Heads of Comms : An Issue Beyond the UK?

Lise Michaud

A recent blog post by Darren Caveney, Creator of comms2point0 and Owner of Creative Communicators ltd, caught our attention. " SOS -Save our heads of comms" takes a look at what Darren calls an emerging crisis in the UK for our industry. In the last 2 years, a number of Heads of Communication left the public sector. "One of many real challenges now for the public sector, and local government especially, is that there has been a flood of good heads of comms leaving for other sectors, retiring or moving into consultancy, says Darren. Talent, nous and experience has been lost. "

This situation has led to a trend in some UK organisations to down-grade the seniority of the head of comms and this, says Darren, is dangerous to our profession. "It's an issue, and one we should do something about." The situation is so serious that there is even talk about creating a supporting group for heads of comms in the UK.

Later in January, Darren Caveney will ask heads of comms to speak on this and other issues via Talking Heads: 10 x 10, a series of 10 opinion pieces from 10 leading heads of comms in the UK, "a fascinating glimpse into the challenges and opportunities facing the leaders in our industry in 2017."

What is the situation in other countries?

The observations outlined in Darren’s post made us wonder if this situation occurs in other courtries as well. With the permission of the author, we are reproducing the full post below and we invite you to read it. We’d love to hear your comments and to know if this situation resonates with you, whether you work in the public or the private sector. Drop us a line in the comment section or email info@ickollectif.com.

sos – save our heads of comms

By Darren Caveney

Head of comms can be a tough job. And it’s getting harder. Many good heads have left the public sector in the past couple of years for this and other reasons. It's an issue, and one we should do something about.

Those of you of a certain vintage might remember the Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show in the 90s – Archie, the pub bore who had done every job in the world (he hadn’t) and who would tell tales about his feats. Teacher, doctor, lorry driver. He’d done the lot. Each one of them was the hardest game in the world. That was his catchphrase.

“Head of Comms? Yeah, I did that – 30 years man and boy. Hardest game in the world.”

There are hundreds of much tougher jobs than being a head of comms, of course. But it is a tough gig. And it’s become harder and harder, especially if you’ve been front and centre of public sector job cuts.

Expectations on a head of comms are enormous (and by ‘head’ I mean director, assistant director, manager, lead – whoever the most senior comms person is in an organisation).

Senior teams expect and demand a lot. And that’s to be expected.

Other departments expect to get an excellent comms service. And that’s fine.

If you work with elected members or MPs they will demand great things of you and your team, and no doubt tonnes of coverage in the print press. That's fine too.

And your own team will also place big expectations and demands on you too. To protect, to develop, to nurture, to trust. That’s only to be expected.

But add those to a backdrop of cuts, restructures, change programmes, transformation projects, reducing team numbers and rising demands for comms work and you’re soon into a potential world of pain.

You’re also responsible for the delicate balancing act of making people redundant, trying to eek out performances from a pressured team, sorting out the problems of many a service in your business and, at all times, you must give the impression of swan-like grace with oodles of calm, controlled worldly wise advice and counsel (which will often be ignored, by the way)

Every comms lead in the land has my full respect – I did the job for 10-years so have many a lesson, tale, secret and scar to empathise.