Why writing will still matter in 2039

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.

Categories: IoICStrategywriting

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4 responses to “Why writing will still matter in 2039”

  1. Laura Low says:

    Hi Helen
    Thanks for blogging, our aim was to provoke a reaction and start a conversation about our profession so it’s great to see emerging thoughts such as yours.
    I think we agree for the most part, to be able to coach and enable your leaders having the skills is key, as I said on the day there’s always a place for skilled writing eg in corporate narrative, financial results etc.
    Where I think we need to develop is in our coaching and enabling, helping leaders see that perfect prose isn’t always needed or wanted by their people. Our people deserve more than ghost written comms, they are looking for authentic, credible, trustworthy sources of information.
    If we can get everyone communicating better in a way that’s authentic to them, we can free ourselves up to add more value and be more strategic.
    Let’s build on the foundations, by sharing the skills not monopolising them.

    • Helen2017 says:

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for comment and for your excellent presentation on the day. I could not agree more about ghost writing – I’m a big advocate of authentic writing and always advise that leaders especially write their own communications. However, there will always be a need for content that has been carefully crafted to ensure the right messages are conveyed in the right way.

      And I certainly don’t think we should have the monopoly on writing but I also think we need to encourage people (at whatever level they join our profession) to learn the basics of writing and then to develop those skills if they’re to coach others – and I’m not convinced all internal communicators are doing that at the moment, which is where my concern lies.

      Thanks again for starting such an interesting discussion, I know many delegates were chatting about it in the breaks and got a lot out of it.

  2. Ben Keohane says:

    Hi Helen. I’m really pleased that our presentation provoked a reaction and, as you say, our headlines were deliberately provocative. And I love your very well-written blog post.

    However, none of us subscribe to the idea that writing isn’t a core skill for Internal Communications. That said, there’s equal validity in saying “not everyone else can’t write” to saying that not everyone can.

    We should be writing where we add value and not doing it where we don’t. I think most of us would admit we have work to do there.

    But also, I’d add that this discussion is excellent evidence of our point that the necessity for excellent writing is reduced when we converse rather than create a communication as a one-way message.

    And that was the key to our point. Our ability to write is a valuable skill, but in a changing world, our ability to facilitate and power conversations is, we believe, far more powerful.

    • Helen2017 says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for your comment (and your presentation). That is true, internal communication don’t, and shouldn’t have, the monopoly on writing. My point was more that all internal communicators should have writing skills (even if others do too) but many still don’t.

      I completely agree with you about how we should be adding value through our writing and we’re often guilty of creating noise. I’m always talking about how we need to be better at saying no to communications that don’t align with values and strategy – that’s a whole other blog!

      And I agree with you again about conversation. Face to face and two way conversation will always be king. But I do believe there will always be strong case for writing skills, especially as the way we work changes, for example, people might not be based in offices in the future.

      Thanks again for such a thought provoking presentation. I think it created valuable discussion about the future of our profession and I really enjoyed it.

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