Building a Career in Communications: Four Lessons from the Trenches

Stephanie Roberts, Head of Global Communications at Hitachi Industrial Equipment Systems shares four practical lessons for those thinking about a career in communications.

While in college, I, like many others, needed a clearer vision for my future. I was initially an accounting major but soon pivoted to communications, driven by curiosity and a passion for writing. In college, I challenged myself by frequently submitting letters to the editor of the Chicago Tribune to see if I could get them published. I didn’t know it then, but I was laying the foundation for a career in communications.

Over a decade later, the decision to switch majors stands validated, though the memories of navigating uncertainty on the cusp of graduation remain vivid. The struggle to define my major, the desire for insights into the corporate landscape, and the need for guidance on evaluating potential employers were palpable.

In sharing my experiences, I offer four practical lessons to those venturing into or contemplating a career in communications – a path I can now state with certainty is the right one.

Lesson 1: Choose your workplace wisely

The right workplace can make all the difference. While it’s unfortunate that not all executives and companies fully appreciate the value of communications, the tide is turning. Having experienced both sides of this spectrum in my career, I’ve learned the significance of working for executives who understand and value the impact of communications.

Seek organizations where communications holds strategic importance, evidenced by its position on the corporate ladder. Are the highest professionals at the manager level? Director? VP? Chief Communications Officer (CCO)? Does communications have a seat at the table? What about on the board?

Also, find out if communications is a dedicated function and to whom it reports. Does it report directly to key decision-makers, or is it tossed into departments like Legal, HR, or Admin? A dedicated reporting line to the CEO signals an environment that understands the integral role of communications. Choosing a workplace where your expertise is valued from the top down will significantly influence your ability to make a lasting impact.

Lesson 2: Embrace the evolution of communications

In today’s complex business environment, companies and CEOs grapple with many challenges, including geopolitical threats, anti-ESG campaigns, employee activism, and heightened expectations from consumers for proactive corporate stances on social issues. This is on top of engaging and retaining your workforce. CEOs increasingly rely on communication leaders and teams to navigate these evolving dynamics.

Formal education might be behind you, but it has never been more important to continuously learn about your business and industry and stay informed about current events. To keep in touch with industry developments, follow sources such as Axios Communicators, PRWeek, and Ragan.

But beyond merely offering communication advice, we should be business advisors, too. We need to understand current events and how they may or may not impact the business and be able to see around corners by understanding the perspectives of internal and external stakeholders. This is one advantage we bring to the table.

Lesson 3: The resilience factor

Like most professions, communications can be challenging.

Expect multiple rounds of writing and rewriting when 10 people need to weigh in. Grammatical disputes may arise, even from individuals who last penned a paper 15 years ago. Communications is often brought into issues or projects far too late. You’ll likely face challenges getting appropriate headcount and budget. Common among marketing, branding, and communications professionals, there is a tendency for colleagues to believe they can do your job better than you.

These moments can get frustrating, but let them roll off your back and stay resilient. It helps to have a small support network within your workplace or industry peers who can fully relate to your situation.

Lesson 4: The bright future of communications

We have a long way to go, but the future is bright for communications professionals. Let’s look into the region where I’m at, APAC. Communications is rapidly gaining c-suite recognition, with Andrews Partnerships 2024 CA Leaders Report indicating a 12% increase in CEO confidence in the function (within the last 12 months) and a further 25% reporting an increase of local decision-making (rather than reverting to Global), indicating the regions Communications Leaders are gaining their seat at the table on a global stage.

These statistics are encouraging. The landscape is shifting, and communications is rightfully claiming its seat at the table.

As I share these lessons, I’m reminded that the rollercoaster ride of a communications career is not just about enduring challenges or adapting to changes but relishing the opportunities that come from being an essential part of a company’s story.

So, to all the aspiring communicators, embrace the ride—even the unexpected loops and turns. They’re all part of an ever-changing but also profoundly gratifying journey.

Andrews Partnership are the reputation experts, with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore working across Asia, as the leading specialist corporate affairs, communications and investor relations executive search firm. We excel at understanding each organisation's unique challenges and appointing the right talent, who make meaningful business impact.