I remember the first time I told a friend I was going to school to become a “communications specialist” (over 20 years ago). I was asking if I was going to “hand out flyers”. Yep, that’s me; I’m the flyer distributor. I went off to get my BS in communications and economics and later my MBA. Even as I progressed throughout my career, people were confused about what I actually did. Employers and clients rewarding me for a job well done when NOI was up but truly had no clue of what I did to get it there. Even after a decade in my last job, I was still occasionally asking to sit at my computer and design a flyer. “Um, I’m not an artist, sorry!”
There is a vast misunderstanding of what communications is. Some people think communications = sales, others think communications = advertising, and my favorite, communications = graphic design. No.
Well, yes and no.
No wonder it is so confusing, just look at the general definitions of communications!
“Mktg is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” — American Mktg Association
“Mktg is not only much broader than selling; it is not a specialized activity at all. Mktg encompasses the entire busns. This is the whole bsns seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for mktg must, therefore, permeate all areas of the enterprise.” — Peter Drucker
“Mktg is the process by which companies create customer interest in products or services. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, bsns communication, and bsns development. It is an integrating process through which companies build strong customer relationships and create value for their customers and for themselves.” — Wikipedia
Graphic design, web development, creative writing and even flyer distribution, are tactical elements of an overall communications strategy. The sales role is a completely different discipline, though sales and communications quite often work together (or they should).
My current client was disappointing that I wasn’t going to drive to companies 30-miles away to pitch the company’s services. She didn’t understand communications strategy implementation was not a sale and didn’t include knocking doors and selling services.
I’ve struggled for years to explain what marketers really do. And finally came up with an analogy that makes sense or at least can digest by non-marketers.
Communications Strategist to Organization = General Contractor to Home Building
Imagine you are building a house and you hire a General Contractor. The GC plans the creation of the house with your input. And then coordinates construction by first hiring an architect, then a plumber, carpenter, electrician, tuck-pointing company, etc. Now, compare this: a Marketer develops strategy, creates the campaign and then hires an ad agency, PR agency, designer, copywriter, or other professional consultants/agencies to implement the strategy.
The GC may be proficient in some of the areas require building the home like carpentry, architecture or plumbing or maybe not. Similarly, your Communications Strategist may be proficient in copywriting, research, analysis, media buying or design. This does not, however, mean the contractor or strategist is hiring to do these specific tasks. It is the job of the strategist or contractor to manage these tasks, not perform them personally unless negotiated otherwise.
Unlike GC’s, marketers are often expecting to complete all the tasks (tactics) to achieve the communications strategy. If you put this into GC terms, imagine a general contractor that first has to serve as an architect. Draw up the home plans, purchase and haul all the materials to the job site. Frame the house, run electrical, rough plumbing, install and tape drywall and tuck-point. When complete, the GC would then inspect your home for mistakes. This process would not only be slow. It will be inefficient and likely riddle with mistakes.
Putting this into the perspective of communications, that is exactly what many employers and clients expect from their communications directors or strategists. Create the strategic plan, write the copy of the promotions, edit, scour Shutterstock for an image, design the ad, buy the media, haul printed material to the fulfillment house, program e-blasts, create and purchase ad words, host events, set up tables, greet and sell services and analyze the results.
Whew, I’m exhaust even thinking about it all; yet, been there, done that! This type of expectation is what often gives marketers and strategists a bad rap. Just like the GC, the project doesn’t end well in this type of scenario.
Scope & Education
As I move on in my career, I spend a lot of time talking about this topic. Because I’ve often struggled to explain the role and value of a communications strategist, even after 20 years in the profession.
As marketers, it is our job to educate our employers and clients about what it is we do. Also, set a defined scope of work before the project begins.
In regards to my client’s request for me to cold call companies and knock on doors, I respectfully declined the fun opportunity of playing the salesman. This was the first time I using my general contractor analysis and surprisingly getting a buy from by the client. Although disappointed that communications strategists are not sales people, I was able to move forward and focus on creating strategic communications programs versus knocking doors.
By: EdanGelt, MBA, CMD
With more than 20 years of diverse communications experience, Edan Gelt has the extensive capability in diverse communications mediums across various industries, offering insight on communications strategy, research, public relations, advertising, special events, social media, direct mail, branding and more.
Edan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Elmhurst College and she also has her MBA degree.
For more information visit www.edangelt.com,