I’ve been in the public relations business long enough to remember when the role was all about writing press releases, long media lunches and distributing news via floppy disks or the fax machine. Two decades back, the role of public relations was to secure media coverage. We were tasked with shaping the story and pushing it out to the press.
Today, the story is different. The role of the communicator has shifted, to include everything relating to the concepts of reputation and engagement. The modern chief communications officer is a board member, responsible for internal and external communication, with creating and implementing communication strategies that help mould an organization’s mission, vision, value, and character, and with building a firm’s reputation through stakeholder engagement.
That shift requires today’s communicator to be a master of multiple disciplines: they must be business-savvy, able to comprehend how communications aligns with the wider organizational strategy; communicators must understand both technology – how it’s impacting how we communicate – and psychology, the science behind attitudes and behavior. They need to be able to bring the outside in, and advise executives truthfully on how they’re viewed by the media, customers, governments, consumers and NGOs.
The role of the modern-day communicator is both exciting and daunting. Where once we had a limited set of media to engage with, now our stakeholder base can include thousands or even millions thanks to the reach of social media. We don’t have the luxury of time either; there’s a need to engage and react in real time online, through words, images and videos.
For me, the biggest change has taken place in internal communications. There’s a growing understanding among organizational leaders that employee engagement is vital to building a strong culture at work, raising productivity and encouraging innovation. While the internal experience and the role that communicators can play here is being discussed more, we need to push for its specialization in emerging markets, both through appointing communicators who focus solely on this area as well as sharing with communicators in markets such as the Gulf on internal communications best practices.
We need to take a leadership of the discussion on the role communications plays in organizations, and lobby for specializations. While I’ve enjoyed working as a generalist throughout my career in emerging markets, I also understand that there are too many things for a generalist to focus on and attempt to do today. The emergence of a class of internal communicators across emerging markets is an exciting idea, both for us who work in the profession as well as the millions of employees who work in places such as the Middle East and Africa who want, and need, better organizational communications.
Education will play a huge role here. As will sharing of experiences. I’m especially excited about the opportunity to meet with other communicators face-to-face, to hear how they’re implementing new ideas and approaches to communication. I’ll be traveling to Bahrain in February to attend EMENAComm, a one-off IABC conference that’ll feature experts from the world over who’ll share the insights, know-how and tools to help me and fellow communicators achieve a strategic transformation through communications.
We’re living in an age of change, and the notion of communications is also in flux. My job today is different to what I did a year ago, let alone a decade back. The shift from tactics to strategy is going to pick up pace, as will the specialization of the communications function in emerging markets; this can only be good for everyone, for communicators, for our organizations, and for our stakeholders.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alex Malouf is a marketing communications executive who has spent the last decade and a half years in the Middle East. Alex has lived across the region, in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. He leads corporate communications in the region for one of the world's largest FMCGs.
Alex is passionate about promoting sustainability in the communications sector by highlighting the industry’s potential to Arab nationals. He works with associations such as the IABC to shape and support training and awareness initiatives for both those wishing to pursue a career in public relations.
Website IABC EMENA Region: www.iabcemena.com