Communications: A Guide to High-Impact Careers

Work in communications can play a critical role in an organization’s success – if it’s done well. Through activities like growing brand awareness, raising funds, attracting customers, and persuading decision-makers, communications professionals can amplify the work done by the rest of the organization.

Because of this, a career in communications can be a highly promising path for some people. However, because communications roles serve primarily to draw attention to and assist the work of others, it’s crucial that people who want to have a positive impact seek out organizations that are doing high-quality work addressing important problems. 

It covers a wide range of advice, and is likely to be among the most comprehensive sources you’ll be able to find about this topic from an impact-focused perspective. It’s the result of considerable internal research, as well as consultation with the following domain experts:

Jenna Riedi



Rachel Norman

Communications Coordinator

Rethink Priorities

Sriramya Gainedi

Lead Executive Comms, Office of CMO


Sunnie Huang

Growth Officer

Giving Green

Note that the experts we consult don’t necessarily endorse all the views expressed in our content, and all mistakes are our own.

Path overview

What do we mean by communications? 

By communications, we mean roles that focus on communicating an organization or individual’s work. This can include promoting successes, failures, news, products, and services, to a variety of different audiences. Though many roles involve extensive communicating, such as journalism, politics, or being a public intellectual, this profile discusses roles that fall under the distinct profession of communications. 

This career path comprises a diverse range of tasks and responsibilities, though they’re all united by one key goal: sharing the right information with the right people in the right way. Within this broad goal, specific types of communications work include:

  • Public relations: Public relations involves drafting public statements and press releases for an organization, potentially announcing new projects and updates, or even responding to controversy (known as crisis communications). 
  • Marketing: Marketing also often falls under the remit of communications. Depending on the organization you’re in, this could mean designing and implementing advertising campaigns, running publicity events, fundraising, writing newsletters, and more.
  • Active outreach: Communications professionals may also spend time reaching out and developing relationships with individuals outside the organization. This could include soliciting potential donors, raising awareness among important decision-makers, and more.
  • Internal communications: Especially at larger organizations, communications specialists can take on internal-facing communications tasks. These can include providing organization-wide updates, monitoring and improving internal communications processes, and developing materials such as newsletters and handbooks for staff. 
  • Personal communications: This type of communications work involves working on behalf of a (typically influential) individual to maintain their public presence. It can involve creating social media posts, public statements, or even helping prepare for interviews and panel discussions. 

The extent to which you engage with each of these types of communication work will depend on your specific role and organization. Some roles may focus only on internal communications, while others might focus only on marketing tasks. The larger the organization you work in, the more likely it is you’ll specialize within a narrow focus; in smaller organizations, you’re likely to have a wider portfolio.

Relatedly, because just about any organization has communications needs, communications professionals can work in a huge variety of organizations. This includes for-profit companies, nonprofits, governments, and even multinational institutions. Many communications professionals also work freelance or as part of an agency, though this profile will primarily discuss communications roles embedded in an organization.

Examples of tasks here are not exhaustive, and a full list of communications tasks would be much longer. People working in communications can often have a much broader remit than just conventional communications tasks. For instance, some have a significant influence on higher-level organizational strategy and product development – though this depends on the specific role.

How promising is communications?

Working in communications can have a positive impact in at least a couple of different ways.

First, communications work can be a necessary part of the causal chain that transforms good work into having a real impact on the world. Here are a few examples: 

Change public behavior

Informing and motivating the wider public to change their behaviors can help drive positive change across many important problems such as climate change, animal welfare, and public health. For instance, the Senegalese government was lauded for its response to COVID-19, keeping infections and deaths to comparatively low levels. A large part of this success has been attributed to its communications team, which deployed early and effective messaging to raise awareness and promote effective behavior changes to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Persuade relevant decision-makers

Good communications can lead decision-makers to take important actions, such as developing legislation or changing corporate practices. There are many examples of this many of the important policy changes we see are often the result of people and organizations working behind the scenes to make change happen. Unfortunately, oftentimes this means that policy changes are made to favor only specific private interests, but the same mechanisms can also be used to push forward socially beneficial decisions at a large scale. For instance, the Clean Air Task Force, a climate advocacy organization, has had impressive success in convincing policymakers to implement substantial positive changes to climate policy.

Drive public pressure and leverage it for change

Raising awareness for important issues can help sway decision-makers who are sensitive to public opinion. One organization that has been highly successful in this is The Humane League. The organization has been able to persuade numerous large companies to commit to exclusively stock cage-free eggs (which significantly reduces the suffering of hens) through a mixture of online advertising, grassroots advocacy, and private engagement with companies.

