Over the summer I had an amazing opportunity to work for a company ranked among the top 10 of its industry in the U.S. That 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 the company’s needs, because I didn’t understand the business. 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 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 the competition, you get a more extensive idea of industry trends and a better understanding of what sets your company apart.
Keep up with industry news.
Even niche industries have outlets designated to publish trends. I was regularly reading at least three websites devoted 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 overall business 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 people in other departments.
Especially when surrounded by other communications professionals, it is easy to lose sight of how people understand and discuss different ideas. Mingling with people in other departments adds a perspective that your co-workers might not 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 the sales staff can help develop a solution.
As an entry-level employee or an intern, questions are not only expected, they are encouraged. In order to avoid feeling insecure about your lack of knowledge, try asking “why?” instead of “what?” For example: “Why do we use a different social media platform from Competitor X?” This not only shows a commitment to learning, but it also allows for a deeper explanation.
[RELATED: Ragan's new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]
Taking on communication for a client you don’t quite understand can be intimidating. On the flip side, it offers an opportunity for you to grow and to prove yourself as a 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 on Twitter @dfledderjohn. A version of this story originally appeared on Ohio University's ImPRessions blog.