Like directors of films and TV shows, communications directors determine the overarching strategies of their projects and marshal the right resources to achieve them. The “shows” they’re directing are the ones starring their organizations and clients, with the public as the audience. While their titles classify them as communications executives, directors of communications are ultimately public relations professionals.
What is the basic role and job description of a communications director?
To manage perceptions of the companies they represent, communications directors oversee both internal and external interactions. Their day-to-day responsibilities in such areas might include:
- Reviewing written materials such as press releases, newsletters and brochures
- Overseeing the official website and social media presence
- Planning events such as fundraisers, panel discussions and open houses
- Drafting speeches for others to deliver
- Scheduling media interviews with company executives
- Traveling to industry conferences to represent the organization
- Collaborating with financial teams on reports
Overall, the role of the communications director is to shape an organization’s branding and image by performing the above tasks and many more as needed. Being effective in this position requires strong communication skills (especially in writing and public speaking), an extensive professional network and keen awareness of relevant trends, such as changes in consumer behavior and the traction of specific social and political causes.
The typical communications director manages a team of PR and marketing specialists in enacting a consistent companywide strategy. Just as a movie director will review the final cut of a film before passing it along to the studio, a director of communications provides the crucial stamp of approval to virtually all communications coming from his or her organization. They’ll either review the messaging themselves or establish the guidelines that subordinates will reference when evaluating anything that the public will see.
One way to think of the communications director role is as 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.
The outlook for communications directors
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies communications directors within the larger category of public relations and fundraising managers, foreseeing a positive outlook for the 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, so it’s essential for organizations to have experienced communications directors who can shape proactive as well as reactive strategies for managing these often-rapid shifts.
The stakes for effective communications are high. Individuals are twice as 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 to carry out a coherent plan.
Organizations are willing to invest significant resources in finding the right person for this role. The BLS expects 10 percent growth in these positions from 2016 to 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. PR and fundraising managers also had 2017 median pay of more than $111,000, putting them well ahead of the national median household income of $59,039.
How to pursue a career as a communications director
Becoming a communications director usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Many candidates specialize in journalism, PR, communications, English or fundraising. Some employers may prefer or require a master’s degree, like the Master‘s in Strategic Public Relations (SPR) from the George Washington University (GW). Certification from the Public Relations Society of America may also help establish your candidacy. Since this is an upper-level position at many organizations, multiple years of applicable experience is usually necessary.
The SPR program at GW provides a comprehensive background in the practices and challenges of modern PR. Students will learn about strategies for managing the rapid spread of information, engaging across multiple communications channels, ensuring corporate responsibility and assessing the impact of public policy on an organization’s reputation. The SPR curriculum includes required coursework in ethics, communications, political socialization and more, along with a capstone project that applies all of this knowledge in a project designed in tandem with a faculty member.
The program is ideal for pursuing a career in either the public or private sector. Communications directors are vital in both domains. For example, they might coordinate outreach and fundraising for a political campaign or represent a government agency to the public. On the private side, they could be the brains behind a corporation’s rebranding to reach a targeted new audience.
At GW, the SPR track is 100 percent online with no required residency. That means students can obtain the same quality education that they would have gotten on campus, except without the commute. As long as you have an internet connection, you can participate in class discussions and work on assignments.
This setup is particularly useful for students who enter the SPR program seeking career advancement. Its flexibility allows them to maintain commitments outside the classroom by not needing to allocate big blocks of time to traveling to campus. You can work with a schedule that’s optimal for you as part of a mostly asynchronous learning arrangement that doesn’t mandate you be online at the same time as instructors and other students.
With an SPR degree, you are well-positioned to compete for roles such as communications director. To learn more about the degree’s curriculum and structure, visit its overview page. Additional details are also contained in the program brochure, which you can download by answering a few simple questions there. We look forward to helping find the best education options for your future.