IABC/Los Angeles has created this section to help you understand what our members do and some of the language we use to describe our skills and services.

1.  Frequently Asked Questions Answered About Communicators and the Field of Communications

2.  What Kind of Communications Do You Need?

3.  The Basics

4.  Key Functions

5.  The Media

6. The Results


Frequently Asked Questions Answered About Communicators and the Field of Communications

What do professional communicators do?

The day-to-day responsibilities of a professional communicator are never routine and take many forms. He or she may be:

  • an editor of a publication
  • a writer
  • a media relations specialist
  • a special event planner
  • a speech writer
  • a video producer;
  • or a communication strategist and planner.

In some organizations, one communicator may fulfill all these roles and more. For example, the following could all be a part of a communicator’s day:

  • interviewing employees for newsletter articles
  • meeting with graphic design firms on publication projects
  • speaking with the media about current issues
  • organizing a focus group
  • planning a special event
  • writing a presentation
  • taking photographs
  • shooting a video
  • posting information on the Internet
  • developing an e-mail newsletter
  • public relations; and
  • desktop publishing with the latest in technology.

Today’s communicator is more than a technician. Today’s communicator plays a strategic role in his or her organization, ensuring that the organization’s message is defined, received and understood. No organization can afford to be without one.

What is their training?

Given the wide range of roles a communicator may fill, training for a career in communications can involve developing skills in:

  • writing
  • editing
  • photography
  • video production
  • graphic design
  • desktop and Web publishing
  • communication planning
  • speechwriting
  • public speaking
  • media relations
  • survey research; and
  • development.

It also involves gaining an understanding of organizations and how they function, of economic, business and human resource issues, and of communication itself.

If I already pay for advertising, do I need communications too?

Mention of a product, a company overview or a profile of a prominent employee in a publication read by a company’s clients and customers can yield better results than an entire advertising campaign. The impact of third-party unbiased product attention or endorsement has great power and can contribute to product awareness, credibility, and ultimately lead to more sales.

When do I need communications?

Communications should be a continuous part of your company’s operations. As an investment in your company’s success, it’s as important as engineering or manufacturing. Apart from crisis communication, issues management or a product launch, public relations informs, persuades and ultimately aims to change the behavior of consumers, employees and clients. The impact of public relations builds over time, with the repetition of key messages in a variety of contexts. (Many of these topics are covered in more detail in other articles in this Web archive.)

Why is the cost of communications worth it?

Communications is an investment in the competitiveness of a business. In general, the communications budget should be about one per cent of sales. This varies depending on the different audiences, both internal and external, you want to communicate with, and the messages which need to be communicated. (Many of these topics are covered in more detail in other articles in this Web archive.)

What if my business is a new business?

Communications is key to the success of a new product or start-up business because it generates name familiarity and product awareness and acceptance. Communications can be more effective than advertising in influencing your customers’ behavior.

How do I measure communications?

Communications is a tool for image-shaping, opinion making and influencing. There are several ways to measure its effectiveness. Survey research can uncover changes in perceptions about a company, and awareness of its products. Survey research can be either qualitative or quantitative depending on the focus of research and type of data collected. Other techniques include tracking the amount and quality of media coverage generated, and monitoring product sales for increases following a public relations campaign. (Many of these topics are covered in more detail in other articles in this Web archive.)

What is accreditation?

IABC offers members the opportunity to earn an accredited business communicator (ABC) designation through its professional accreditation program. A professional communicator can apply for accreditation with at least five years experience and a university degree. A formal written test must be completed verifying a competent level of expertise in communications.

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What Communications Can do for You
You will know when you have effective communication. It may be evident by an educated and motivated workforce, a well-recognized brand name and/or a favorable public image.

Depending on the communications plan and situation in your organization, effective communication can help any business make its products and services stand out from the rest.

What Kind of Communications Do You Need?

Internal Communications
The benefits of an informed and motivated workforce are now recognized as essential to the success of any organization. Through open and honest communication between employees and management, employees understand the company’s objectives and remain committed to achieving them.

