This summer I had an amazing opportunity to work for a company ranked within the top ten of their industry in America. Their industry? Trash. I was more than a little nervous accepting the position; my knowledge of trash stopped at the curb.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to properly communicate their needs when I didn’t understand their business. Luckily, with a little guidance from supervisors and some serious personal effort, I now consider myself an expert at talking trash.
Check out the competition. The quickest way to get an early idea about an industry is to research your company’s competition. The more sources you have, the more information you have. By reading up on competition you get a more extensive idea of trends in the industry and a better understanding of what sets your company apart.
Keep up with industry news. Even the most niche industries have outlets designated to publish trends. In terms of trash, I was regularly reading at least three different websites designated solely to discussing garbage and recycling. Not every article published by these outlets will connect to your client’s specific needs. However, understanding the ins and outs of the business as a whole can help you communicate more effectively and understand how other departments work, a necessity if you are working with internal communications. Which leads me to…
Get to know other departments. Especially when surrounded by fellow communications professionals, it is easy to lose sight of how other people understand and discuss different ideas. Mingling with people in other departments provides a new perspective that your coworkers may not be able to provide. They can also be a great resource when dealing with an especially difficult problem. Have a customer with a rare or new problem? Perhaps sales can better understand how to create a solution.
Ask questions. As an entry-level employee or an intern questions are not only expected, they are encouraged. In order to avoid feeling insecure about lack of knowledge, try asking “why?” instead of “what?” For example: “Why do we use a different social media platform than Competitor X?” This shows not only shows a commitment to learning, it also allows for an even more in-depth explanation.
Taking on communication for a client you don’t quite understand can be extremely intimidating. On the flip side, it offers an opportunity for growth and to prove yourself as a true communications professional. If you can become an expert about a niche industry, what can’t you do?
-Darby Fledderjohn is a senior studying strategic communication with specializations in business and sociology. Follow her at @dfledderjohn.