Corporate communicators have a legion of responsibilities. Everything from executive communications to media relations to employee communications falls under their umbrella.
Corporate communicators must be good writers. They must be able to hold and lead a meeting. They must have good interpersonal skills. And they must be able to work well alone—and in a team.
We know this because it is well documented. We talk about it in IABC and PRSA. We read about it on blogs and in industry publications.
But, we talk very little about the unwritten laws that govern our profession, those commandments that let us do our work and do it well.
I’ve come up with four unwritten commandments I believe play a key role for every corporate communicator.
1. Thou shalt always keep executive admins happy.
The corporate communicator’s most important partners are the chief executive, the CFO, and SVPs, also known as “executive row.” These are your spokespeople, and they are also important sources of information. So, it’s key you have unfettered (or relatively unfettered) access to these people. Enter the administrative assistant. Maintaining open, solid relationships with these people is ESSENTIAL.
Why? Because they control the executive’s calendar. Piss them off, and you can forget getting 10 minutes today. Develop a good working relationship and they can be one of your most important allies. When I was working in corporate, these were the first people I sought out. I made time to talk to them about personal matters. I asked them questions about their kids. I got them coffee on occasion. I looked for ways to make their lives easier. And it always paid off.
2. Thou shalt always keep a full candy dish at your desk.
Wait, what? That’s right, always be the guy or gal with the candy dish. Why? Because the candy dish is the new water cooler. Who really has water coolers anymore? That concept’s dated. A candy dish, on the other hand, is where you get the gossip. And, as a corporate communicator you want to hear that gossip. You want to hear the chatter among employees and managers below the surface, so you know the REAL issues. Not just the issues leadership sees.
The candy dish is your ticket to those conversations. Some people might scoff, but I truly believe in it. Another benefit: It opens up communication between you and others. After all, who doesn’t love a Twix at 2 pm in the afternoon? That Twix will inevitably turn into a short 5-minute conversation about what’s going on, the stuff you want to hear about before it starts bubbling up.
3. Thou shalt never eat alone—or at your desk.
At some point, eating alone at your desk became a badge of honor for PR folks; I’m not sure why. Corporate communicators should NEVER eat alone. Lunch is just as critical as the rest of your day. You should spend it with your boss. Or a colleague. Or an employee. Nurturing relationships. Learning what’s going on in departments. Talking to a colleague in product design to mine stories for the intranet. Yep—it’s a working lunch, and it should never be spent alone.
I suggest you lunch once in a while with a colleague or friend OUTSIDE the office. This networking will be invaluable—whether it’s lunch with a former colleague, a friend in another industry, or someone you’ve always wanted to meet. No, I’m not saying you have to eat lunch with someone EVERY day. But start by shooting for a couple days a week. After all, think about your executives. Do you ever see them eating alone? Probably not. Why? Because they know the value of relationships. And you should, too.
4. Thou shalt take at least two trips per year.
You’re scratching your head. What could I be talking about? Here’s my thinking. Every corporate communicator should get out of the office at least twice a year. If you work for an organization with dispersed offices, get out to those locations at least once a year. Get out among employees and see the environment you communicate with. It pays to see the front lines. It pays to see what it’s like in other offices. It will help you formulate strategies and tactics.
Don’t have offices around the country? What about an industry conference? Want to get smarter about your work? Make the case to management to attend at least one conference per year. And, make sure you come back with ideas and lessons for your team.
Last, take a freaking vacation! I shouldn’t have to say this, but vacation time is essential to your health. Everyone needs a break. I remember from my time in corporate that far too many people rolled vacation days over. Make time for yourself. Believe me, no one is too important to miss work for a week. No one.
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.