An internal communications plan can help an organization’s management identify and communicate its purpose, and challenge employees to make their best effort in helping the organization reach its goals.

Good internal communications is also two-way—employees are given an opportunity to provide feedback to management, and management listens to their concerns. This creates an environment where employees feel involved in decisions and responsible for the outcome.

It is no surprise that communications to keep employees informed, motivated and involved in corporate decisions are the most sought after services provided by communications professionals today.

External Communications
A well-recognized brand name and a favorable public image don’t happen overnight. It takes careful planning. While employees contribute significantly to maintaining the corporate image, developing the image can only be achieved through communications targeting an organization’s external stakeholders.

External communications focuses on generating awareness, educating consumers, influencing attitudes, initiating behavioral change and soliciting public feedback from a specific audience. An external communications plan may employ a number of communications services including media relations, special events, and community relations.

Crisis Communication
Crisis communication refers to planned communication to divert the negative impact a situation can have on a company’s image, credibility or bottom line. Just what calls for crisis communication? Basically, everything from a massive oil spill, plane crash or defective consumer product to a corporate merger or downsizing. Effective crisis communication can mean the difference between being portrayed in a crisis situation as a caring organization in unfortunate circumstances versus being seen as uncooperative, aloof and no longer credible.

A carefully crafted message, explaining the situation and communicated with immediacy by a prepared spokesperson, is perhaps the most important element for the survival of an organization following a crisis situation. Many companies already have a crisis communication plan in place to deal with some of the potential crisis situations they may someday face.

Issues Management
Effective management of key issues ensures that an organization has a prepared position in response to issues which may generate public or media interest or impact negatively on an organization. It may be an issue surrounding a product such as the use of animal testing or excessive packaging; or a response to an issue which has originated from external sources, such as legislation which impacts an organization negatively.

Like crisis communication, issues management requires a proactive long-term approach. This process involves identifying and monitoring issues or situations during their evolution and preparing a response to them at the various stages of their development. Through issues management, key spokespeople are prepared to ensure that the message communicated reflects the best interests of the organization.

For a list of agencies and freelancers to assist your business in achieving effective communication, view The Communicators’ Marketplace.

The Basics (Public Relations/Communications; Publics or Audience; Stakeholders; Messages; Communication Plan)

Public Relations/Communications
The terms “public relations” and “communications” are often used interchangeably. Public relations explains an organization’s actions and policies in a focused, consistent and credible manner, to both employees and publics outside of the organization. The result is an informed and motivated workforce, a well-recognized brand name and a favorable public image. Effective communication can help any business make its products and services stand out from the rest.

Publics or Audience
Any group of people interested in an issue, or a segment of society you seek to interest. Audiences could be employees, customers, shareholders, interest groups, governments or other “publics” outside an organization. The most effective communications campaigns usually focus on a set of publics rather than attempting to reach everyone all at once.

An audience or public who become involved in the activities of a public or private business because they have an interest or a stake, in the activities of that business. Stakeholders might visit information centers, attend public meetings, make phone calls, write letters (i.e., to business owners, government legislators, etc.), and speak to the news media.

Something an organization wants to communicate to an audience about itself. For example, “Our company cares about the environment,” might be the message behind the announcement of a new recycling program.

Communications Plan
A communications plan is a planning document that answers the following questions: who is the audience, what is the message, what is the desired outcome, and how is the desired outcome going to be achieved? Desired outcomes include awareness of a product, public endorsement for a program, or support during change in the workforce. To achieve the desired outcome a variety of functions could be utilized including media relations, special events, community relations and internal communications. The communication plan also includes a budget for carrying out the plan, and consideration of how the organization will evaluate the plan’s success.

Key Functions

Issues Management
Identifying and monitoring issues that could affect an organization and preparing appropriate spokespeople to speak on behalf of issues to influence the outcome.

Crisis Communication
Responding to crisis situations with communication aimed at minimizing the negative affects of the situation on an organization’s image.

Internal Communications
Any communications method aimed at informing, educating and motivating employees within an organization. Communications vehicles may include newsletters, an intranet, employee events, surveys, staff meetings and information sessions, and a forum for two-way communication with senior management.

