Is the future of communication in the hands of generalists or specialists?

Is it ok to specialise and have one area of expertise, such as internal comms, or do we need to equip our communication teams to work across the whole spectrum?

Tonight I was part of a panel discussing the future of communication chaired by Darren Briggs of Flametree.

I was alongside, Phil Askham, Global Head of Communications, Global Functions at HSBC, Jim Connor, Director of Communications, Commercial Banking at Lloyds Bank, Mark Davies, Post Office Communications and Corporate Affairs Director and Sara Lipscombe, Group Communications Director at Atkins.

We were examining whether the future of communication means having teams of generalists or specialists.

And, actually, whether it matters.

You can follow some of the discussions from tonight on Twitter @commsleaders or see the event hashtag #futureofcomms.

I ran a short poll on Twitter @AllthingsIC yesterday to gauge how my network is made up.

The results:

I’m not sure whether to be worried or bemused five per cent said they don’t know what they are.

Could it be because we don’t often talk about comms in this way?

I certainly haven’t written using the phrases generalist or specialist until recently, and having published 700+ articles in seven years on my blog, that’s pretty telling!

However, I have written constantly about the blurring of lines between internal and external communication.

The search terms used to reach my site reveal it’s an issue All Things IC blog readers want to know more about too.

Edelman_cloverleafI blogged the other day about Edelman’s latest Cloverleaf research (pictured), where they described the generalist vs specialist conversation as:

“one of the greatest, yet perhaps unheralded, challenges that communications and marketing professionals now face”.

According to Steve Rubel, Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist, we need to become Specialist Generalists, and there are five strategies to adopt.

What’s your take? As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.

Do you have the right skills?
2017 update: See this profession map from the Institute of Internal Communication:

The debate
Let’s get back to tonight. It was hosted by Comms Leaders and took place at CIPR headquarters in London.

The whole topic is becoming increasingly noisy and I enjoyed hearing the insights and experiences the panel shared from their organisations.

Some thoughts:

What do I think?

I think this is not a black and white issue, it’s a grey area where you can’t have a one size fits all approach.

Apart from that being a clichéd thing to write, it’s true!

When I have this conversation with clients or people in my network, it’s typically around skills – do you have the right skills to do your job?

Questions include: Does your team have the right skills? What do you need to do differently? What does your business need from the comms team – and are you designed to work in the way that fits that requirement?

I publish job adverts regularly on the jobs page of All Things IC and @AllthingsICjobs and have noticed the rise of roles seeking internal communication experts with external communication knowledge and experience.

I think there is a lack of resources, training and information about the integration of communication teams, and therefore what skills are needed as people move into a world where they are expected to know more.

Teams of generalists have become more commonplace in recent years due to circumstance. For example team members leaving and not being replaced. Their work doesn’t disappear, so the remaining member/s adapt their roles and pick up additional work and areas of responsibility.

Edelman describe this as the need to be deeply knowledgeable in shallow niches.

The conclusion from tonight was understanding the requirements of businesses is crucial to identify the best structure for the comms team.

Further reading

PO integrationMark Davies wrote for my blog in October describing how the Post Office comms team has been integrated and now focuses on content as part of their structure.

My final thought from tonight is something Phil said: “You get expertise through experience”.

Are you providing ample opportunities for your comms team to expand their expertise by experiencing other roles?

Could you investigate secondments for them to learn about another skill or discipline? Would that enhance your team? What would you lose by trying?

Lots of food for thought. Congratulations to the team at Comms Leaders for a stimulating debate and thank you for inviting me to be part of it.

Do you need a degree?

I’ve shared my comms career path in the first A Question of Comms profile. I was all set to go to University, then chose the path of journalism instead.

Discover how it led me to be running All Things IC consultancy and offering Masterclasses for professional communicators to learn.

Thanks as ever for stopping by,

Rachel

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published on the All Things IC blog 20 January 2016. Updated February 2017.

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