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Life's a beach, for communicators.

A major gap looms between what communicators think they should be doing to create excellent communication programs and secure careers, and what they prefer to do.

I have a hunch that if you ask a lawyer or financial executive what he or she wants to be 10 years from now, you'll get answers like: "president," "prime minister," "CEO" -- or maybe the more realistic will say, "out on bail awaiting distribution of proceeds from my Swiss bank account."

And that points up a major difference between lawyers, financial executives and communicators. When you ask communicators what they want to be 10 years from now, you get answers like: "on a lake -- stress-free" or "doing massage in Taos, New Mexico."

Not all communicators answer like that, of course, but a recent Communication World fax poll indicates that most of them aren't bursting with what you might call world-beating ambition. In fact, as a profession, we face something of a problem. This recession, coupled with findings from the IABC "Excellence" study, has spawned a vocal and visible contingent suggesting that communicators should associate themselves with executives at the very highest level of the organization. We call it enjoying the support of the dominant coalition. Non-communicators would call it being in tight with the big cheeses.

Whatever you call it, our fax poll results indicate that few communicators have such lofty ambitions. We asked how many had the desire or expectation of ever being a CEO. It wasn't just the overwhelming number against the notion that gave us pause, (152 "no," 32 "yes") but also the almost violent way they expressed it. "God, No!", said one. "Never!" said another. "Never did," said another with 30-plus years of experience.

Of those few who answered yes, 11 wanted to be CEOs of nonprofits; five of their "own company;" three of a "consultancy;" and only 13 of 185 expressed the slightest interest in being what might be considered a big time CEO. Perhaps cruelest of all was the guy who said "yes" to the CEO question, then pencilled in, "I've certainly seen how to be ineffective over the years."

Well, what can we read into this? Maybe not much, but it might at least suggest that most of our members aren't terribly interested in clawing their way to the top just to pelt each other with brass rings.

At this point I should mention that this fax poll is not to be confused with a scientific survey that can be extrapolated to all communicators, or even all IABC members. Rather, it was like a conversation with 188 communicators expressing their hopes, fears, likes and dislikes about the profession and their place in it. And, not all respondents answered all questions.

Most communicators prefer writing and editing; working with top management ranks at the bottom

Based on their titles, it was a bit of a surprise to learn from the survey that not only do the respondents not want to be CEOs, but they are happiest doing writing and editing -- what one called the "down and dirty" stuff. More than half (89 of 170 responding) said the part of their job they enjoy the most is writing, editing, producing publications or something to that effect. This was almost five times as popular as the next choice -- managing -- which was the preferred activity of only 18 respondents. Then came "planning" (16) and "media relations" (14). "Working with top management" was the favorite part of the job for only four of the 170 respondents.

Rather than wanting more contact with top management, communicators in this survey seem to want to avoid it. The desire to get out from under the corporate yoke was expressed in a number of ways:

"Independent; own Co., or head of small co."

"Own an agency"

"Self-employed newsletter publisher"

"Working for myself"

"At home writing freelance"

"In charge"

"My own business."

Many yearn for their own consulting practice, (probably envisioning a stress-free existence with frequent breaks to make trips to the bank to deposit money). Many want to work from home -- and most with this fantasy want a modest operation. One of the few who said he wanted to be a CEO put it this way... "but my sights are low |I want to be~ CEO of my own small firm." Put another way, they want to control their lives and destinies. Perhaps the most extreme response to that frustration was this: "I'm tired of rich white men controlling my career."

Will there be frustrations for communicators operating their own consulting businesses? Seems so. Here's what one respondent wrote about hers: "I think that as a self-employed consultant, rather than an employee, one lacks a feeling of security simply by definition. There are always underlying worries about things like clients changing their communication plans, cash flow, possibility of losing clients, can one handle the work load and still maintain quality? . . . "

Will communicators desert their corporate jobs?

One thing we might learn from this poll is the dilemma that communicators face. If most communicators aren't really interested in shooting for the exalted corporate management jobs, and lower level jobs continue to be cut (outsourced), what are they going to do, and where are they going to work?

The folks answering this fax poll might well be sending a message about the end of the trend of the past 30 years -- namely writers, editors, photographers and people with similar talents leaving the commercial media and smaller agencies to join corporate staffs. They left media jobs in search of better pay and -- don't laugh -- job security. Now that's all changed.

If they aren't going to get the job security and higher pay they entered corporate life to attain, why stay? Creative freedom? A challenge to their imaginations? Probably not.

It's possible we're seeing a merging of mutual desires between corporations and communicators. Corporations want to unload the costs of keeping communicators on board. Communicators are beginning to realize that most have neither the ability nor the desire to make it to the top rung. Diminished corporate prospects, combined with an opportunity to do what they really love -- writing and editing -- in a more creative off-staff environment, is opening up new opportunities. We may soon be witnessing a wholesale bailing of communicators from the corporate ranks to create more secure and perhaps even more profitable careers for themselves. If communicators do what they say they want to do, this might be the "paradigm shift" of the field we keep hearing about.

Warm, fuzzy feelings of job security run rampant

On the fax poll, we asked how secure communicators felt in their jobs. Somewhat surprisingly -- considering the general condition of the global economy -- 127 respondents, out of 178 answering the question, said they felt secure in their jobs. The key question here, of course, is: "Does feeling secure in your job have anything to do with actually having a secure job?" As you might expect, those who work for organizations that have had staff cuts tended to feel less secure.

