Don’t think communication: think problems, create solutions

Will you survive the next round of cuts?

Truth is that money spent on communication, in stringent times, is often questioned. But that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily under threat. Survival may depend on rethinking both what you do and how you do it. That could mean changing how people see you.

Questions around comms are often fought in traditional terms. Those for and against often wage battles over proxies rather than results. The units in which these skirmishes are fought are likes, shares, followers, equivalent advertising spend and the conspicuous absence of negative media coverage. Proxies stand in for hard data which are both difficult to baseline and challenging to collect in real time.

Whilst the market for straight comms will ebb and flow, one market in both good and bad times remains buoyant: problems. There are always more problems than there are solutions. And those who are capable of identifying both the problem and potential solutions are almost always in demand. These people are often called “fixers”.

Comms staff are well placed to occupy this pivotal role. They have the connections, the over-view, a wide knowledge base, an understanding of complexity, and often the trust of senior leaders, crucial in unblocking issues. Yet some, despite these advantages, may adhere to more traditional roles.

The ability to “see the bigger picture” and to find solutions is often an entry qualification for senior executive roles. Few comms people make it onto the top table and fewer still ever get to be chief executive.

It’s not the lack of talent amongst comms people, in my experience. As a body, this is a weighty group – talented, intelligent, capable but often diffident, preferring to hover in the corner.

But fortune favours the bold. So when senior leaders say their doors are open, take them at their word. Stop people in the corridor and suggest outline solutions. Gain permission to put together “outline notes for consideration”. Simply: if you don’t ask you don’t get.

Be courageous. Or you may go through life thinking that the person appointed above you for the post you know you could and want to do for is actually in your job.

Senior leaders may be reluctant to listen to those who are keen to strategise about comms. But they will never tire of listening to someone with potential solutions to the things that deprive them of much needed sleep.

That someone could be you.

Mark Fletcher-Brown is a Communications Adviser.

For more on this, come to Adding value through influence – the comms professional as a strategic “Fixer” at this year’s Public Service Communications Academy.


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