“It must be so nice working in a low stress job”: just one of the reactions from peers regarding my decision to work in charity communications. The implication is that by choosing the third sector, and communications, I’ve chosen the soft option – the ‘film studies’ of the job world.
Partly this is born of confusion over the difference between value and cost. I earn considerably less than my banker or consultant friends, so they feel they must be working harder than me. There seems to be a belief among those in the corporate world that because people can volunteer to work for charities, the charity workforce isn’t professional. The public perception of charities hasn’t caught up with the reality that third sector organisations are run increasingly like businesses, but we have to account for every penny. Add this to a belief that comms is mostly about schmoozing celebrity supporters or holding noisy non-events and it can all be a bit frustrating.
Sadly, I also get the impression that colleagues don’t understand the purpose of comms or where it fits in the organisation. Fundraising departments think I have endless time to help them micromanage events. Finance departments generate more forms to fill in every month to show which ‘project’ my time should be charged to. Policy teams seem to believe I’m also the editor for the comment pages of friendly newspapers, and can therefore insert copy on issues only vaguely relevant to major news stories on a whim.
The image many people have is that I waltz in at 10am, read the papers, knock together some copy or a press release and head to the pub by mid-afternoon. The job suffers from the perception, which tends to attach to roles where women predominate, that it’s the easy option. It’s similar to teaching: everyone knows teachers often work until 10 at night, and spend much of their time surrounded by screaming teenagers, yet: “those who can’t, teach.” Frankly sometimes the feeling also seems to be “those who can’t, work for a charity.”
The reality of doing the same amount of work as a corporate comms person but on a lower salary, with no budget and a smaller team seems to go unnoticed. As does the fact that, unlike corporate comms which exist to sell a product or brand, I have to synthesise large quantities of complex policy information to create my messages. It takes great skill to boil down an incredibly complex issue to 30 words and get your message across clearly, which is essential when budget to buy advertising space doesn’t exist.
It’s about time those outside the third sector (including those in government) recognised what you pay for something isn’t necessarily what it’s worth. Perhaps if we communicated a bit better the value of what we bring to our organisations, to the media we work with, and to society, we might be taken more seriously.