And, if you're thinking that being senior in the ranks ensures security, don't quit your night job yet. Some of the least secure are those with most years of experience in the field. Sixteen of the 51 (31 percent) who feel insecure have more than 15 years' experience; five (almost 10 percent) have more than 30 years.

It's not hard to understand why someone like this communicator with seven years' experience working at a corporation might be nervous: "We went from 35 to nine people." Here was that person's response to the question: "Where do you want to be 10 years from now?" . . . "bank spokesperson." But the answer to the next question: "Where do you expect to be 10 years from now" -- sounds the reality wake-up call . . . "Home with children."

Respondents' answers to the "want" and "expect" questions give clear insights into the complex makeup of the professional communicator. Here are just a few responses:
Where do you Where do you expect
want to be 10 to be . . .?
years from now?
On a beach... ...In a grave
Own my own ...Working at
design firm... someone else's firm
Owning my own ...Freelance writer
Retired or full- ...Same Old S--
time trainer...
Employed... ...Employed
Writer collecting ...Writer collecting
royalties on royalties on ...
runaway best seller
children's book

Then there were some whose ambitions displayed an international flair, like the respondent who said "Living in Italy writing books," or another, "In France working as an English professor." But then fantasy collided with reality for this guy who wants to be in the resort city of "Cancun, Mexico" but expects to be in "Cincinnati" 10 years from now. Stranger still, he doesn't live in Cincinnati now.

Communicators learn to budget and talk quality

To help communicators bridge that gap between what they want and what they expect, we asked what kinds of communication skills they've had to learn to survive these tough economic times, and what they feel they'll need to know to continue to remain competitive.

Here are the top five skills they've learned and didn't know before:

-- Total quality communication (66) -- Budgeting (61) -- Organizational communication management (45) -- Audio-visual communication (43) -- Strategic planning (39)

Here are the skills they feel they still need to learn:

-- Issues management (55) -- Marketing (55) -- Multicultural/international (55) -- Strategic planning (55) -- Budgeting (53)

Most prefer to remain in field

We know the profession is changing, but the poll results show these tough economic times are creating some new patterns of thinking about the field. Most communicators answering said they hadn't considered moving out of the profession (108 vs. 78). However, asked if they would consider switching careers in order to climb higher in their own organization, 95 vs. 76 said they would. Marketing was the most popular choice, advertising was second.

And, the recession isn't only generating thoughts about leaving the field, it's spawning entire new occupational possibilities. Ever heard of an information broker? That's what one respondent wants to be in 10 years. "Hey, Louie -- for 10 bucks I can let you know who the next loading dock superintendent is gonna be!"

Surveys are always fun to tabulate, but sometimes they make you wonder how far the profession is from extinction. Somewhere out there is a communicator who has a really tough time making decisions.

Q #1 "Do you feel secure in your present position?" Answer: "Some days yes; some days, no."

Q #2 "Have you considered moving out of the communication profession?" Answer: "Sort of."

Q #3 "To move into a higher position with your present employer, would you be willing to move into another area, such as human resources?" Answer: "Not really."

Can't you just see the beads of sweat breaking out on this person's forehead when the kid at the supermarket asks: "Paper or plastic?"

On the future of corporate communication opportunities, this desire/expectation disparity might set the tone.

Q #11 "Where do you want to be 10 years from now?"

A: "Manager of a multifaceted communication department."

Q #12 "Where do you expect to be 10 years from now?"

A: "Freelance consulting from home."

And finally, if not the most insightful, at least one of the most honest responses came to this question: "What part of your communication job do you enjoy the most?" Answer: "The drink at the end of the day."

Conclusion: reality check time

As a profession, we need to perform a reality check if we are going to continue to make decisions based on any of the following assumptions about communicators' career preferences:

-- communicators enjoy working with top management

-- most have high-level corporate career goals

-- most communicators don't enjoy the "technician" aspect of the job.

At least based on the responses of 188 people responding to this fax poll, any such assumptions would appear to be in serious doubt.

Cliff McGoon is a senior communication consultant in Palm Springs, Calif.


Of the 184 responses to the question of title on our recent Communication World fax poll, 50 people checked the manager box, coordinator accounted for 36 responses, 34 checked director, 24 checked writer and 22 editor, nine declared themselves president, five vice president and four freelancer.

More than half the respondents (53 percent) carried titles that might suggest interest in management and aggressive careerism -- manager, director, VP and president. However, only 21 percent said that managing, planning and working with top management represented the parts of the job they liked best. Instead, more than half said the best part of their jobs were writing, editing and producing publications.

Regarding the length of time in the field of the respondents, most (67 of 183 responding) indicated five to 10 years' experience. Next highest ranking was the group with 15-plus years with 47 people in that group. Then came the 10-to-15-year group with 40 in it. Then the two-to-five with 23. Only six respondents had less than two years' experience in the field.
COPYRIGHT 1993 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:communicators surveyed on what they want to be in 10 years
Author:McGoon, Cliff
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:When rhythm tells the story.
Next Article:Careerism for communicators.

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