By Jim Maiella
When my kids ask me to tell them again what I do to for a living, I say that when the company I work for needs to say something, I help decide what the words should be and how they should be delivered to the people we’re trying to reach. I’m a communicator.
It’s a simple articulation of an expertise that is becoming more complicated every day, and more important - across the universe of companies, governments, celebrities and others. Communications as a core function is changing before our eyes, as the dividing lines and distinctions between audiences disappear, social media offers new tools (and traps) and “traditional” media outlets navigate a challenging economy and structural changes that are severely constraining resources.
Clearly, the days of writing the release, distributing the release and pitching the release are over - the world we live in today as communicators is much more complex, dynamic and nuanced. The good news is that we have never had as much of an ability to drive business results or occupy a critical seat at the table than we do at this very moment.
The emergence of social media has fundamentally changed what we do - regardless of the extent to which our respective companies or clients are using it for outgoing contact with consumers. The value of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as listening tools cannot be overstated. There has never been this kind of immediate feedback on the products, services, decisions and other corporate initiatives we all obsess over. We can make our own decisions in terms of how best to engage and speak through these services, but failing to listen is no longer an option.
There are important skills every communicator needs to be successful. With the undeniable technology-enabled shift to text-based communications, the ability to write has never been more critical than it is today. More than ever before, the things we say show up in print, even if the words are never printed. It’s no longer just about crafting an announcement and trying to convince a journalist to adapt the information into a news story. Our language appears, often directly, in posts, comment threads, e-mails, Tweets, “internal” memos, quotes and myriad other places. The filters are gone, and this is a largely good thing.
Like kids who grew up with computers instead of paper notebooks, young people working in communications today have a natural advantage in their ability to navigate and serve as guides to social platforms that are already integrated into their own lives. More established or senior communicators who have nailed the basics have a responsibility to learn the new channels now at our disposal, just as junior counterparts need to master fundamentals that can now be applied across an expanding array of options. Being well-versed in the finer points of YouTube or Tumblr is terrific, but it’s not going to get you very far if you can’t write a solid set of key messages, perform in a crisis environment or think through the strategies behind a communications plan. Whether you’ve been a professional communicator for 20 years or for two, our function requires an ongoing commitment to education, training and sharing expertise with our fellow communicators.
For those of us working in cable, there is no better time to do this than during the Association of Cable Communicators’ annual event, FORUM. Conducted every fall in New York City as part of the industry’s Diversity Week, FORUM is the one opportunity all year for ACC members to come together in a single location and share insights and perspectives on the practice that unites us as professionals - cable communications.
This year’s event, at the Hilton New York October 5 and 6, is our 25th FORUM, and the theme, “Communicating Cable’s Future,” is as much directed at the industry as it is the communications function itself.
Sessions will include a deep dive into social media, including an actionable review of practical tools and technologies; insights from senior agency executives; a regulatory perspective from new NCTA president & CEO Michael Powell and a discussion with key media/technology reporters like Brian Stelter of The New York Times - or @brianstelter, as he’s more commonly known - Peter Lauria of Reuters, the Hollywood Reporter’s Georg Szalai and Amy Maclean of CableFAX Daily. We’ll also present the Beacon Awards, recognizing excellence in communications and public affairs across the industry.
This is an incredibly exciting and vital time for our profession, with new tools at our disposal, new challenges and an increasingly central role in the success of the companies and entities we speak for in the marketplace. The most important commitment a communicator can make in this environment of change is a commitment to learning and professional growth. There’s no falling back on yesterday’s way of doing things, because - in our business - yesterday is gone.
Jim Maiella is president of the Association of Cable Communicators, the industry’s only professional association dedicated to raising the level of communications work across the industry, and vice president of media relations for Cablevision Systems Corp.