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Darren Caveney: Comms heads deserve more support

Darren Caveney
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Those of you of a certain vintage might remember the Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show in the 1990s: Archie, the pub bore who had done every job in the world (he hadn’t) and 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 many much tougher jobs than being a head of comms but the expectations are enormous. Senior teams expect and demand a lot. Departments expect to get an excellent comms service. Elected members will demand great things, and no doubt tonnes of coverage in the local paper.

The comms team will also place big expectations and demands on their head: to protect, to develop, to nurture and to trust.

Add those pressures to a backdrop of cuts, restructures, change programmes, transformation projects, reducing team numbers and rising demand for work and you’re into a potential world of pain for a head of comms.

If you’re a head of comms you’ll probably really enjoy the job 70% of the time, be fed up of it 20% of the time and hate it 10% of the time (mix the ratios to match your experience).

What I personally found, and what I hear a lot from current heads of comms now, is that there isn’t a great deal of support around for them. Yes, they get paid well (usually) but that doesn’t mean they don’t need some support.

These are people we might be best looking out for a little more. They are invaluable to an organisation. I can’t think of a single example of a high-performing organisation, with good customer satisfaction and a solid reputation, where there isn’t a strong comms leader front and centre. Yet there has been a trend in some organisations to down-grade the seniority of the head of comms and this is dangerous for two reasons:

1. Comms gets shoved down the pecking order

2. Less experienced people are moving into the comms lead roles and being expected to operate at the same level

Getting a place at the top table was, quite rightly, something we were advised to push for. But in many organisations, not only has this not happened but the meeting room door has been firmly closed on the comms lead too. That’s going to take down us a cul-de-sac of related organisational problems.

Let’s be careful what we wish for with our heads of comms. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Darren Caveney, creator, comms2point0

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