May 16th, 2019
“If you want to be a writer, you’re living in the past.”
This was one of the statements displayed on screen at this year’s IoIC conference. Run by a working group of senior IC people – Jon Simmons, Laura Low and Ben Keohane – the session was titled ‘Why internal communications won’t exist in 20 years”. It was an excellent session intended to be thought provoking, and their statement about writing certainly got under my skin.
The thinking behind the statement was that in the future, writing will no longer be a required skill of an internal communicator as technology will allow everyone to create and share their own content – much like in the external world of social media and blogging. Instead, we will coach others around the organisation to create their own content, freeing us up to do the more strategic side of our role.
Now, I’m all for internal communications having a more strategic, coaching role inside organisations, but no writing skills at all? That’s where I disagree.
For me, the craft of writing is a fundamental skill that all internal communicators need to have. And we need to banish this idea that it’s easy and something everyone can do. While it has a tactical application, it’s absolutely strategic. Understanding your audience, your culture, and your values and being able to reflect that in words that not only convey a message but inspire and influence takes experience and skill. And let’s not forget shaping corporate narrative, storytelling to engage employees with change, and ensuring your content remains ethical at all times.
How can we coach others on all of this if we can’t demonstrate the capability ourselves?
Having a strong foundation beneath you is imperative for credibility and confidence. And confidence is something we lack in our industry. But is it surprising when the vast majority of internal communication professionals don’t do CPD or invest in professional qualifications?
I was listening to Katie Macauley’s podcast with Stephen Waddington recently and he made an excellent point that in no other profession would it be acceptable to skip the foundation steps where you hone your craft. Accounting, medicine, law etc all have a clear progression path.
However, people often come into internal communications from other disciplines, sometimes in more senior roles. And while senior IC people wouldn’t think twice about attending training around leadership or business, I don’t think there’s the same enthusiasm for enhancing writing skills. And this is despite it being a core skill – messaging and storytelling form part of the IoIC’s competency framework.
We need to change this perception if we’re to protect our reputation and support the businesses we work for in the right way.
Jennifer Sproul put it perfectly in her closing speech at the IoIC conference – internal communications has never been in a better position and it feels that this is our moment to emerge as a critical business function against a backdrop of chaotic change.
So, let’s not undo it all by elevating ourselves on shaky foundations. Let’s take pride in honing our craft and incorporating it into the role of a strategic communicator.
Blatant plug: Find out more about my writing workshops on my ‘What I do’ page.