Developing a business focus: A checklist for communicators


In a recent article that I developed for Melcrum Communications, I wrote about the ongoing concern internal communicators have about getting a 'seat at the table.' My assertion was, consultative and communications skills aside, more and more leaders expect you to demonstrate a real understanding of the business you are in to be seen as a credible trusted communications advisor.

How can communicators who do not have a business education come up to speed on the concepts they need to know in order to be credible in strategic communications roles?

To be a credible communications leader you must not only speak the language of business, but also be able to understand, assess and communicate how what you do contributes to achieving business objectives. While more and more IC and PR professionals are getting business savvy, a surprising number I meet still do not know the basics behind what drives a business.

If you are one of those professionals looking to raise your game but aren't quite up for the executive MBA or other education program just yet, here's a quick checklist of things you should learn about your organization that will help you better adopt a better business focus for your communications.

  • Get to know your industry. Learn who your competitors are, what distinguishes your organization from them, and where your overall industry is headed in terms of its economic development.
  • Understand how your business makes money. Beyond knowing what you sell and how you sell it, get to know your company's business model, what contributes most to its operating costs and profits, and what your customers are saying about your success (or lack thereof) in the marketplace.
  • Learn how your partners in the organization work. Too often communicators work in a vacuum, breathing the rarified air of executive messaging and not getting a solid understanding of what other organizations within the enterprise contribute to the bottom line. Get to know your colleagues, in marketing, finance, IT, and human resources. Your insights on how they contribute to the big picture will drive more informed and effective conversations about business and communications objectives.

I go into much more detail on each of these in my Melcrum article, but at least wanted to capture the highlights here.

Many of us who just enjoy the writing part of communications work struggle with other aspects - technology, business strategy, finance - that are becoming required parts of our roles. Today's organizations are getting flatter and more is being expected from the communication function all the time. It's well past time we regarded ourselves - and held ourselves accountable to be - full-time business people and leaders with the same context and perspective as our colleagues in other departments.