Benjamin Holman on cutting through the noise and avoiding information overload

Benjamin Holman on cutting through the noise and avoiding information overload
Benjamin Holman, communications business partner at Kirklees Council, shares his thoughts on producing comms that stand out in the information age.

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

Communications found me or maybe I found communications either way it was unexpected. I was working for the anti-racism charity, Show Racism the Red Card, straight out of university and I quickly realised how key communications was to the campaigning, raising the profile of the organisation and pushing our messages. I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to pursue a career in comms, and it’s been quite the ride so far. Coming into the communications profession without the journalism background or relevant degree I often find imposter syndrome creeping in. When it does, I try to remind myself that the majority of people feel it at some point, and it always gives me the impetus to work harder and continue learning.

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

There are the obvious core skills of a communications professional such as being able to write to a variety of audiences, understanding the public mood, spot risk, present complex data and policy creatively, and without them I think anyone would struggle in the role.

Away from those core skills though I would say emotional intelligence. So much of our time is spent managing relationships, be that with our immediate team, journalists or within our organisations that we need to have high levels of emotional intelligence to build stronger connections. There may be a view that leaders are the only ones who need emotional intelligence but who is a leader? Of course, those who manage the team and hold senior positions are leaders, but I think leadership goes beyond them. Leadership isn’t just managing down to your team, you show leadership to those who hold the same positions as you, you show leadership to your managers, and you display leadership outside of your team to all levels. Emotional intelligence is key to leadership and we are all leaders.

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 think everyone working in comms will relate to the constant challenge of having to find a way to cut through the noise. We’re in an era of information overload and making your message stand out and be seen is incredibly hard. The average person is now estimated to encounter between 6,000 to 10,000 ads every single day. While I’m sure many will question the figure it’s undeniable that we’re overloaded with information and messaging. But of course, we should embrace the challenge and not curse it…I think.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Mountains of data and insight.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

Extremely well. The team has grown significantly since I started in 2019 and that’s a true reflection of how senior leaders view the value of what we do.

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

I think being easy to work with is a massively underrated career skill. In a comms role you’ll develop hundreds of relationships and if they’re amicable and well managed it’s going to benefit the work and more importantly, your wellbeing and motivation. It doesn’t mean that you avoid difficult conversations, or you don’t challenge ideas. It means that when you do it’s done constructively with the team or organisation’s best interest at heart.

Evaluation and insight also need a mention.

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?

Impact. If that’s through a human story about how a service has changed someone’s life or data to show how your comms has diverted traffic to a webpage, it’s all about the impact you have. No single type of measurement will work for all internal stakeholders, so you need to show impact in ways which will resonate with your audience.

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

The last two years have shown us how easily mis- and disinformation can spread and the how significant the consequences can be if it’s not spotted and countered. I think further advanced software such as social listening tools will be key to finding it and tracking how it’s spreading. How it will be addressed once it’s been found, well I guess that will be a job for communicators!