A few weeks ago, I spoke to my friend Zara, a remarkably well-versed communications professional running her own consultancy in Karachi, Pakistan. She spoke at length about her recent interview with the talent acquisition manager at the world’s largest sparkling beverage company. They were looking for a senior communication manager for Pakistan, and she thought the skills required and her experience were a perfect match.
Later, Zara called to tell me she received an automated email from the company, stating that they had not shortlisted her for the next stage of the recruitment process. I felt bad but couldn’t figure why she wasn’t given an opportunity to speak to the hiring manager.
I found out later that she applied for a similar role at a consumer goods giant specializing in personal care products. After she applied, she received a link from the company asking her a host of mathematical questions to finish in 30 minutes. Obviously, having no idea about it, she wasn’t even shortlisted for the role.
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, many Pakistani organizations have started to realize the value of internal communications, once considered a luxury only for international organizations. However, with Pakistani universities not offering relevant graduate or degree programs in strategic or business communications, most organizations are hiring management or marketing graduates for the job. Isn’t it like drinking sand in a desert if there is no water?
In the absence of any accredited university offering such courses or honing professional skills, one option is to go for qualified, foreign candidates. But are our talent acquisition teams aware of the skills required for roles like head of communications or senior communications marketer?
There are ideal attributes for a strategic communications practitioner. They include being business savvy and knowledgeable — big-picture perspective, having a communication or business strategist mentality or fondness for commercial success. Not to mention that every communication practitioner must be candid, direct and devil’s advocate while understanding the CEO’s priorities, preferences, strengths and weaknesses.
But when it comes to communications specifically, here’s a closer look at the skills that talent acquisition teams should look for:
Ability to write: Ideally look for someone who has spent a few years in the news or reporting section of an English news media outlet. The ability to write strategic messaging for the appropriate audience is probably the most important skill for a senior communications professional, especially in our digital age. Writing should be persuasive, concise and touch on the five Ws (who, what, where, when, why and even how). It also means being able to gain an audience’s attention, persuade and convince them, and trigger their emotions.
Editing and design: If you could find someone who has worked in a news channel and an advertising agency as an English copywriter, you can get double joy. In my professional career spanning many countries and decades, I have been involved with publications and online channels. It is essential to understand the basic principles of editing and design. Incidentally, a great communicator must have a passion for brand and visual identity guidelines, implementing them to be successful in this role.
Speaking: Communicators often conduct interviews on behalf of organizations, making the ability to speak well another essential requirement. They must be able to do so effectively, whether in a private conversation, addressing a conference or in an interview to promote a newly launched product.
Listening: This is an area that has been ignored over the years, probably for lack of sufficient budgets. It is understandable, given that research can be expensive and time consuming. Don’t underestimate the ability to actively listen, as communication is a two-way street: delivering information to a particular audience and receiving feedback from the audience, both before the information is delivered and after.
In this regard, research and measurement become important tasks for a communicator. Research involves collecting relevant information before crafting and delivering a message and could include:
- Content analysis: Outputs measurement and messages
- Media tabulations: Quarterly frequency and reach
- Message tracking: Tone of voice, etc.
- PR Gross Rating Point (GRP): Frequency x reach x quality
- Competitive tracking
- Survey research: Questioning and probing
- The executive audit
- Journalist audit
Planning: The ability to put it all together — to assess a situation, develop a strategic plan and implement the right combination of skills and tools for maximum effectiveness — is possibly a communicator’s greatest asset. The better communicators can understand the difference between an output and outcome and factors influencing an issue, the better they can plan and implement.
The most successful communicators understand that communication is an ongoing process, similar to a continuing conversation. It involves continually checking in with the audience to make sure the message is being received properly, and to be open to changing strategies accordingly if it is not.
My parting advice to all hiring managers for communications practitioners is this: if you want a great resource like Zara, don’t ask talent acquisition to go through their CVs. Call them directly and have a candid discussion about the skills mentioned above. Better still, ask them to write a communication strategy or an engaging bedtime story.
Rauf Hameed, an IABC Asia Pacific region member-at-large, is a passionate communications and advocacy professional with more than 25 years of experience. He is a trusted adviser with extensive experience in strategic communication, stakeholder engagement and managing issues of industry and public interest to achieve strategic business goals. Hameed has represented the voice of organizations such as WWF, Tetra Pak, Coca-Cola Icecek, CCL Pharmaceuticals and Sapphire Textiles in his country and abroad.