Alison Clark-Dick on narrowing comms budgets

Alison Clark-Dick on narrowing comms budgets
Alison Clark-Dick, Communications Manager at Network Rail Scotland, shares her chance journey into comms and muses on shrinking budgets.

Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

It happened by chance. I studied a joint honours politics and history degree at Strathclyde University and when I graduated I couldn’t find a full time role and relied on income from a zero hours contract. I decided to go a bit old school and proactively wrote a cover letter, with my attached CV, to every MSP at the Scottish Parliament (129 MSPs) explaining why I would be a good addition to their team, what I could bring to a vacant role etc. I didn’t know what role I was looking for but had always had an interest in politics hence why I wrote to the MSPs. As luck would have it, an MSP was looking for a Communications Officer for her team. I didn’t know much about communications as it is not something I had come across before but it sounded interesting and I learned on the job thanks to colleagues and also researching what comms was, how to do effective comms and networking with other comms professionals – the rest is history!

What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

I don’t think you can be a communications professional without being a team player and having a collaborative mindset. Rarely, if ever, can you work in a silo without involving others whether that is internal or external stakeholders.

You also have to be persuasive, convincing and be able to explain the pros and cons of any one approach. Not everyone will agree with your process but a big part of the job is about ‘bringing’ people with you. It is much easier if they agree with you than disagree.

You have to also be flexible. Deadlines come thick and fast and can change at the last minute so you need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances.

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?

I have always worked in public sector comms/PR so the challenge that has always been there for me is the lack of a budget. The purse strings are tightening on an already small budget but it just means you need to be more creative and be clever about the money that you do spend.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

In Scotland we have been unable to work from the office since March 2020 so if I could have anything it would be to get back to the office where I can be with colleagues again. Communications professionals need people around them, which is something that is definitely true of me.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

It is absolutely critical to Network Rail Scotland. We need to proactively engage with our stakeholders about work that is scheduled to take place. It is important they are fully informed about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and if it causes disruption of some kind, how long that will be for. We also have a reactive element where we need to be able to react to incidents and inform our stakeholders quickly and effectively to ensure everyone is kept safe.

What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?

To be yourself. Just be honest.

At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

I think it’s important to distinguish between your internal stakeholders first. At Network Rail Scotland we have office staff and frontline staff. A lot of what we communicate is relevant to both of these groups but sometimes we need to inform these groups about different things. Some things may be more relevant to one group more than the other. This requires creativity in the sense of how you connect to these groups ans to make sure the message is being received.

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?

It’ll be interesting to see how the in-person/online dynamic plays out. Covid-19 has been a big challenge as to how communications professionals collaborate. Working remotely has made certain things slower and more formal. What used to be resolved by a quick chat in the office now takes calls, texts, emails to get an answer. In contrast, some things have become more streamlined and quicker. I’m intrigued to see how over the next 12 months this plays out.