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Trust me. I’m an expert!

28 March 2017

Last week I heard a conference panellist describe herself as ‘a self-taught engineer’. Meanwhile the writer Sarah Wilson and chef Pete Evans were once again paraded on TV as experts in health. It is infuriating.

What will happen to us, when bona fide experts such as scientists, doctors, engineers, criminal profilers and so on are no longer sought for advice, and are disregarded when they give it?

The outcomes will not be good.

My profession – the communications profession – has already been besieged by fake experts who tell senior executives that there are simple solutions to complex problems.

Slick people from management consulting and technology firms have sidelined people who have actual qualifications and expertise in communication with promises of an ‘integrated solution’.

This has resulted in a focus on inputs and outputs (communication processes, tools and deliverables) rather than outcomes (such as policy outcomes, engagement, behaviour change and sustainable growth).

At the same time, diminished commissions have led creative agencies to muscle in with the result that long term communication strategies have been replaced with short term campaigns. Every new campaign seems to have its own website, messaging, stunts (experiential activations!), and digital and social posts (amplification anyone?). The firm with the most amazing presentation wins, a big bundle of money is spent. Then, much like fireworks, everyone has a vague sense that something exciting happened but nothing tangible remains.

In the middle of this, actual communication professionals who work inhouse and as consultants find themselves being briefed in later and later, and relied on primarily to finesse language and create content, rather than ensure whatever’s in train is strategically planned and supported.

Worst of all, customers, target audiences and employees are being overwhelmed by a relentless tide of information. Many now suffer from ‘continuous partial attention’ or they are simply switching off. Trust in governments and organisations is plummeting. In companies, cries like “no-one uses [insert CRM solution / staff engagement platform / intranet]” and “I can’t find anything on our website” are rife.

Communication is no longer working. And it cannot be fixed by testing one message versus another, by buying a tool off the shelf or another fancy campaign.

We urgently need to bring back the communication experts, who will in turn bring the audience back into the centre of the frame.

The experts know that effective communication and engagement is not easy, but they have the skills to do it. They know that if you want to get through to someone, to convert them into an advocate or to influence their behaviours, you must understand their attitudes and values, who influences their decisions, where they go for information, and then work backwards from there.

Long-term communication strategies, messages and tactics that evolve based on results and experience are the only path to success.

That’s because unlike credentials, outcomes can’t be faked.

– Anne Wickham, Director

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