Tanya Jansz emphasises the need for effective communication strategies

Compiled by Randheer Mallawaarachchi

Q: In your opinion, what are the skills required by communications specialists in the modern era?
A: In the last decade, there was an explosion of touch points and traditional media became more fragmented while social media continued to expand. It’s important to be able to identify and embrace new trends and selected touch points that work best for your organisation in order to stay abreast of the competition.

Perfecting the art of storytelling is very important. We live in an age of information overload where the public has access to even the most intricate details if they know where to look.

Accordingly, you need to be able to make your narrative compelling enough to cut through the clutter and reach your core audience.

Q: What are the shortcomings you have noticed in the corporate communications field?
A: In advertising, you tell people how good you are and in public relations, someone else is influenced to perform that particular role. It’s a subtle but credible form of persuasion with little or no measurable results.

Consequently, some organisations attach less importance to corporate communications with lower budget allocations and less training. This renders these businesses vulnerable to certain internal and external pressures.

Inadequate training often means that corporate communications specialists struggle to respond in difficult circumstances.

We have observed brands facing excessive criticism due to poorly managed situations. This has resulted in protracted periods of negative publicity and long-term financial impacts.

Q: Could you outline your assessment of the prevailing pool of communications specialists in Sri Lanka?
A: Historically, communications specialists operated in their own field of expertise. For example, writers wrote and photographers took photos, and that remained true for a handful of other notable professions too.

These days, people prefer to step out of their comfort zones to acquire new skills beyond their immediate strengths, giving rise to a culture of constant learning.  There are writers dabbling in graphic design, videographers scripting narratives for videos and so on. These multi-talented people are valued for their ability to independently create entire pieces of content.

The flip side to this is that as a multilingual country, we are often required to communicate in multiple languages.

This is especially true at the UN where the focus is predominantly directed towards diversity – and this involves crafting content that will resonate in different languages. And it’s unlikely that this can be done by one person and often requires a team to capture the beauty of lingo present in vastly different languages.

Q: In what ways has the transition from a corporate mindset to one that is more socially oriented affected the way you operate?
A: In the private sector, you’re provided with a budget that supports the work you do. However, my present place of employment is entirely funded by donations and this means that monies are channelled towards supporting those who need it the most. Almost all content is developed in-house, and this calls for extensive time and effort.

Moreover, the objective of our communications is very different to that of the private sector. It’s a 180 degree shift from focussing on generating profits to assisting people. A majority of my work involves developing communications material for donors and government counterparts, and raising awareness on prevailing issues particularly related to nutrition and food security.

I would say that it’s far less glamorous than the private sector. The reward we reap is the feedback received from those we support.

Hearing their stories and recollections of how much our assistance means to them motivates me to keep doing what I do. It provides the drive to begin the day knowing that our efforts will contribute to making the world a better place.

Q: And last but not least, what is the future you envision for the corporate communications sector?
A: There is evidence that people – especially the gen Z audience – are increasingly demanding brands that deliver social impact. Organisations are now realising the need to incorporate social responsibility within their core messaging and not treat it as an add-on to their overall strategy.

I believe that the lines between marketing and corporate communications will probably become increasingly thinner and blurred.

Corporate communications is likely to become more important, and improving a brand’s image through this will be given priority as the means to generate sales and achieve results over traditional marketing approaches.

There is also increasing demand for governance – especially when it comes to social media platforms – with mandatory compliance through strengthened privacy laws.

Irresponsibility among social media users is likely to escalate, prompting a call for responsible and respectful activity on these platforms.

Despite this, organisations will most likely continue to be impacted by misleading news and out of context accusations, necessitating stronger crisis management procedures.

The interviewee is a Communications Officer
at the UN World Food Programme