I met her on Tinder. We agreed to meet for coffee on the Danforth. A communication professional and a human resources employee. Who knows? it could work, I thought. My initial impression, though, was that were so different. I like to dress up and was wearing a sports coat, a dress shirt and designer jeans. She wore a white t-shirt, jeans, no makeup, and looked kind of… unkempt.
Aside from many awkward pauses, the highlight of the conversation was a terse exchange about communication. I argued that technically what I do is communication, not communications. She bluntly informed me that I was wrong.
I let it slide. I had nothing to prove. After all, I only have 5 plus years of experience in communication, and a master’s degree in Professional Communication. (Note, no ‘s’ there!)
But I was offended. And she looked triumphant after putting me in my place.
Absolutely, what communication practitioners create and distribute are communications. However, as I discussed in a previous blog, I believe that what communication professionals like me do is communication. Many practitioners do refer to their work as communications, and I think no less of them. Some of them are much better communicators then me. But I do think practitioners speak more elegantly and precisely when they refer to their work as communication.
I’m not alone in thinking so.
Communication scholars John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia write the following in their excellent book Reputation Management (3rd edition, Routledge, 2015):
“Communication…is a discipline, like art or language, and is therefore singular. And to label it and think of it as singular is to help elevate what is too often perceived as tactical—for example, issuing press releases and publishing newsletters…”
La Trobe University Lecturer Karen Morath is also vocal about the issue. She argues that the field “we” are in is not communications. Communications, she argues in an online course, is the IT people and the telecommunications industry. Communication, she goes on, is a noun that means information exchange.
And essentially that is what communication professionals do. We exchange or facilitate the distribution of information about ideas, products/services and/or organizations. Communication, as Doorley and Garcia suggest, is a strategic not a tactical discipline.
There is more to communication than merely creating a tweet, an annual general report, a speech or any other communications deliverable. Again, I would never disparage practitioners who refer to their work as communications. But I do think they contradict themselves because all communicators would agree that communication is a strategic discipline—and therefore singular as Doorley and Garcia argue.
The only people I have a problem with are those, like the smarty-pants HR girl I had a date with, who say “You’re wrong. What you do is communications!” And then walk out of the room majestically, with their nose up in the air.
Indeed, if you are only a tactical communication professional, you won’t get much further than first base in your career. Kind of like me on that date with the communications know-it-all!