• Caroline Ridgway

So you say you're a communications expert...

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

What does that mean, anyway? Is it like marketing and PR? Can't I just do my own writing? Why does it matter if I hire someone to help with my business' communications?

All good questions. Let's take them one at a time.

Communications as a specialty is distinct from, though overlaps with, marketing or PR. Communications isn't, per se, about selling. It's about brand. It's about identity. It's about clarity. Sure, all those relate to selling, whether you're selling widgets or time or ideas. But your communications strategy goes more deeply into the why of your business.

Marketing and PR require a specific mindset. Marketing is, in this day and age, an awful lot about visuals. It's eye-catching and to the point. PR is, in its most classic sense, about getting public recognition for your business. It's about getting earned media coverage, and sharing news of your professional and organizational accomplishments.

But how to do achieve either without a clear communications plan? You can't.

Let's also ask the necessary questions: Do you like writing? Are you good at it? No, really. Be honest. We all have things we're better at, and things we maybe should let other people handle. I, for one, would never attempt any kind of meaningful home or car repair. I do admit to Googling medical symptoms but let a healthcare professional issue the final word on diagnoses. I know enough not to make too many changes on the back-end of a website, because HTML is not a language in which I am fluent.

But I am good with words. They come easily to me. I like to play with them. I appreciate the nuances of structure and meaning. I like the strategy of conjuring up just the right message and phrase.

It should be the communications professional who helps craft your mission statement, and your elevator pitch. Who writes your talking points, and guides you through crisis messaging in dire times like those we currently contend with. It's taking the what and the who and the why and distilling those down into the essential messages. Communications is about coming up with the right words to reach your targeted audience and endpoint. It should be strategic, and consistent. It should tell your story.

A sophisticated and longterm communications effort may not be required for every business. It may be enough to hire someone to help write your website copy and support creation of marketing collateral. It's not, at its base, "just" copywriting. Copywriting is its own skill, and an important one. Communications should, however, more broadly, be about taking the time to work with you and your leadership team to understand your truest needs and goals.

Think about your role and your industry. Do you frequently give presentations in front of industry peers, speak at conferences, or perhaps give regulatory or legislative testimony? Do you do a lot of formal letter-writing, whether to existing or prospective clients, business associates, etc.? Do you engage in networking and pitching of your business to investors or collaborators? If so, do you have a plan for each of these? Is your whole team aligned on what it is you're trying to communicate? Would you trust any of your key team members to speak publicly on your and your company's behalf? Do you have corporate standard operating procedures?

These are all a part of a cohesive communications plan. A successful communications plan does closely complement your marketing and PR efforts. But having the former makes the latter all the more likely to succeed, so your company thrives and you have the time to focus on whatever passion and curiosity led you here to begin with. And that, let's acknowledge, is everyone's best and ultimate objective.

#words #communication #writing #storytelling

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