With increased economic uncertainty and the competitive dynamics of the Great Resignation stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are relying more on communications professionals to help craft and share their stories to stand out from the crowd. Traditional target audiences are key, of course, but so too are current and prospective employees. This is creating both opportunities and challenges for communications professionals: they need to deepen their domain expertise to effectively advise these companies and tackle complicated themes like the future of work and corporate social responsibility. This is not just about updating positioning and messaging. It can often mean rethinking and recasting core elements of the organization’s narrative, beginning with what makes the corporate culture unique and differentiated.
All of this points to the new importance placed today on PR agencies’ professional development programs, which say a lot about the corporate culture and the organization’s commitment to executive learning and growth. Communications professionals should consider the following 3 strategies:
Boosting Industry Knowledge
Communications professionals can deepen their domain expertise in a variety of ways, at different price points. For many industries, conferences can be a great way to learn about where businesses are headed and to network with other experts in the field. Listening in on panels and hearing the way competitors speak about their businesses gives communications professionals a more nuanced understanding for crafting thought leadership pieces. Media attends conferences as well, offering a unique opportunity for communications professionals to connect their clients with the press. For example, financial services communicators have benefited from attending the annual Financial Times Future of Asset Management conference in both in-person and virtual forms. The event spurs ideas for engaging clients in new ways and fine-tunes media training capabilities for communications professionals to prepare clients for their own panels and speaking engagements.
With a larger professional development budget, communications professionals can consider academic programs that relate to the industry they work in. Financial services communicators could enroll in classes on economics or consider courses on the mechanics of investing to better understand the companies they work with. Communications professionals working within professional services could explore business intelligence classes. As outlined below, professional services communicators have taken away lifelong learnings from programs like the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell University. Key lessons from the classroom directly translated into advice for clients grappling with their messaging around the future of work. Meanwhile, those working in public affairs or with government institutions can look at policy analysis classes or specific industry certifications.
Integrating Marketing Techniques
Increasingly, marketing and communications teams are becoming more intertwined, resulting in a call for their PR agencies to advise on how to optimally integrate both paid and earned media strategies. Communications professionals can stay ahead of the curve by investing in a marketing fundamentals class, or gaining expertise in a specific area like paid advertising or search engine optimization (SEO). A knowledge of paid ads on platforms like Google or LinkedIn can lead to more effective touchpoints for both business targets, as well as current and potential employees. Understanding how content is amplified by SEO can help communications professionals craft more effective blogs, press releases, webpages and thought-leadership pieces. Understanding SEO also adds a new metric to show program success in reports.
Professional development budgets can also go toward purchasing new SEO software, in addition to funding an educational course.
Increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Communications professionals can invest in both their professional and personal development by dedicating their budget to learning about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). There are one-on-one coaching options, group classes, and even certificate programs that are offered by colleges and universities. The takeaways are two-pronged, with benefits for the communications professional and their organization, as well as for the companies the communications professional works with.
By investing in knowledge about communications professionals can more effectively manage their team, engage with stakeholders, and advise on the future of work as companies seek new ways to maintain collaboration while being more inclusive and incorporating more remote work options. As proven by the growing demand for this expertise, organizations have realized how many pitfalls and potential missteps there are in DEI communications as they define their visions for moving forward from the pandemic. Working with a trained DEI communications professional creates a pathway for successful implementation of inclusive practices and effective DEI messaging.
So, while there are no wrong ways to deploy a professional development budget, there are certainly more effective ways for communications professionals to expand their skillset. By considering an investment in industry knowledge, marketing integration or DEI, communications professionals can unlock value for their own career trajectory and better serve the companies they advise.