Getting Beyond the Mars-Venus (Program/Communications) Divide
Guest Post: Ben Rodriguez, program officer, Connecticut Health Foundation
I didn’t have to read Minna Jung’s recent guest post “Communicating in Philanthropy: the Hard Part” to know that there can be tension between program and communications staff. As a program officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation, I’m well aware that sometimes communications staff thinks “you don’t get it.”
But there’s another part of the story. Sometimes we think you don’t get it, either (with all due respect to my esteemed colleagues)! When I’m knee deep in planning an initiative to address, for example, children’s mental health, and then I’m asked to think about “what is tweet-able about this” or “why is this press-worthy?” it can feel distracting and disjointed with the long-term goals we’re trying to achieve.
And that’s where the tension can develop.
But I maintain that that tension is a necessary, healthy tension. From time to time, program and communications can creep back into our silos. We’re both thinking about how to achieve our goals from different perspectives – I from program, you from communications – the key is to come together to do that, and identify areas to complement each other’s work ahead of time, if possible.
What works for me is when I seek input from communications in developing initiatives. Inviting communications staff in early to think about audiences and messaging only strengthened the overall strategy of the initiatives. It also helps in identifying areas of cross-over up front.
Here are a few tidbits of what I feel helps the process:
Stop the Us vs. Them mentality. I wholeheartedly agree with what Susan Herr said in the comments to Minna’s piece. Ultimately, we need each other to achieve our organization’s mission! Let’s show each other the respect we deserve. Stating “program staff doesn’t get it” won’t win folks over. Instead, shifting the culture towards one of mutual respect works wonders. The way to do that is through understanding that we have mutual goals and different perspectives.
The tail doesn’t wag the dog. Ultimately, here at Connecticut Health Foundation, our initiatives exist for the purpose of creating health systems change. The initiatives are not for the purpose of sending out a press release or writing a blog, and nor are they for the purpose of us giving grants. But both of these are important pieces to the process. In pursuit of our goal, some of our activities will be program-focused, and others will be communications-focused. And that’s okay so long as the work is discussed ahead of time and is complementary, whenever possible.
The friction between grants and media timelines. Sometimes, grants are not “sexy” from a media perspective, but they are necessary for making change. And media timelines differ greatly from grant timelines in that the media is rapid and grants take time to make change. Sometimes the opportunities won’t match up perfectly.
Start working together as early on in the process as possible. The onus is on both of us to work together – if you as communications are thinking you should work with us, that’s a good sign. Where I’ve found success in working together with communications is involving you in the planning stages. That way, we can offer each other suggestions on where our work links, and offer constructive feedback. Roles are defined up front and areas of cross-over are better defined.
Ultimately, the Connecticut Health Foundation exists to achieve our mission of improving the health of the state’s residents. Pulling back to remember that, and seeing everyone as playing a role, can really bring us together.
It is also important to periodically revisit this topic because I certainly don’t think I have all the answers.
What would you add to this list? Do you agree that the tension between our departments is necessary and even healthy?