ITL #229 Rethinking resources and skills: whose job is it anyway?

3 years, 6 months ago


Many organisations struggle to map out the level and balance of internal and external support necessary to deliver the communications results they desire. By Julia Willoughby.

I have just watched seven senior partners of a surveying firm spend too many emails and chargeable fee hours debating the best internal and external support structure for their communications and marketing.

It all kicked off with a simple appointment requirement but as the process went on and everyone chipped in, the result was chaos. Senior partners, who no doubt are great on a construction site, having firm, unqualified views on what would work best but lacking an understanding of how to organise their internal team, what it should look like and how this team could work with them, agencies and consultants.

In fairness, they are not alone. I have seen a growing number of organisations struggle to map out and have in place their dream team to achieve the profile and communications they want.

There are a number of reasons why.

The traditional marketing team coordinating in-house communications or communications agencies is not now always appropriate. The growth of digital channels, changing approaches to traditional media, the importance of incorporating wider communications activities and less reliance on traditional advertising requires a rethink on resources and skills.

When organisations start to assess what they need verses what they have, many realise that their existing in-house teams lack the in-depth knowledge of the fast-changing approaches opening up through digital communications. Or worse, they are ignorant of these opportunities and fail to grasp the potential of the channels.

Disjointed and time-consuming

They look at functional roles rather than the results they want. For example, they will recruit or organise different people to run the press desk, corporate support, internal communications and social media tasks without appreciating the time tasks take and the benefits of joining the tasks up.

The same surveying company I mentioned earlier was thrilled when their social media executive showed initiative and came up with content for an internal newsletter.  

As the executive was only posting out a couple of posts across Twitter and Instagram a week, no wonder they were coming up with other tasks…they must have been bored out of their brain!

No set formula

Today, organising the communications and marketing support varies so much for the size of the organisation and structure, requirements, challenges and results set out that there is no set formula to follow and the solution needs to reflect this.

I would advise senior teams and directors to ask a communications professional how to best organise their in-house support and how this team can work with agencies and consultants on a daily or ad hoc basis for the best approach.

The professional should assess the business and strategic objectives, how the plan is moving forward and at what pace, the stakeholders and audiences, how the current communications is working to reach them and achieve the desired impact, plus improvements needed to achieve the outcomes across time frames.

Part of the review should look at whether the communications executives can grasp topics of interest, create and engage in conversations that identified audiences want to be part of.

From this assessment a tiered plan of activity can be mapped out with levels of focus and energy, out takes and benefits for the business. Alongside this should be a review of the existing in-house team and consultants and whether the skills and resources are in-place or need to be recruited or hired.

Don’t switch off

You may be switching off at this point, thinking this is far too obvious. Keep with me though as here is where it often gets tricky. This is the stage when it may become clear that the loyal communications employee who has been with the company for a decade does not quite match any of the roles listed. Before it becomes a major HR issue, consider if the person can be trained or redeployed and if an external consultancy could work to share, or act in an advisory capacity.

I am all for giving people a chance to grow and develop into roles. Unfortunately there is a lack of understanding in some organisations on how to develop their communications and marketing team and this can lead to their people becoming stagnant. It is not easy if you run a company producing widgets to realise the skills needed to keep your communications team at the forefront of their profession.

I have often thought it would be a good idea to set up a mentoring army of highly experienced communicators to step in to help motivate and train in-house communicators.

Do let me know if such a team exists.

The best solution I am aware of is when effective external consultants form a good working relation with the in-house contact and use the regular chats and meetings to encourage, raise suggestions and offer training sessions over lunch.

After the mapping

Anyway, once the dream team is mapped out, the in-house and consultancy roles and responsibilities set down and existing or new people put in place, my advice is to give the new team a three- to six-month trial and check if it is working and where changes need to be made.

Throughout the process, the chief executive or managing director sometimes ask if there is any merit in having a communications director on their board.

To answer this properly would need another good 800 words.

In my opinion, there should be someone responsible for regularly briefing the senior management team on what is happening, the results achieved, what is planned, the reasons why and input required from them. In return the senior team should highlight thoughts, provide direction and take an active interest in the activities.

So to go back to the surveying firm and their chaotic approach to working out their team, it would have been a good idea to empower one of their senior people to manage the process. With the help of an experienced communications adviser, of course.

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The Author

Julia Willoughby

Julia Willoughby has over 35 years’ communications consultancy experience. She established WPR Agency (originally called Willoughby Public Relations ) 25 years ago and was managing director, before becoming chief executive. WPR employs a team of 54 and is the largest communications consultancy in the UK Midlands. In 2016, Julia led an MBO that has enabled her to enjoy other interests and spend reduced time in the agency. One of these interests is mentoring entrepreneurs.

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