Blog post,  Communications professional

Can you not change the words and just make it pretty?

The most insulting words you can use to a communications professional. If you don’t work in communications and you are reading this. Let me say it again. Never say to a comms person “can you just make it pretty?”.

Many of us went to uni, have years (if not decades) of experience, we are not here to format your document. We have skilled graphic designers that can creatively display your content. We are here to provide strategic communication advice and get you out of problems you created. Ok rant over.

This is a common theme across government and many other sectors. People underestimate the value of communications. But have you taken the time to consider why? No one seems to believe they can do other corporate services like finance or human resources, but everyone thinks they can do communications. But why is that? What are we doing to perpetuate this myth? Time for some self-reflection.

Here are some things I have noticed that contribute to this issue, but I would love to hear what you think!

Learned behaviour

We are partly to blame, as we create the behaviour by agreeing to just format the document or publish some rubbish content to the website, just this one time. And the next. And the next. Sometimes it just feels easier. By saying yes, you are agreeing that is your role, this is the value you provide to the organisation. I know we don’t have time to fight every battle and review every document. But we can damn well try. Bill Gates once said, “if you can’t make it good, at least make it look good.” He was wrong. When we allow sub-par communications to go out to staff or to leave the organisation without at least trying to provide value to improve the product we are saying to the world – this is ok.

Comms people are the worst at communicating themselves

We don’t sell ourselves enough. It’s as simple as that. We are so busy working on communicating for our clients that we often forget we need just as much help as they do. Few comms teams I know have developed a communications strategy for themselves (did you see my post about strategy development last week?). We are busy writing internal articles about the great things every other team is doing but forget to write about ourselves. We rarely take time out to go to do a presentation to Executive about how great we are. Have a look at your intranet page? Is it as good as the one you wrote for a client last week? When was the last time you went to your board or Executive group to give them a update on the value your team contributes to the organisation? We need to put as much effort into communicating what we do, as we do for everyone else.

I just have a dumb question

I have seen many (particularly young) professional communicators act like they are dumb. I have never really understood the idea to get something done or to win someone over, you needed to act like the dumbest person in the room. But it happens too often. The phrase “I’m just the comms person” has come out of too many mouths. It seems like just a throwaway comment, but it is so diminishing. The other phrase that I hate, but I will admit have been known to use is “I have a dumb question”. It’s potentially not a dumb question, in my experience they are normally well thought through and pointing out something really obvious but we undermine our position by using it. Let’s all commit to stop.

We don’t/won’t/can’t demonstrate our value

Look let’s be honest evaluating what we do can be hard, time-consuming. What we do, and the changes we can make are often intangible awareness, reach, engagement. Unless you have worked in communications for a while these terms may not mean anything to you. The way to demonstrate value is to link our communication activities to organisational goals and then to evaluation the outcomes (see my post from a few weeks ago). We can’t then store it in the bottom drawer, we need to tell people – get it in the annual report, write a case study, do a presentation, nominate for an award!

So, my message is this stand up and be proud. You are an amazing professional. Go out and tell people why you are great. Why your team is great. Tell anyone that will listen how communications can add significant value to your organisation. Then prove it every day. Stand up for your industry, your profession. Be proud of what we do! Be a loud, proud comms person.


Do you need a fresh perspective on how you can sell your team? Are you struggling to get buy-in with Executive? Just need someone to talk through these common communications problems. Give Elm Communications a call.

One Comment

  • Crystal

    And as comms people, let’s remember not to do it to our fellow comms people. If the web team have a suggestion for improving how your content is published, don’t dismiss it. If the graphic designer sees a better way to layout a document, listen.

    Wise words Mel!

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