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How a lack of business knowledge hurts communications professionals

By Jo Detavernier

Modern Work Space

Communications professionals lack sufficient business knowledge. As a result, an ever-coveted say in strategic company decisions continues to remain a distant dream for many.


Karel Winkelaar is a Dutch consultant and author who specializes in helping communications consultants understand how they can work their way up from being mere executioners to highly strategic and respected communications counselors for their organizations. Winkelaar took 25 in-depth interviews from both CEOs and communications professionals for a new edition of his (Dutch language) book The Communications Consultant.


No seat in the Boardroom for communicators


Winkelaar ventured out to understand the mutual frustrations that exist with leaders of companies and their communications staff. The one thing that frustrates communications professionals the most, Winkelaar found out, is that strategic decisions are made without them. The communications professionals want to become regulars members of the management team and have a bigger say.


The leaders told Winkelaar that their communications professionals are incredibly poorly informed about anything that goes on in the company and in the market. Leaders are not impressed by the strategic level at which communications professionals function. They consider whatever advice they get from them to be thought in too simple of terms and even naive. “Why are people in our communications department not reading the business journals?” one leader asked exasperated.


So Dutch communications professionals are not having a seat at the table where decisions are made, and it seems like their lack of business acumen is at least in part to blame for that. 


14 percent have sufficient business skills


The problem at hand is not exclusively a Dutch one of course – communicators who are found to not pull their weight because they are not business savvy enough is a global phenomenon. IC Kollectif summarized different recent surveys in its “The Case for Business Acumen” report of 2019. The data that has been compiled by IC Kollectif dovetail perfectly with Winkelaar’s findings.


Business acumen is seen as essential knowledge by most communication surveys conducted over the last few years, reports IC Kollectif. It is cited as the first of ten best-in-class practices compiled from interviews with ten global leaders in employee communication and it is recognized as the second most important core competency to drive corporate value.


74 percent of internal communications professionals believe that to be successful, they should be seen as business people with expertise in communication. Only 14 percent of respondents of one survey referenced by IC Kollectif reported having this competency in place while 42 percent were considering adding it versus 29 percent who didn’t have or were not considering applying these criteria. Clearly, these numbers are unsettling.


More influence for the more business savvy ones


So what is to be done? In this article for CommPro, I listed different ways through which professionals can take growing their business knowledge in their own hands. The good news is that you do not necessarily need to spend $100,000 or more on an MBA degree to learn how businesses function. Available alternatives run the gamut from taking accelerated management programs or stand-alone courses to simply looking up online difficult to grasp concepts. Sites such as Investopedia offer a wealth of free, high-quality content. And a subscription to the Wall Street Journal should not be a major drain on any communication professional’s resources.


An increased understanding of business will make communications professionals do a better job at communicating towards the internal and external audiences of the companies that employ them. It will also help them make a better business case for investments in the communication field. Increased influence within their organizations is poised to follow naturally from progress in both areas.


This article was originally published by Detavernier Strategic Communication.


Further reading:  Ron Culp: "PR professionals need to be smatter business people,"  by Jo Detavernier.

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Jo Detavernier, SCMP, APR leads Detavernier Strategic Communication, an Austin, TX based boutique agency that provides corporate communications, public relations, content marketing, corporate branding and digital marketing services.

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