In this article I will be showing you the true scale of modern communications, from digital to design, from press to data, and many disciplines you will have never even heard of before.
Chris J Bennett
March 3, 2017
The reason for writing this comes from many of my colleagues not knowing what I actually do.
The people I work with are brilliant scientists, researchers, technologists, and a whole range of other disciplines that I have very little knowledge about.
I figured people probably think the same about me, and other communications professionals. Perhaps the whole of communications as a field of work.
What do they actually do?
Surely they just send out some tweets and the occasional press release and that’s it?
To put things in perspective, lets look at how large the creative industries are. These include disciplines such as architecture, visual arts, video games, advertising, movies, radio, television.
Only pretty much every bit of entertainment and culture across the globe.
The creative industries in the UK alone accounted for £112 billion of GDP, and € 500 billion for the whole of Europe.
A recent study by World Creative estimates the global market to be $2.25 trillion.
That’s 43% more cash than the entire global telecoms market. And more than double the pharmaceutical market.
It works out to about 3% of the worlds combined GDP, and almost 30 millionpeople are employed in this sector.
That’s more workers than the automotive sectors in the US, EU and Japancombined.
So this is clearly more than just Twitter and some museums.
Speaking of museums, the top 112 most-visited museums in the world welcomed over 185 million people in one year.
Why stop with the numbers here?
Google sees 1.2 trillion searches each year, and there are over 3.5 billioninternet users.
Advertising spend worldwide in 2016 was almost $500 billion.
To put this into context, the entire GDP of India is $2.25 trillion, and the total workforce of South Korea is 26.6 million.
Let’s get back to communications.
I want to give you an idea of what is actually involved in this work today and just how wide-ranging the disciplines are within it.
I’ll break down the field into sub-fields, and then looks at the disciplines within each of those.
To start with, we can look at communications as separated into the following:
Corporate CommunicationsTraditional Marketing
Digital CommunicationsCreative Production
Data AnalysisCommunications Technology
There are many ways to segment communications activity, and I’ve chosen this one for simplicity.
Every single one of these sub-disciplines is it’s own full-time job, with distinct career paths all the way to the most senior levels.
Covers all aspects of an organisations communications at a strategic level, with a focus on aligning any communications strategy with business goals.
Disciplines in this field include:
Crisis communication is a sub-field of the public relations profession involving responding to potential threats to your brand and organisation from a communications point of view. This is part of disaster recovery strategy.
Communicating within an organisation, such as between employees and management. Important for clear dissemination of information, team-building, developing a positive internal culture, increasing job satisfaction etc.
A focus on communicating to key partners and stakeholders, such as investors, funders etc.
A large amount of work goes into developing an effective approach to making communications work for an organisation. Most senior communicators do only this, full-time. It mostly focuses around aligning organisation goals with the communications function. What of the many disciplines covered in this article will contribute towards driving the organisation forwards?
Brands are everything these days. Apple’s brand is valued at around $170 billion, and it’s their brand that drives their eye-watering sales revenues. Branding work covers many of the disciplines in this article, costs a small fortune to work on and can take a long time, as it affects everything to do with an organisation.
This is what most people think of as marketing. It includes working with the press, printed media, advertising on TV, radio, events and many others. It’s called traditional because many of these disciplines have been in existence hundreds of years (when was the first poster advertised, I wonder?), as opposed to digital communications, which has only been around since the early 90's.
Some of the major elements include:
The press release has been a staple of communication since newspapers were a thing (the first release was made in 1906). These form the backbone of many communications teams around the world, much to the annoyance of colleagues who are regularly prodded into providing quotes and speaking to journalists.
Some key parts of a good PR function include:
• Building and growing relationships with the media, journalists and other PR teams in your sector
• Writing press releases (the sign-off process alone takes significant time here)
• Distributing the press release to press contacts
• Measuring the performance of press releases (involves 15–20 metrics, several KPI’s, tracking and logging coverage, calculating Return-on-Investment, or ROI and much more)
• Newsjacking (hijacking current news around the world to insert your own brand, product or services)
• Often acts as spokesperson for company
• Dealing with journalist requests (such as comments on a story)
Working with posters, flyers, banners and anything that can be printed out physically. Strong link with creative production fields as marketing professionals rarely have design skills.
• Coordination of brand assets and copy (text)
• Liaising with designers and printers
• Organising distribution
Still the largest slice of the GDP generated by the creative industries, TV remains a dominant platform for modern communications. Radio is still relevant, but nowhere near as strong as it once was, although access is easier to both platform with the proliferation of the internet — particularly over the last 5 years with the rise of mobile as a way of consuming content.
A major success in this field is that of Netflix, as well as Amazon and BBC iPlayer, whose digital video services are massively popular worldwide.
