Magazine article Communication World

Five 'Musts' for the Millennium

Magazine article Communication World

Five 'Musts' for the Millennium

Article excerpt

If the decade of the nineties has been difficult for communicators, what will our profession face in the new millennium? Will our employers continue with re-engineering and downsizing? Will we face ever-increasing competition from other countries in a more global business environment? Will the technological changes of the past 10 years be eclipsed in the next five?

In travels around the world as chairman of IABC, I kept hearing the same plea for practical advice in anticipating the future. After some informal research and consultation, I am pleased to offer five tips, in ascending order of importance, to better position yourself as a strategic business communicator. Although some of these estimates may be disturbing for today's professional, I believe it's better to face trouble head on, and prepare for it.

Here is my advice for the year 2000, keeping in mind the immortal words of U.S. baseball malaprop Yogi Berra, "Predictions are very difficult, especially regarding the future."

5. Can You Survive Solo?

Tomorrow's communicator must be able to survive working solo. By that I mean two different things. First, you must be able to survive working in a one-person shop. Through cutbacks and layoffs, you may be the only one left in your department. When it comes to peak periods, you will be expected to give overload work to freelancers, usually after heavy justification to the boss. For a thorough knowledge of the freelance market, you need to be well connected. Of course IABC and other professional development organizations are fertile resources for this type of networking. If you are an entrepreneur with your own shop, this is actually good news because more companies are going to need outside services. So in one sense, you may have to work solo for your firm, governmental department or association.

The second meaning of the word "solo" is that you may not have a permanent job; you may be working for yourself. Here is how it often happens. One day, your boss calls you in, and explains that even though they have valued your services these years, the company must continue on its mission to cut expenses. Effective next month, you are (select one: downsized, unemployed, de-jobbed, re-engineered, etc.). Here's the interesting part. The supervisor might also say, "Before you get too upset, we would really like you to continue editing our magazine (or continue producing our annual report, etc.)." And what they will have done, is hand you the keys to your new business, because in many cases your former employer may become your first account as you start your own firm. If it does happen, you are going to need just as much networking expertise to develop new business as the person who is employed at a work site but working alone. So, number five on this ascending list is be prepared to work solo, and keep the two meanings in mind.

4. Measure What You Do

We must find ways to make our communication more measurable. Gone for good are the days when we can use subjective feelings and generalizations to validate the expense of our function. It's becoming harder to justify a four-color newsletter with qualitative comments about impact and unsolicited compliments. Today's management asks the unsettling question, "How do you know that was effective?" A special language is being spoken in the office of the CEO, and it is not so much a language of words as a language of numbers. Other competing departments, such as marketing, sales, manufacturing, finance, even the legal department, are already speaking that dialect. Nonprofit organizations are not immune either, with numbers being the language of income development, volunteer recruitment and programmatic effect.

Numbers and measurement are universal to most departments - except for communication professionals; we usually talk about feelings, effect and impressions. One of my associates on the IABC executive board had a recurring nightmare of riding alone in an elevator with her CEO, who asked, out of the blue, ". …

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