External Communications
Communications to external stakeholders to educate, increase awareness and generate acceptance regarding a product or program. Communications strategies may include media relations, special events, investor relations and community relations.

Community Relations
Reaching out to community stakeholders such as local residents or community groups, in response to a situation or event. The objective is to educate and involve the community in decisions that affect it. Understanding and responding to stakeholders’ concerns helps ensure that projects go forward with stakeholders’ support, rather than facing active opposition from the community.

Government Relations
Determining how government policy, including laws and regulations, affect an organization; establishing an organization’s views on policies; and communicating views about public policy to government representatives.

Investor Relations
Specializing in communicating with an organization’s investors.

Raising donations for a cause, event, charity or non-profit organization. An important role of public relations in fundraising is to create a positive, well-organized and effective image for the organization, which encourages potential donors to believe the organization deserves their support.

Editing/Copy Editing
Editing is an important part of the process of producing written materials that are clear and easy to understand. An editor checks for correct grammar and spelling, and appropriate vocabulary and tone. Copy editing also involves writing headlines and cut lines for photos, and making text fit in the space available in a newsletter, brochure, website or other written form. Communicators may edit the writing of others in an organization, or may write and edit materials themselves.

An organization donates money or other resources for an event or program in return for public recognition of its contribution. This often includes placing the corporate logo on signs, advertisements and printed material associated with the event. Sponsorship helps an organization demonstrate good corporate citizenship, and conveys the message that the organization cares about the communities in which it does business.

The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.

Social Media Marketing
Tools and practices that allow individuals and groups to collaborate and share knowledge and experiences online. They can be distinguished by a heightened desire to engage a public (internal and external) in conversation, as opposed to one-way broadcasting.

The Media (Media Relations; Media Training; News Release; News Conference; and Press Kit)

Media Relations
As a function of a public relations practitioner, media relations involves establishing and maintaining relationships with reporters who cover stories relevant to an organization and the business it performs. Examples include political reporters, health reporters or financial reporters.

A public relations practitioner may act as spokesperson for an organization or train other employees to speak effectively to the news media during interviews and press conferences. The objective of media relations is to communicate information about the organization and its goals in order to educate the public and foster a positive public perception.

Media Training
Training people to speak effectively to the news media for print, radio and television broadcast.

News (or Media or Press) Release
A short report, usually up to two pages, describing an event, an announcement, a discovery or the results of a study, that the organization believes the public should know about. It could include quotes from executives and others in the organization involved with whatever is being announced and the names and phone numbers of media relations and other staff who can be contacted to answer questions and provide quotes. A news release can be accompanied by a backgrounder, which is a separate report that provides more details about the announcement. Distribution is handled by fax, mail or a news wire service.

News Conference
An event announcing a newsworthy decision, report or activity to the news media in a forum where reporters are invited to receive information directly from the organization’s spokespeople and ask questions. A news conference is more expensive, requires more organization and takes up more of the reporters’ time than sending out a news release. Therefore, news conferences are only held for major announcements.

Media (or Press) Kit
Information distributed to reporters which can include a news release, background information, and photos to assist the media in preparing a news article or broadcast.

The Results (Evaluation; Survey Research; Qualitative Research; and Quantitative Research)

An important part of effective communications is setting clear goals for public relations campaigns, and evaluating whether the goals were met after the campaign is over. There are many ways to do this, including surveys, monitoring media coverage and sales figures.

Survey Research
Gathering opinions, perceptions, behaviors and attitudes regarding issues, ideas, products and concepts through qualitative and quantitative methods.

Qualitative Methods
Survey research used to explore consumer reaction to ideas, issues and new products in a forum that allows for in-depth feedback through interviews or focus groups.

Quantitative Methods
Survey research, usually conducted by phone or written questionnaire, to determine or measure the proportion of a specified audience who hold a particular viewpoint or behave in a particular way, and the intensity with which the opinion is held or the behavior is performed. Quantitative designs are chosen for evaluating concepts, testing products, testing advertising, and monitoring product performance.