Different sectors, same challenges?

What sector do you work in? Do you work for a private or public company or perhaps a charity? How does what you do compare with other people in your network and are there any similarities when it comes to communication?

Kim Borrowdale is a former classmate of mine from Kingston University’s post-graduate diploma in Internal Communication Management course. She specialises in brand, internal and change communication and is about to relocate to Sydney, Australia.

We saw each other recently to catch up, and our conversation inevitably turned to communication and Kim has kindly written her thoughts about her experiences in the form of a guest article. You can find out more about her via LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter @KimBorrowdale. She’s available for new projects/contracts from June 2013 and I’m excited by what’s ahead for her. I’ll miss seeing her in person and am hoping she can post some much-needed sunshine back to the UK! Over to you Kim…

Different sectors, same challenges for communicators?
As part of thinking through my move back to Australia after ten years living and working in London, I looked to my CV to review my experience and consider my ideal next steps in terms of career.

What was interesting as I attempted to browse my professional life with an external eye was how I have split my time working in what appear to be very different sectors – the development/third sector and professional services sector.

I remember each time I moved from a communications role in a law firm to a development organisation or vice versa, I heard the same line uttered by every employer

– “I’m not sure how it worked in your previous job, but I can tell you it’s a very different working environment here”.

Now, to a communications specialist, seemingly throw away statements about organisational culture are certainly not thrown away. In fact, it would be fair to say that I’ve spent a good part of my last ten years mentally logging instances of cultural assumption versus reality in each environment with that statement in mind.

So what have I learned? Are professional services and development organisations radically different in how they operate? You’d be surprised at the similarities. When planning internal and external communication campaigns within both, I came across some interesting synergies. Here are the top three from my mental logbook:

1.     Expert power in the form of subject matter experts

Expert power (a phrase coined by sociologists French and Raven in 1959) is the ability to influence based on one’s knowledge of a subject matter. In professional services and the development sector, your key stakeholders are often experts in their field such as lawyers, accountants, economists and academics.

In both environments, a communication plan needs to incorporate and, in many cases capitalise on, those stakeholders with expert power to influence an outcome – whether it be planning media coverage via trade press or subject matter expert bloggers, or as peer champions for an internal change programme.

2.     An increased focus on transparency and accountability

The global financial crisis shone a light on the private sector with shareholders, business owners and citizens alike shouting for increased accountability in the business world. Public pressure through the media has meant professional services firms have had to pay closer attention to the integrity of their business choices particularly when it comes to the perspective of their primary brand ambassadors, their employees.

In the development sector, public scrutiny is also on the rise. Transparency has been recognised as a key focus for the international development community at both a political and grassroots level, with community challenge and collaboration evident at all levels. One of example of this is the current programme I am working on, the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) that aims to make information about aid spending easier to access, use and understand.

What does this mean for communication professionals? Not only has the need for alignment between internal and external communication never been stronger, but with increased demand for what was previously information held behind closed doors, comes opportunity.

Those companies and countries who lead the way in the transparency agenda will offer communication specialists new topics for profile raising campaigns and interesting ways in which to visualise data.

3.     The introduction of new ways of working

For professional services firms, what started as a traditional model of business has had to change over time to be more streamlined in order to enable virtual team working and fast paced decision making. We have seen firms looking to online collaboration, digital marketing campaigns and use of onshore and offshore resources to increase efficiency and lower costs.

In the development sector, the same can be said. It is about the maximum percentage of aid being spent on programmes rather than administration of programmes.  In the past ten years I’ve seen development organisations looking at how they run as a business, reducing paper, refining systems and figuring out how to tread the line of being more commercially sustainable without losing the social consciousness and community action that has played such a big part in mobilising changes in development policy.

For communicators, this means recognising that employees no longer wait for a memo from the Management team but learn and share news about their company through social media. In both sectors, communities of practice are now key to selling concepts and communicating key messages. Communication professionals must be up to speed with latest business models for operation as well as experts in building cross channel momentum – online and offline.

From my experience, it is clear that while working across seemingly opposite sectors will always present new challenges and contexts, a communicator will always be able to find similarities and often, opportunities to transfer approaches from one sector to the next.

Post author: Kim Borrowdale

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Kim. What do you think about what she’s written? Does anything surprise you about the similarities? You’re welcome to comment below, tweet her @kimborrowdale or me @AllthingsIC.

Further reading: previous articles by Kim for my blog
Bursting out of the IC bubble
Diary of a freelancer


  1. Good article Kim. My own experience is that the similarities tend to outweigh the differences. At the simplest level, internal communications is supporting that join between the management of a business and the staff of that business. The communicators job is to find away of expressing / translating / interpreting the business objectives from a hypothesis into an something that staff can action. To me, that is the common denominator across industries and sectors.

    Wishing you all the best for your return to Oz/

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