The top five things communicators talk about

I’ve just returned from the Communication Directors’ Forum on board Arcadia and had an extremely productive few days. I met lots of interesting communications and PR professionals from a whole range of industries from charity to transport, retail to healthcare. What struck me were the commonalities between us all regardless of our sectors and types of businesses.

forumThe forum was really well organised by Richmond Events and was a great opportunity to meet face-to-face with my peers and suppliers.

There are some exciting offerings around at the moment and I thought some of the work being showcased by the agencies was innovative and creative. It’s always good to know what works for other organisations and the suppliers on board including beetroot , 3 monkeys and The Phoenix Partners had some interesting stories to tell and tips to share.

As with any gathering of comms professionals, conversation always turns to current challenges, ways of overcoming difficulties and shared stories of success and failure. I found it interesting to note that despite all the piles of leaflets and emails offering social media seminars that are flying around, this did not feature as one of the hot topics of conversation and in fact was barely mentioned by the group.

So I thought I would share some thoughts from conversations I had and provide an insight into what really is being discussed by communication professionals and what we are looking for. I can’t claim to speak on behalf of the whole industry, but thought it useful to share my thoughts and findings. They are in no particular order, apart from the first one.

Surely no surprise that this is number one. Budget (or lack of) was a recurring theme among my peers. Being asked to deliver more for less money, or even no money, kept raising its head and united the delegates.

We were sharing tips on how to get value for money, how to make funds go further and work harder. How to prioritise and choose if told that comms channels need to be scaled back or cut was another hot topic of debate.

Commercial awareness
Many people spoke about the need to have people in comms teams with good commercial awareness. I realised that I haven’t seen a course anywhere amongst the plethora of ones which are whizzing around, which provide an overview of ‘what finance do, what HR professionals deal with daily’ or something along those lines.

Maybe they do exist but I can’t recall seeing one and am happy to be corrected. Business partner models are increasingly popular for comms teams to operate under, but how well equipped are the people in those teams to have at least a basic understanding of the challenges facing the separate business units? This was being debated over lunch one day on one of the tables I was at, with the conclusion that job shadowing and overview courses would be useful to train up people in comms teams.

Communicating with frontline employees
Interestingly there was a lot of talk about how to get messages to frontline workers, particularly if companies do not have robust structures/technology in place to operate effective cascade systems. Also being debated were the ways of having two-way dialogues with employees, particularly when budget and cultures are not lined up to help this happen easily. This was also highlighted at a couple of the speakers’ sessions I went to and speakers shared their advice.

Career development
I had many conversations with delegates about career development including where people began their careers. I found out through conversation over lunch that the Director of Comms for the NSPCC started his career as a journalist on the same local paper I did and we know lots of people in common – another reminder of how small the comms world actually is! Conversations turned to what people are looking for from their current roles, where they want to work in the future, skills they want to learn and how to motivate comms teams. The common thread between everyone I spoke to was the desire to know from each other what our backgrounds were and what the future looks like both short and long term and what we need to ‘keep up’ with in order to succeed.

Keeping in touch – communicating
Having had conversations with around 50 people over the past few days and collecting piles of business cards from each other, lots of us spent the weekend connecting via LinkedIn, emailing and arranging to meet over the next few weeks. I’m planning to keep in touch to continue conversations started on Arcadia. I have no doubt that the conversations from the forum will continue among groups of people who met over the past few days. Facilitating ways for comms professionals to get together is crucial and can only serve to benefit the companies they represent and their own personal development.

Did you go to the forum? What was your experience?

Do let me know your thoughts, Rachel.

First published:: June 2010.


  1. I didn’t go to the conference but it sounds like it was interesting. I also found it peculiar that social media wasn’t in the top five things discussed. Also, I just discovered your blog and it looks like it contains a lot of good articles. I’ll be sure to forward it along.

  2. admin says:

    Thanks John, it was an interesting few days. Just clicked through to your site and will be sure to keep checking back, Rachel.

  3. Kate Rowsell says:

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for your notes on the forum an interesting read. It’s also interesting that a number of the ‘top 5’ were discussed at the IOIC ‘Defeatist or defiant?’ debate last week. Particularly the importance of commerical awareness for Internal Communicators.

    Many thanks.

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