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I'm comms, I saw, I conquered; why it's time for communications people to stand up and be counted

Time for some negative thinking.

Time for some negative thinking.

When times are tough, the axe often tends to fall on comms. Ops naturally has to be protected, the argument goes, because they’re 'doing the do', while fundraising brings in the cash that pays for it all and finance is wielding the chopper, so is handily at the opposite end from the blade. Comms is vulnerable because it’s trickier to demonstrate with cold facts and hard figures the value it adds.

Comms folk don’t always help with that view of their value. You know the old adage: comms under-promises and over-delivers, while fundraising over-promises and under-delivers. But far be it from me to promote silo-reinforcing stereotypes; rather shouldn’t we view this more aggressive fundraising approach less as a criticism and more as a challenge?
There’s definitely room for comms directors to start pumping out more B-HAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals (a term apparently coined in 1994, but new to me). Why not big-up what comms has to offer? Of course you should back it up with facts and figures and frame it in business terms of ROI and achieving strategic goals, but above all, make the case for investment with more confidence and less apology. 
What's more, how often do comms people point out what would happen if they weren’t there? The “you cut my budget/team/resource, and this will be the negative effect” argument. Why not start to tell the stories of the behind-the-scenes stuff that succeeded specifically because no-one was aware of it? Of the time the media team worked its socks off to keep the wrong kind of story out of the press that might have damaged the charity’s reputation. Or those fraught 48 hours when your PR expertise turned a potential crisis into an opportunity to reinforce your key messages and promote your core values. Or the crucial audience insight you brought to the table at the beginning of the flagship project that otherwise could have steered wildly and expensively off-course?
Rumour has it that one of George Entwistle’s early decisions as the new BBC D-G was to remove board responsibilities from BBC comms director Paul Mylrea. To misquote the world’s favourite hockey mom Sarah Palin, “How’d that work out for ya, Georgie?”  I’m sure Mylrea is a consummate professional and not given to petty impulses, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I were him and George called me in to the office after that now infamous Today programme interview, I’d have muttered: “Well I would have told you about that front page Guardian article at yesterday’s board meeting, George, but I wasn’t there.”
As communications people, stories are one of our most powerful tools. Perhaps it’s time we told the story of what could happen if we weren’t here.

Vicky Browning

Vicky is a former magazine journalist, editor and publisher. She has been the Director of CharityComms since March 2010. CharityComms aims to improve the standard of communications and champion its role in the sector and seeks to represent, support, inspire, connect and inform its members and the wider charity communications community.


nfpSynergy has joined forces with CharityComms to bring a you a day of information, inspiration and evaluation on January 30th 2013.

This thought-leadership conference provides insights, fresh perspectives and crucial information on the latest trends and innovations in communications, brand and fundraising. We’ll also be exploring what innovation is, why it matters and how we can create a culture to encourage and nurture it. To find out more about this vital day of thought-provoking plenary sessions, research presentations, panel discussions and inspiring case studies, click here!

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