Deutsche Telekom communicators discussed this question at last week's COM/Transformers "future conference."
I am head of Corporate Communications at Deutsche Telekom – and I am a communicator through and through. Thinking in terms of target groups, formulating messages, talking to journalists – I've been doing those things with dedication and passion for 20 years now. Is there any chance they could become strictly routine? No, and this is also because the work that we communicators do is changing fundamentally at the moment. The sort of communications I learned has disappeared. Digitization is bringing profound changes to communications – just as it is bringing profound changes to so many areas of our lives. These changes are presenting us communicators with a multitude of challenges. Back in the "old days," our key communications skills included knowing how to work a fax machine (I'm being only slightly facetious). Some of us think that possibility is very unlikely, while others think it's still far off in the future. Still others are worrying about their jobs. About such an idea being "far off in the future," by the way: The Washington Post news organization is now using an "automated storytelling technology" – a robot – called "Heliograf" that has already written 850 articles.
About being worried about your job: We keep seeing news items about jobs being lost and about the bleak scenarios that lie ahead. Sometimes it seems the stories are trying to outdo each other with their scary numbers. Such stories spread quickly, feeding skepticism and undermining trust. In such a climate, how can we protect our company's reputation and maintain the credibility of our communications? Those are questions that we communicators really need to focus on. Our heavy work schedules often leave us little time for such contemplation, however. The world keeps turning faster and faster, so who has a moment to pause and reflect on such big, and abstract, questions? As far as I'm concerned, we need to make the time for such reflection, because if we don't, it'll suddenly be too late.
So we at Deutsche Telekom's Corporate Communications took time out to ponder and discuss the current changes underway in our communications "landscape," and to brainstorm together on ways to address these changes. "COM" stands for us, as a corporate communications team. "Transformers" stands for our common approach to the theme of the event: We want to actively shape – and even transform – the changes, and actively manage the new challenges facing us.
We know we're not going to get very far unless we widen our perspective, so we invited the company's other communicators, throughout the company's various departments, to join us. We know that to be successful communicators, in these dynamic times, we need to think out of the boxes defined by standard-style communications fields. So we gave our conference a very open format, and designed it with the help of some power thinkers "from the outside."
That doesn't mean the company participants were supposed to sit back and let outside experts do all the work. No, very much to the contrary. The power thinkers presented some provocative ideas that snapped us out of any complacency. And we had challenging exercises for each topic we covered. For the topic of "fake news," for example, we had to develop a strategy for providing effective protection for Deutsche Telekom's reputation. For the topic of "influencers," we had to develop a prototype strategy for using the "influencer" concept in corporate communications.
What came out of all of this? Well, to begin with, I loved the event, and I wasn't the only one. All our participants loved it, too, and that's what really counts. And we produced some convincing concepts. Five of them were so convincing that we are planning to implement them as real projects. But those are not the only reasons why the daylong event was so worthwhile. Our preparations leading up to it were very valuable for us. The COM team played an active role from the very beginning. We chose the topics that we discussed at the conference, and we jointly defined the agenda for the event. That work enabled us to all own the event together.
The conference reminded us that no one can foretell the future. It is unpredictable, and it will stay that way. What we can do and need to do, however, is to be open to new things. We need to be willing to experiment, and to try new approaches. All of us can help shape the digitization process – every one of us can become a transformer and lend a hand! And this certainly doesn't apply only to communicators and communications departments.
You'll find more about our future conference on Twitter: (#contentfactory). What do you think about these things? Use the comments function and give us your feedback!