Fight the Good Communication Fight

Should a communication professional quit if the leader of the business doesn’t buy into or support communication?

Some interesting discussions are happening around this topic on several blogs. I thought I’d bring it up here, too, so that readers of this blog can debate this critically important issue. (Props to Jon Buscall for the original post and to Nancy Myrland for bringing it to my attention.)

The two bloggers who previously raised the question put it in the context of social media. If a CEO doesn’t “get” social media, should the marketer responsible for social media stick around? A lot of CEOs don’t participate in Facebook or Twitter, watch YouTube or write blogs. Many, in fact, are intimidated by social media and perhaps a bit fearful of it. Despite its growth, social media is still a relatively new set of tools for marketing and public relations.

I would extend the discussion to communication in general. Amazingly, many business leaders still don’t see the value of a comprehensive, strategic approach to communication. They do it when they have to, but otherwise they avoid it at all costs. They especially don’t believe it’s important to communicate with employees because, heaven knows, they don’t want the people who work for the company to know too much about what’s going on. They might start questioning management practices or leak company secrets to the media or unionize.

I’ve encountered such attitudes many times in my corporate career and as a consultant. At times I’ve been so frustrated that I swore I was ready to give up and walk out. If someone hired to help the company communicate can’t do his job because the business leader doesn’t believe in communication, what’s the use in sticking around?

In her blog post, Nancy Myrland encourages communicators, specifically marketers who work in social media, not to give up. “It’s our job to do what we can to teach them, to get through to them, and to try our best to advance the ball,” she writes. “You need a much thicker skin that allows you to be the champion of these initiatives, or any initiatives that fall within your area of responsibility.”

Young communicators especially need a thick skin and patience. I’m afraid that digital natives, the generation that grew up with technology and social media, are too prone to impatience. They want things to change now. While I admire such high expectations, they simply are not realistic. Most organizations, no matter what they might claim, are slow to change. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to lead them to change leaders’ attitudes about social media or communication in general. It just means that it’s likely to take some time.

It’s time that is often well spent, too. When we have to work to bring business leaders around to the value of communication (and to engaging via social media), we are forced to think more strategically and less tactically.

Myrland continues with this case for strategic thinking: “If you’ve helped the company or firm by creating a thorough marketing plan, then all of the plan’s sections will logically lead to the right tools, or tactics, to accomplish what is set out in the goals section of that plan, whether they be social media or any other kind of communication and sales tactics.  At this point, you can then point out the right sites and tools to help accomplish what has been identified in the plan.”

That’s exactly how I helped convert an old-school plant manager from someone who eschewed communication to someone who embraced it. I used case studies, best practices and a strategic mindset to demonstrate how communication could help the business.

It took a long time and I often felt like giving up, but I’m glad I didn’t. I learned as much in the process as the plant manager did.

Communicators, I feel your pain when you’re stuck working for a business leader who doesn’t see the value in what you do. Don’t quit too soon. Stick with it and fight the good fight. You never know when that breakthrough will occur.

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