“How do I get to the table?” is a question I have been asked many times by communicators over the course of my career. So, I jumped at the chance to answer this perennial question for the IABC/Calgary blog (and challenged myself to stay within the word count limit)!
There are many “tables” to join over the course of a lengthy communications career, but the “table” noted in this question is a symbolic reference to being able to participate in management decision making at some level in an organization.
Understand the drivers
The best advice I can provide for “getting to the table” is to first understand what drives and/or sustains the business or organization you work for (an employee or consultant). Every organization needs something to continue to operate. For example, non-profit organizations need donations to continue to operate. For profit businesses need to generate revenue, as do governments. But the real world is more complex than these simple examples, so do a deep dive to define in much more detail what drives your organization.
Look for the connections
Next, knowing the key business/organizational drivers opens the door for you to see the connections between your communications work and what your organization needs to do to grow and sustain itself. For example, your organization may set out specific organizational goals or targets for the current year. These organizational goals are statements that describe what the organization intends to achieve this year (or quarter) and are linked to the business/organizational drivers. So, find out your organization’s current goals and consider in detail how your communications work can help the organization achieve these goals. Linking your communication to these goals justifies why you are recommending the communication and demonstrates how your communication is of value to the organization.
Use the organizational buzzwords
Lastly, work to understand the language of the business/organization. Every organization has its own vocabulary, but the important vocabulary is the one spoken by senior management. Study and know the words used by senior management. I’m not just speaking about terms relevant to a specific industry (like barrels a day or gigajoules), but rather return on capital, dividends, revenue per donor, monetization, income statements, key performance indicators, and many others.
Since I’ve now reached slightly beyond the blog word count limit, let me wish you the best in your work as you “get to the table”!
Sheridan McVean has consulted in communications, marketing, and public relations for more than 30 years. His clients have included small organizations, non-profits, governments, and well-known corporations such as WestJet, Deloitte, Petro-Canada, Shell Canada, McCain Foods, and others.
He teaches in communication and business programs at MRU, UCalgary and Royal Roads University. His most recent publication is a chapter co-written with Dr. Chaseten Remillard analyzing the crisis communication of Rachel Notley during the Fort McMurray 2016 wildfire in the book Orange Chinook: Politics in the New Alberta.