, followed by a slightly confused “oh, ok… What does that mean then?”, or “so what do you actually do?” when I answer. 

*Deep breath* 

I’ve tried to use Marketing because it’s a term people seem to be more familiar with. Now they just think it’s social media ads or influencers. 

It’s easy to reel off a list of everything I “actually do”, there’s just so much to working in Communications that I can’t possibly cover it all without sounding like I want them to know I’m the busiest person on the planet. 

I’ll be starting a new role in public sector (transport) comms in November so, I’ve had to try and hone my pitch yet again. Especially for my grandmother’s benefit, who for years, has been telling tales to friends and family about what I do.

When working in the Welsh Parliament’s Corporate Comms team, she told people I took a bus around Wales to “tell people who their Assembly Member is. A bit like a preacher.” We did have a bus that we took to some local shows and events, like one of those travelling libraries. I didn’t drive it and I sincerely hope I didn’t preach. I’ve also heard people say I work for the BBC (I stepped in for a client to do one TV interview in Welsh to get them more coverage), I write for the local paper (Press Officer), and that I work in recruitment (ran a campaign to encourage more people to work in care). 

More recently she’s been telling people I work for the council, finding people council houses (PR Campaigns Manager in social housing).

Turning to Facebook, I asked how to help people “get Comms” and what’s the worst / best description Comms pros have heard someone use for their job, I was relieved to find I’m not just really bad at describing what I do. 

Responses ranged from “She tweets a lot” and “Oh yeah, switchboard and that” to “medical secretary (aka NHS Comms)” and “in charge of bins” (I’ll guess that this person works or has worked in local authority comms). 

What struck me is the complete lack of understanding or appreciation for our craft “So you spend all week doing the weekly newsletter?”, or “A family member once told me that they wished they had a job like mine where they could just go on Twitter and Facebook all day. I was a Comms Manager in social housing at the time.” If only!

We’re creatives, we’re experts on everything our multifaceted organisations do, we use data to drive campaigns, we manage crises, we change people’s habits through words and images, and sometimes, manage to change their lives for the better! But we’re forced to “dumb it down” so people understand what we do. 

I did find a few glimmers of hope from other Comms pros. One responder mentioned using the chess analogy; “A hell of a lot is, if you will, seeing the whole chessboard and trying to make sure someone doesn’t capture out king.” Anticipating your opponent’s moves and staying ahead of the game is certainly a big part of it. But how do I help my gran, who doesn’t play chess, get it right?

I’m not sure it will work, but here’s my take: “I communicate with the public and partners to let them know about changes to policies, and sometimes try to nudge people to change their behaviour, habits and opinions through messages they see on social, in the news, on advertising and other messages.”

Still not hitting the nail on the head, but beats “faffing about with press releases” doesn’t it?

Manon Jones is a PR campaigns manager in social housing.

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1 Comment

  1. If you are self employed, it helps to be creative in finding ways to show people what you do – without giving away vast chunks of your time for free. When it works, find a way of explaining why it wasn’t the tooth fairy wot did it!

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