Improve communications within the organization

By smoothing out internal communications, you could help an organization collaborate and coordinate more effectively. Improving internal systems can bring large benefits to any organizations, which we know thanks to research in other contexts. For instance, a report by McKinsey found that making full use of “social technologies” within an organization can generate substantial productivity gains within an organization. 

Though there are multiple routes through which communications professionals can provide value, it can also be helpful to more generally think of communications professionals as multipliers of an organization’s impact. Working in communications usually means you won’t be involved directly with creating products or delivering services. Instead, you’ll often work to amplify your organization’s work, ensuring it reaches the right people and resonates with them. Though it’s hard to quantify, there’s reason to think that this multiplier can be significant. Because of this, our impression is that for people who are a great fit, communications careers can be highly promising. 

Naturally, because communications work is so closely tied to an organization, choosing the right organization and role is perhaps even more important here than it is for other career paths. We discuss this more in our section on priorities within communications careers.


  • Can play an important role in an organization’s success – Communications can be a vital factor in helping an organization succeed and scale. This means that a talented communications professional could have an impressive impact if they’re able to meaningfully contribute to a highly effective organization. 
  • Relevant for a variety of causes – Communications specialists are needed in almost all organizations, whether they be companies, nonprofits, or government institutions. This means roles are likely available in the cause areas you care about most.
  • Roles are available for various backgrounds – Though some people enter communications careers through specific training, such as a communications degree, these careers allow for a broad range of entry routes. As long as you can show your ability to communicate in relevant formats, your specific educational background likely won’t matter as much as in other career paths. 


  • Other paths might offer better career capital – Many people enter comms through other career paths, like journalism or marketing. However, we’ve heard it can be harder to do the reverse, perhaps because communications experience isn’t seen as being quite as transferable as these other disciplines. Communications might therefore not be the best option in regards to career capital – the experiences and resources that help your career over the long term.
  • Underappreciated – Despite its importance, the work performed by communications professionals can unduly fly under the radar of others within an organization. This means their work can be undervalued, or perceived to be less prestigious than other types of work. 
  • Difficult to measure impact – Though there’s good reason to think comms work serves a very important function, it’s particularly difficult to measure just how much impact good communications work can add. For instance, though good crisis communications is essential for managing an organization’s reputation, it’s unclear how one would evaluate the efficacy of such communication any better than rough indicators. 

Is it a good fit for you?

Your personal fit for a career path is really important. If a job doesn’t suit your skillset, motivations, and other factors, it’s less likely you’ll be able to do great, impactful work. With this in mind, this section will discuss some traits that make you more likely to enjoy and excel in communications work. 

What is needed to be successful

Some traits that indicate you might be particularly good at communications roles include:

  • You’re skilled in different modes of communication – Unsurprisingly, communications roles will often require you to engage in a variety of communications activities, so it’s important to be highly competent in multiple communication formats. These include both excellent writing and verbal skills, along with a familiarity with various media formats. 
  • You have excellent interpersonal skills – This is a career path that requires working with people extensively, both within the organization and externally. Because of this, being comfortable talking to many people is a big advantage. This doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert, but you’ll need to talk to lots of people as well as develop and maintain many relationships. 
  • You can connect well with target audiences – Organizations can have very different target audiences, and reaching them effectively will require different messaging, mediums, and tactics. Being a member of your organization’s target audience is often an advantage (for instance, young people may be more likely to understand the best communication norms for other young people), but an ability to effectively reach demographics you’re not a part of is also helpful. 
  • You’re able to understand and synthesize lots of information – As a communications specialist, you’ll need to have a broad understanding of your organization’s work. For instance, working in a research organization that works in multiple cause areas might require you to both have an understanding of this wide-ranging research and, importantly, the ability to distill this for different audiences. 

Who would be satisfied in this role?

Here are some considerations to bear in mind on whether you’d likely enjoy a career in communications:

  • You genuinely love writing – Though there are many forms of communication, experts emphasized to us the specific importance of writing in communications careers. Most comms roles involve a lot of writing, whether for blog posts, emails, press releases, social media posts, newsletters, or other formats. So, if you’re not comfortable with producing lots of high-quality writing, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy a career in communications. You’ll also want to make sure you find a role that fits the kind of writing you enjoy. For instance, some roles involve writing shooter promotional material, while in others you might write long-form deep dives. If you have a strong preference, then it may be important to focus specifically on roles that will enable you to perform the kind of writing you find satisfying.
  • You don’t mind indirect work – As a communications professional, you’ll need to be comfortable with the fact that you generally won’t develop the organization’s primary products or deploy programs yourself. Instead, you’ll mainly focus on increasing the visibility of others’ work – and you may not always receive appropriate credit. Note this isn’t always the case. For some organizations, communications form a core part of their work, and therefore likely to be more central to the overall strategy. 
  • You enjoy covering a range of topics – Communications roles often require you to interact with people across your organization and understand what they’re doing. If you like dipping your toes into a variety of topics, even if these are small sub-areas of a broader organizational focus, then you may enjoy this common aspect of communications work. 
  • You’re emotionally resilient – Communications roles can sometimes require you to work in stressful or adversarial conditions. For instance, some roles might involve engaging with hostile feedback or comments on social media (a role in an organization working on climate change, for example, may involve dealing with militant climate change skeptics). And “crisis communications” – responding to scandal or controversy involving your organization – can put you under a lot of pressure and public scrutiny. 

