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Communications - is it [just] a nice-to-have?

A few weeks back I had a very interesting conversation with a former classmate, Themba. Our discussion was about the recognition, or lack thereof, accorded the communications function in the organisation.
"Generally, communications is a support department and it is the least supported department. If companies were to downsize, I tell you the communications department will be first to be ticked off the list," he said

Themba, who is also a communications professional, confesses that he had more than once thought of a career change since his job appeared to be deemed to have minimal value to the organisation and that was not good for his esteem.

This can't be true, I said to him. "This can only be a perception, we as communications professionals know the role our department, and we know the value of our contribution. To change this, we must ensure that the CEO, CFO and all other executives have an understanding of what we do".

"Instead of being told what to do, we need to clarify what communications does and how our deliverables assist the organisation meet its strategic objectives," I said.

Communications is more than pictures taken at a braai

We are sometimes told, "Operations Department is having a braai got to take pictures so we can send the story to the press." I mean really now, wouldn't that discredit you a source of newsworthy information for journalists.

In his study, PR Metrics: How to Measure Public Relations and Corporate Communication, Jim Macnamara states that communication is an outcome - not an output or series of outputs.

Communication is achieved when an audience receives, understands, retains and acts on information in some way. News releases, newsletters, brochures and other information materials put out are a means to an end. A simple definition of communication is "what arrives and causes an effect, not what you send out,"

I fully agree with the sentiments above, sending seven press releases each week to meet your target will be a futile exercise if it does not get people talking about it or at least get the journalists to write about it.

It is clear that the communications role is not clearly understood or perhaps not well-defined. It is high time we as Communications Practitioners take our profession where it belongs - strategic level or it will forever be considered a nice-to-have.

About Bongani Mahlangu

Bongani Mahlangu is a Communications Professional with more than eight years in the field, working for different sectors. He currently holds a National Diploma in Public Relations Management from Vaal University of Technology and Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing from IMM Graduate School of Marketing. Bongani can be contacted on Twitter: @BongzMahlangu, Instagram: Mahlabon, and on email: .
indeed Bongs, the ideas of your friend quiting the proffesion get to me also sometimes. i am only at the learning level at X municipality but i can see that the value of the communications office is compromised. every office or sets of managers feel like they can do our activities or job. so if you have a manager who thinks he or she can do your job, come downsizing time, your office will definately be written off.
Posted on 31 Mar 2014 14:58
Desiray Viney
Thank you... but isn't it time people dropped the 's' when referring to communication as in sharing messages, information and enacting the vital function of corporate communication???The 's' implies technological communication via satellite, cellphones, radio etc and should NOT be used to refer REAL communication of an organisations core vision, identity, behaviour, and social truths ....I'd like to hear what others have to say on this issue.......
Posted on 31 Mar 2014 15:34
The Communicator
Dear Somebody. If the standard of your English is anything to go by, then communications at X municipality is definitely doomed. I understand that you are learning, and that English is probably not your home language, but then what, may I ask, is being done to teach you and help you improve? Probably nothing. And the person or persons "teaching" you at X municipality are probably just as in need of improvement as you are. This is why every Thomas, Richard and Harold is convinced they can do a better job communicating than dedicated communications practitioners... More often than not, they can. I am exceedingly tired of seeing the absolute tripe dished out by communications departments in both the corporate and government spheres. But I will likely lose my argument, as the way forward in this country seems to be to lower the bar and certainly not to raise it, or even keep it at an even, achievable height.
Posted on 31 Mar 2014 16:53
The Communicator
While I'm at it, why is it that so-called communications professionals choose to make complete idiots of themselves by overcomplicating the language they use in attempting to communicate? The headline says it all - Communications - is it [just] a nice to have? ARGH! An editor would be nice to have, or someone in a communications position with eight years' experience at alleged high level who can freaking put a simple sentence together in the required language without stuffing it up. [Comment edited]
Posted on 31 Mar 2014 17:01
Thabiso Dlamini
Dear CommunicatorYou couldn't have aid it any better. I will complete my blog post titled The shortfalls of communications in the South African Governement and I would be honoured if you viewed it on my blog which is accessible on www.thabisot.comKind RegardsThabiso Dlamini
Posted on 9 Apr 2014 13:21
Thabiso Dlamini
We have a lot of lazy Public Relations and Communication Officers. I highlighted this on my blog post titled South African PR practitioners can learn a lot from international PR professionals. In South Africa especially in government these so called professionals do just enough to meet their KPIs and that could be a contributing factor when it comes to senior management viewing your department as an absolute waste of time and resources. In some institutions the department has a bloated staff and yet there is no sense of direction, if you excel in your job as a communicator trust me senior management will recognize the value you add in the company. Why do you have to be told to go take pictures when the production department is having a braai?
Posted on 9 Apr 2014 13:29