I would need a whole other article just to cover the disciplines involved in TV and radio, but here’s just a snapshot:
• Production, from set design, to project planning and organisation
• Writing screenplays, scripts etc
• Advertising, commercials
• Camera and audio capture
In the science communications field, such programmes as Planet Earth, COSMOS, and Wonders of the Universe are excellent examples that attract huge audiences.
There’s nothing quite like getting out there and communicating with people in person. This isn’t always possible, given events can be one of the most expensive ways to communicate and often have small audiences, but the levels of engagement you can get from attending or hosting an event are some of the best of any method of communicating.
If you’ve ever had or attended a wedding, you know how much work can go into planning just a single day, let alone an event which involves hundreds or even thousands of people, perhaps in another country.
To give an example, when Earlham Institute’s communications team went to the Plant & Animal Genomes Conference (PAG) in San Diego, USA in 2014, it took over 3 months of work to organise and cost a large chunk of the yearly budget.
Don’t even get me started on arranging for 10 large boxes of merchandise and stand equipment to be shipped.
The event paid dividends, however, with one of the busiest stands of the event, seeing well over 1500 people in five days.
With roots in the mid-80’s (something to do with floppy disks and car advertising) and exploding in the 90’s, communicating in the age of digital now covers an astonishing number of disciplines and has permanently changed how all the traditional and corporate approaches listed above.
Like it or not, digital is here to stay — and it’s very much leading the way in practically every area.
Digital is my specialism, but this doesn’t really clarify any of what I actually do. Here are some of the more prominent disciplines within digital — bear in mind that every single one of these areas has a career path attached to it.
It would take a long time to fully explain all these disciplines, but if you are curious, you can find out more from the list below. These areas are all complicated digital sub-specialisms and have their own workflows, data and management processes, analysis and so on.
I’ve highlighted in bold all the activities carried out at Earlham Institute to support our science communications as an example.
User experience (UX) designMedia labsNatural language processingNear Field Communications (NFC)Online retailMobile app and content servicesDigital promotionMobile messaging and commerceSocial commerceAdvocacy marketingInfluencer marketingSocial appsSocial TVSocial mediaCensus and panel dataPredictive analyticsBehavioural analyticsMarketing analyticsMobile analyticsSocial analyticsCommunity managementBloggingContent curationSocial marketing managementDigital asset managementContent marketingEmotion detectionAutomatic content recognitionAugmented realityAgency managementCampaign managementMedia managementDigital PRMedia analyticsCustomer analyticsBusiness intelligence and analyticsIdea managementCustomer Relationship Management (CRM) systemsMarketing technologyCrowdsourcingCrowdfundingData managementData infrastructureMarketing resource managementLead managementConversation rate optimisationPay-per-click advertising (PPC)Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)Search marketingRemarketingEmail marketingMarketing automationProgrammatic marketingAttributionDisplay advertisingMobile searchAd exchangesMobile ad networksVideo ad managementNative adsOTT (over the top) contentGamificationWeb managementContent Management Systems (CMS)
A huge area of digital is the technology infrastructure that underpins it, as well as the data generated that allows optimisations through detailed analytics.
Just like science, communications needs these in place and functioning well to thrive.
Some of the problems faced in communications are similar to those faced in science, particularly life science, such as:
Here are just a few of the technologies available today:
You can even explore communications technologies interactively.
To deliver effective communications you need a solid marketing technology stack, enabling sophisticated pipelines to deliver things like content, advertising and analytics.
The data is enormous too.
When analysing sentiments on social media you can be poring through literally tens of trillions of data points.
With web data you can be looking at upwards of 150 individual metrics, all interacting with each other in different ways.
Not only do you need to know how to use your martech stack, but you also need to be a qualified analyst in communications data.
Social media has it’s own analysis pipelines too.
Still part of the creative industries, and vital for communications, but is an entirely separate field from the other areas, such as digital.
All of these are degree-level subjects, requiring years of experience to perform well in and they have, again, fully developed career paths all the way up to six-figure salaries.
There is always the bar of quality to remember.
Just because you can edit an image in Photoshop or make a poster in Microsoft PowerPoint does not mean you are a professional, or any good whatsoever, in these fields.
I can buy a pipette from eBay. Doesn’t make me a nobel laureate.
For video, Forward are pretty damn good.
I strongly recommend you check out Abstract: The Art Of Design on Netflix.
For video production and photography you need to know everything there is about light and the way it behaves, optics, exposure, shadows, colour theory, and a long list of others.
These creative disciplines are half art, half science, and here’s just a snapshot of the complexities involved. In this case, video production.
So there you go.
A round-trip tour of modern communications. I’m sure I’ve missed a load of things out, but hopefully this has shed some light on a collection of fields which get a bit of a bad reputation.
It’s certainly more than tweeting and sending out the occasional press release.
And without people doing these things, we’d have no music, no art, no movies, no games, no money (because nobody would buy anything except what they needed and the world economy would collapse), no theatre, no buildings, no books, no magazines, nothing on TV and certainly no Netflix.
By Chris J. Bennett