How to test personal fit

It’s often hard to know how well you’ll suit a career path. Because of this, it’s a great idea to find practical ways to test your personal fit in advance. Here are some suggestions for careers in communications:

  • Just start writing – Finding ways to write frequently on different topics and for different audiences is the first step we’d recommend for testing your personal fit. One great way to do this is to start a blog, writing about anything you want (and there are lots of other good reasons to start a blog, too). If you’re a student, working in a student publication is also a common and effective way to test your aptitude for these roles. Once you start writing regularly, you’ll find out pretty quickly if you can see yourself performing large volumes of writing for your career. 
  • Solicit feedback – External feedback on your writing is possibly the most valuable information you can get, especially from experienced professionals. Try reaching out to people you know, or even people you don’t (courteously!). If you get glowing feedback, this is a great indicator of your fit – especially if it’s from someone impartial.
  • Volunteer for groups and societies – If you’re in university, performing communications work for a student group can be a low-stakes way to test your fit. For example, you could run marketing for a student event or lead the group’s outreach and recruitment for a semester. If you’re not in college, you could consider volunteering for a nonprofit or hobby group. Small nonprofits may be particularly receptive to volunteers taking on some of their comms work.
  • Take relevant courses – Regardless of your career stage, taking a relevant online course (or college class, if applicable) can be great for both testing personal fit and gaining skills. Subjects we’ve heard that can be useful include marketing, nonprofit management, user research, and product management (though note these may not be useful for all communications roles). 

Resource spotlight

Want to think a little more about personal fit? The personal fit chapter of our career guide will take you through several considerations to keep in mind when assessing your fit for any career.

Priorities within communications

Find the right organization

Joining a high-impact organization is often a great idea in any career path. However, because communications professionals work primarily to increase the reach and impact of their organization’s work, their impact is more inextricably tied to the work of their organization than other professions. For this reason, it’s particularly important for communications professionals to prioritize working in organizations already having a large-scale positive impact on the world or that could do so in the future. 

But how can you know which organizations are promising? This is challenging because communications roles are available in so many different organizations. However, there are a couple of ways to assess how impactful an organization is. 

The first is to check whether the organization (or, even more specifically, department or team) you’re interested in joining work on a high-priority cause area. Some cause areas can allow for significantly more positive impact than others, so strategizing over cause areas is vital if you want to increase the scale of your impact. 

At Probably Good, we use something called the ITN Framework to work out how much impact you might be able to make in a specific cause area. You can read more about the ITN Framework here, and more about specific cause areas here!

The second step if you want to have a sizable impact as a communications professional is to find an organization in a pressing cause area that is highly impactful, or likely to become so in the future. One of the most important is the extent to which the organization values reason and evidence in their decision-making, and invests into measuring whether or not they’re actually making a positive difference. These are signs that an organization really cares about ensuring they’re doing beneficial work, which is surprisingly rare—this is something that’s not typically incentivized.

Interested in pointers for how to check whether an organization values careful reasoning? Click here for a few ideas.

  • Examine the organization’s own materials. Organizations will often publish materials such as annual reports and evaluation records that can provide insight into their efficacy. For example, some organizations might exaggerate their achievements to attract more funding. For this reason, it’s worth checking whether an organization is realistic in its claims, as well as whether they take accountability for any errors they’ve made. 
  • Check for external evaluations. The activities of nonprofits are sometimes reviewed by independent evaluators, who assess the efficacy of an organization’s programs. A good report from one of these evaluators is typically a promising sign. Respected charity evaluators include GiveWell, Animal Charity Evaluators, SoGive, and Giving Green. (This check applies primarily to nonprofits.)
  • Examine their funding sources. It’s often a good sign if an organization receives money from funders who are known for valuing evidence-based interventions. Examples include the Gates Foundation, the Global Innovation Fund, and Open Philanthropy, among others. This check applies predominantly to organizations that work in global health and development, where such funding sources are more prevalent.
  • Consult their research and reasoning – The best organizations are often transparent about the evidence and reasoning behind their approach, and why they think they have a path to positive impact. This doesn’t always mean they have a significant evidence base, as working in some cause areas where there’s less existing research can often require speculative reasoning. This is the case for some global catastrophic risks. Nonetheless, if an organization demonstrates an analytical approach to their operations, and either produces great research or draws from existing research (where available), this is a good sign. 
  • Reach out to individuals with experience in the organization. Speaking directly to someone who has worked at an organization you’re interested in can shed valuable light on many aspects of how they function. This check might be particularly valuable for organizations that have fewer public reporting requirements, such as governments, for-profits, and multinational institutions.

