By Leah Gladu
Thanks to the rabbit hole that is the internet, you’ll never have a shortage of inspiration when it comes to learning. Just Google “quotes about learning” and you’ll discover that learning “only stops at death” and “keeps you young.”
As trite as some of these sayings may seem, I’m afraid to report that they are actually true, especially in terms of a career in communications. At every stage, there’s a new topic to learn, a new subject to master. That means we vacillate between student and teacher multiple times as we grow as communicators, and it’s important that we embrace both roles.
Our journeys start with a narrow focus that quickly widens as we mature and progress in the profession. But think back to the many steps you’ve made in your own career. How many of them did you take completely on your own and how many were made with a little help?
Having a mentor, guide or adviser can make the difference between a fulfilling career journey and a frustrating one. We all needed one, and I’d be willing to bet there are already people looking at you to fill the same role.
If we’re going to consider ourselves leaders in the profession, then it’s our duty to shepherd young talent through the same lessons that helped shape us so we could earn that designation.
With our help, that young talent’s path will end with their own seat at the table (or virtual team meetings) where key business decisions are made.
That responsibility starts from the early stages of a career and includes several important milestones along the way.
Learn the craft.
This is obviously the first step, a prerequisite to a long and successful career in communications — a baseline understanding of language and how to effectively use it. The foundation for these communications skills is set in school, including college, but is refined through real-world experience in one’s first jobs.
Without a patient and knowledgeable guide to nurture the development of these skills, that experience could go to waste.
But knowing where a comma goes doesn’t mean your education is over. Effectively using the written or spoken word is a skill that can take a lifetime to master. Like a muscle that weakens from lack of use, effective communications need constant refreshers from colleagues who flex that skill every day.
Having those resources spread across your organization can help build a strong and reliable base of talent you can shape into tomorrow’s leaders.
Learn the strategy.
As we grow in our careers, it’s natural to start to zoom out a little bit, viewing communications as more than just a series of individual emails and using a big-picture approach. All the pieces of the craft we learned before start to connect to meet a singular goal or purpose.
But that larger picture can stay fuzzy without a mindful eye helping us focus it. We spend so much of the early part of our careers focused on the individual deliverable, crossing items off our to-do lists so we can get to the next. Learning the comprehensive strategy behind all those deliverables can require coaching. We all need someone to help us to stop focusing on the trees and see the whole forest.
A mentor who has developed a full comms plan or communications strategy can be a valuable resource for young professionals who want to take that next step in their careers. It takes patience. It takes repetition. It takes consistency. But ultimately, it’s worth it for both your career and theirs.
Learn the business.
The larger the company, the more your communications department can feel like one cog among many that have to connect harmoniously and move toward the overall success of the business. That means understanding how your communications strategies and team fit into the larger organization can be overwhelming.
But that understanding is the next step in a communications career that nurtures growth and empowers talent. Adding in the broader business view to your communications strategies can make you invaluable to countless organizations.
Too often, communications teams are viewed simply as cost centers that organizations must minimally invest in to keep employees informed of when the next Taco Tuesday is. But the truly effective communications teams are actually revenue drivers for their companies. There is a marked difference, especially in the bottom line, between a company that embraces communications to keep employees and customers connected and one that doesn’t.
You can see that value in what top CEOs are looking for in their chief communications executives. They aren’t just looking for strong writers who can put together a campaign. They’re looking for someone who can protect the reputation of the company, make data-based decisions and build lucrative relationships.
Learning the business requires — meaning it isn’t a luxury, it’s a must — someone who has already seen it and navigated it from the inside. That’s the position many of us who have reached a certain level find ourselves in, and it’s imperative to pass down that knowledge.
And as we learn more about the business, we pass those lessons down, too. Because as we already know from our Googling, learning never really stops.
Read more from Leah in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics or connect with her on LinkedIn to continue the conversation.