Business Acumen and Communications Expertise

Business Acumen word cloud 

By Gary Ross

To be a good communicator, you have to be more than a good communicator. Organizations need communicators who know how a business works…how it makes money, the industry pressures it faces, operational strengths and weaknesses, and so forth…in addition to their communications expertise. It’s a lesson I learned in 20-plus years of in-house corporate communications positions, and it’s the Number One piece of career advice I give to future communications leaders. I point to my own experience and also to industry leaders who are good communicators and also good business people.

Recently, for my RossTalk podcast, I interviewed Laura Brown, senior vice president of communications and investor relations for W.W. Grainger, Inc., a $10 billion supplier of industrial products, headquartered in the Chicago area. Laura and her team have a wide area of responsibility: they cover investor relations, internal and external communications, and public and government affairs. Laura is a great example of a communications leader with strong business acumen. She and her team communicate with a variety of audiences, and Grainger’s CEO counts on her as one of his key advisors on communications and general business issues.

My interview with Laura became a three-part “RossTalk Extra” series for my podcast – it’s a quick listen; each episode is only three minutes or less. While each of the three episodes focuses on a part of Laura’s responsibilities along with some career advice, taken together, they teach us this:

Laura’s skill as a business leader makes her a better communicator, and her communications skill makes her a better business leader.

Part 1: Managing consistent messages to different audiences. How to communicate central corporate messages and information to diverse stakeholders in a way that’s relevant to each of them.

Part 2: The bottom line in helping employees understand the bottom line. It’s important for employees to understand how their company is performing, but there are challenges in communicating complex information to a non-financial audience.

Part 3: Some advice for those who want to be a communications executive at a large company. Business acumen is key.

Laura’s experiences provide a good peek inside the communications department of a FORTUNE 500 company, but the lessons apply to all sizes and kinds of organizations. Business acumen and communications acumen go hand-in-hand, and the combination is a critical ingredient to personal career success and the health of our profession overall.

Gary Ross is a Chicago-based independent communications consultant, with more than 20 years of in-house communications leadership experience at companies including Fortune Brands Home & Security, CDW and Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Prior to his communications career, Gary was an Emmy-nominated broadcast journalist. Visit for more information.

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