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On his visit to Melbourne for the World PR Forum, IABC Chair Kerby Meyers asked IABC Victoria to convene a roundtable of senior communications practitioners to contemplate the current and future development of the communications profession.

Joined by IABC Executive Director Chris Sorek and past IABC Chair Adrian Cropley, and generously hosted by our corporate members at Telstra, twelve corporate communications leaders gathered over lunch to deliberate Kerby’s four broad themes:

  • Where is the communications profession at today?
  • Where is the communications profession heading over the next five to ten years?
  • What are some of the issues and opportunities in getting to where we want to be?
  • Open brainstorm of ideas.

By Clayton Ford, Sponsorship Chair, IABC Victoria Board

 Where is the communications profession at today?

There was a general consensus around the table that the communications profession has come a long way in recent times. As an indicator of progress, it was acknowledged that business communications has moved well beyond just crisis communications, to being involved with business initiatives at the planning stages, and ‘earned a seat at the table’.

However, despite progress, it was felt that in terms of accreditation, compared with other professions (e.g. accounting) communications is still lagging significantly behind. Frustrations raised included that anyone could still set up as a communications professional, regardless of skills and experience, in a way that is not possible for lawyers, accountants, doctors etc. It was also lamented that accreditation is never raised or explored in job interviews, and rarely in professional development plans. In short, professional accreditation is not mattering to the purchasers and employers of business communication talent.

Another area of discussion was the link between communications and the broader business, or as one participant put it “being able to talk business to the business”. There is a sense that communications still does not link enough to the organisation’s bottom line, and still needs to get better at demonstrating return on investment at all times, not just in a crisis. It was observed that leaders of the function are now often coming from legal or other business backgrounds because they are seen to better understand the business.

These sentiments were reflected in the lament that MBA courses don’t include enough on communication, and communications degrees don’t include enough business basics.

A final frustration expressed by the group was the position and perception of the communications function, including some legacy issues arising from the often default reporting line into Human Resources, or being shunted around different reporting lines. However, this was seen as a challenge in front of the profession, to overcome the mindset of simply being a support function to those doing the ‘real work’, and actually deciding where and how the function should be positioned within the business. There is also an opportunity, and an obligation, for communicators to educate their colleagues in other functions, to increase understanding of and confidence in communications’ contribution.

Summing up this first theme of discussion, IABC Chair Kerby Meyers observed that the communications profession has advanced significantly, yet still needs to be better integrated into and valued by the business, and that communicators can help make this happen by getting better at understanding and talking the language of business.

In terms of where the communications profession is headed, Kerby identified three key themes:

  • communicators as active stewards of the company’s reputation;
  • direct to consumer dialogue is transforming business and the role of communications; and
  • technology, networks, and communities are increasingly crucial tools of communicators.

The other themes of discussion will be covered in future blog posts – stay tuned, and join in the discussion via IABC Victoria's blog or Linked In pages.