For those seeking a communications role that has a positive social impact, it might be natural to gravitate towards non-profit organizations. While nonprofits are a great place to look for communications roles, as long as they’re focused on effectiveness, other organization types like governments, multilateral institutions, and even for-profit companies are also well worth considering. 

Governments and multinational institutions (like the UN or WHO, for instance) often work on pressing issues in global health, climate change, animal welfare, and global catastrophic risks, and typically have many more resources at their disposal than nonprofits. Similarly, roles in for-profit organizations should also be considered. Though typically focused on maximizing profits, for-profits can also produce products and services that help people at an impressive scale. 

Resource spotlight

Interested in how to analyze how promising specific roles and organizations might be to work in? Our career guide discusses exactly that!

Strategies and next steps

Getting into the field

It’s not always clear how to enter a new field. Though there are often many ways into any career path, here are some reliably helpful ways to get started in communications:

  • Undergraduate degrees – Communications roles generally require an undergraduate degree as a minimum. Typical subjects include journalism, marketing, English (or the relevant language in your context) and, of course, communications. Anything with a substantial writing component is likely to provide a good first step.
  • Subject specialization – Having said this, communications roles sometimes require subject-specific experience or education. For instance, a communications role in a climate-change nonprofit might require prior knowledge of climate science. So, if you’re wanting to work in a specific cause area, it can be beneficial to develop subject expertise (for instance, through a relevant college degree) and develop your communications skills alongside this subject expertise, rather than the other way around. 
  • Blogs or student publications – We mentioned starting a blog or joining a student publication as great ways to test personal fit, but they’re also a helpful first step into the field. By building a portfolio of writing, you’ll be able to demonstrate your abilities to potential employers. Writing samples are often part of the application process for communications roles.
  • Other work experience – In addition to a catalog of writing experience, being able to demonstrate other skills such as video editing, event planning, and marketing (among others) is highly advantageous for relevant communications roles. Professional experience in these skills is not required, but independent projects are also a great way to demonstrate your capabilities.

Excelling in the field

There are several techniques that can help you be a better communications professional:

  • Learn to wear many hats – Especially in smaller organizations, becoming skilled at many internal and external communications responsibilities will help you stand out from the rest. But even at larger organizations, understanding the various components of communications work can help you get a better view of the overall picture. 
  • Identify the most important people to reach – Great communication work can be wasted if it’s not directed at the people who can activate change. Working out who to reach is therefore key for amplifying your organization’s positive impact. The concept of ‘back-chaining’ could be helpful in this. This is where you identify how positive change will ultimately happen, and work backwards step by step to identify the people you need to reach, and the message you need to send, in order to reach it.
  • Use the right message and medium – Once you’ve identified the most promising target audience, it’s vital to reach them in ways they’re receptive to. For instance, if you want to raise awareness of an issue among a young audience, then you might want to produce engaging short-form video content. But if you intend to influence policymakers, then you may opt to take a more formal tone in branding and messaging, as well as communicating via venues that lend you credibility.
  • Stay up to date with new media channels – The way people consume media often changes, and this means the best ways of reaching people (especially across different target audiences) will change, too. Try to keep up with new platforms and content formats, as this will help you know how best to reach the people you need to. 
  • Be honest – For most organizations (including nonprofits), there are incentives to make misleading or even false claims in order to appeal to customers and donors or manage their reputation. It’s important to resist these incentives. To have a real impact, it’s crucial to be transparent about your organization’s failures as well as successes, even if this comes at a cost. 
  • Use best practices for measurement and evaluation – It’s hard to measure exactly how much value communications work adds to an organization, especially counterfactually. However, through identifying useful proxies and indicators, you can get some sense of how much value your work is adding. For instance, UNICEF’s communications strategy identified numerous metrics and indicators to assess their success, such as the share of attention they received on relevant news and media items, and the proportion of the public who understand UNICEF’s central mission.

Additional resources