I remember a time, less than ten years ago, when I got my boss to sign off on paying a UK agency over 150,000 GBP to produce an internal global webcast and was praised because it cost less than the one made by our company’s corporate affairs department several months earlier. We had to worry about satellites and connections, and we wanted to bring that true “BBC feeling” to the set. I was focused on content and messaging but left the “professional” work to the “professionals.” Because, truth be told, at the time, making movies and producing live tv was like magic to me. Very expensive, yet effective magic.
With hindsight, it is probably even more shocking that a few years prior to this, I managed a $7 million project to relaunch a corporate website. That’s right, $7 million for static corporate brochureware and a little newsroom… no marketing or B-to-C involved at all. A team of over 60 consultants for 2 years and over seven million dollars. After spending the seven million dollars (I need to keep saying that), I received a bonus and a promotion.
Wow. Times have changed.
I’ve happily progressed in my career, have a few more wrinkles and grey hairs, and am happy to engage in more strategic activities like advising CEOs on reputation issues and acting as a sparring partner for others in the C-suite. Yet at the same time that I am doing much more meaningful strategic work, I also find myself getting my hands dirty in operational work almost every single day. And it is not just writing press releases and editing annual reports.
Here's a photo of me taken in 2017 at the APRA (Africa Public Relations Association) annual meeting in Casablanca. I was representing the EACD (European Association of Communications Directors) at that event and a guest speaker. If you look closely, you will see the iPhone in my right hand. So at the same time as I was representing the EACD, I was also shooting some photos and videos for the EACD to use in their publications....
I’ve always been strongest at writing and editing. But in the past few years, I’ve become a lot more capable at doing technical work that used to be at the fringes of what we did in our Corporate Affairs department.… a lot of this is because improvements in technology mean that even people like me are able to work on tasks that used to be relegated to people with highly specialized skills.
I now use tools like Wix to make my personal website , PowerDirector to make videos on my cell phone and computer, Creative Suite for just about everything else related to graphics, Hootsuite for social media, Gorkana for media monitoring and engaging with journalists, Google Analytics for the website, and the list goes on and on.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t need to work with specialists in my day-to-day job. In fact, I manage a lot of really talented folks who create magnificent work that is completely beyond my ability. Just this week, I have interacted with a graphic designer, a videographer, a visual facilitator, a custom metal Gobo creator, and a guy who can imprint logos in the center of yummy Swiss candies. With the exception of making the candies and the Gobo, I can do basic design, video and visual facilitation, but I cannot do it nearly as well as these talented specialists.
Nonetheless, in order to manage a team, you need to understand what your specialists are working on and be able to chip in with advice when needed (And sometimes it is just easier to go into the InDesign file yourself to correct a spelling mistake than chase your designer at home on the weekend). In order to manage teams and agencies, you are going to have to understand how basic tools for digital, graphics and video are used.
This technical knowledge also comes in useful when I think about how much budget to spent on certain activities and how to prioritize what I want to do in-house and what I want to send to agencies or free-lancers. And yes, tech advances and AI are pushing costs down on a lot of these services, so it is likely that I will never again get a $7 million check to build a website. But that is ok, because I know with the right team I can build a better one for much, much less.
What’s your take on this? What kind of technical skills do senior communications specialists need in order to do their job?