Should you pursue a career as a communications director?

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What do communications directors do? In general, they determine the overall strategies of the specific projects under their supervision (e.g., a PR or marketing campaign) and ensure that all internal and external communications related to them align tightly with company goals.

Another way to look at it: Many directors of communications are effectively PR managers, overseeing the work of multiple PR specialists as those professionals write press releases, hold press conferences and coordinate media relations. The communications director role is a senior position, with relatively high compensation at most organizations.

A communications director working with colleagues

What is the typical job description of a communications director?

Communications directors create and manage communications strategies. Toward that goal, they leverage a variety of communications skills as well as multiple years of experience working in domains such as PR, marketing and/or advertising. Some of their primary responsibilities include:

  • Drawing up communications plans with clearly defined objectives, key performance indicators, audiences and timetables
  • Drafting and reviewing written deliverables such as press releases, newsletters and brochures
  • Collaborating with PR specialists, press secretaries and other personnel across the communications department on projects
  • Managing the organization’s official website and social media presence
  • Coordinating rapid-response crisis communications
  • Planning events such as fundraisers, panel discussions and press conferences
  • Handling media relations, such as scheduling public interviews with company executives
  • Traveling to industry conferences to represent the organization
  • Collaborating with financial teams on reports

Overall, the communications director role is equal parts public liaison and internal coordinator. Someone in this position might just as easily hold a press conference to announce a new initiative or respond to media inquiries as they would pore over the details of a spreadsheet to ensure the PR budget is on track.

What are the ideal skills to have as a communications director?

Succeeding as a communications director requires a distinct set of skills, along with practical experience.

Writing and public speaking

Communications directors routinely write and revise critical assets, such as press releases and emails sent to members of the media. In addition to being great writers, comms directors should also excel at verbal communications, since they may often be on the phone or in front of the public, conducting press conferences. Indeed, the communications director role in the private sector is comparable to that of the press secretary in the public sector, and anyone in the position might regularly make public appearances.

Professional networking

PR is often as much about who you know as what you do. In other words, it’s important to have contacts you can rely on when conducting a campaign or navigating a crisis. As experienced senior employees, communications directors are likely to have built a relatively extensive network of PR specialists, media professionals, and others who can provide assistance and feedback.

Crisis communication

The stakes for effective communications in a crisis are high. Individuals are much more likely to report a negative interaction or perception of a company to their peers than a positive interaction. It’s up to a talented communications director to ensure that everyone in the organization has the backgrounds and tools they need during a crisis.

Trend awareness

Communications directors must be up-to-date on what’s occurring in the PR field at large. That means assiduously monitoring changes in consumer behavior, plus the evolution of relevant social and political causes. As PR managers, communications directors should also know which modes of communication (e.g., specific social media channels) are ideally suited to their current campaign strategies.

Personnel management

The typical communications director is responsible for a diverse team of PR professionals. More specifically, they will provide the crucial stamp of approval (or rejection) on all internal and external communications of the organization. That entails either reviewing the messaging themselves or establishing the guidelines that subordinates will reference when evaluating anything the public will eventually see.

How much do communications directors make?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies communications directors as public relations and fundraising managers. Workers in this category earned median pay of more than $114,000 in 2018, which is much higher than the U.S. national median for all occupations.

Moreover, the BLS foresees a positive outlook for the PR profession, due to the increasing importance of organizational image management in the era of social media. Public opinion can change quickly thanks to internet-based communications. That means it’s essential for companies to have competent, experienced communications directors on staff who can fine-tune their communications plans, respond to crises and assure the quality of the entire communications department’s work.

Organizations are willing to invest significant resources to find the right person to assume those responsibilities. In fact, the BLS expects 8% growth in these positions from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations in the U.S.

How can someone become a communications director?

Earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field is the first step in becoming a communications director. Many candidates specialize in journalism, PR, communications or English. Some employers may prefer or even require a master’s degree, like the Master‘s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW).

A communication director and co-worker at a startup organization.

Certification from the Public Relations Society of America may also be helpful. Since this is an upper-level position at many organizations, multiple years of applicable experience are necessary.

The SPR program at GW provides comprehensive training in the practices and challenges of modern PR. Students learn to manage the rapid spread of information, engage on multiple channels and assess the impact of communications on an organization’s reputation.

The SPR curriculum includes coursework in ethics, communications, political socialization and more, along with a capstone project. Learn more today on the main program page.

Recommended Readings:
What’s the difference between press secretaries and communications directors?
A look at the media relations director career

The Secret Ratio That Proves Why Customer Reviews Are So Important
Public Relations and Fundraising Managers