Brooke Courtney on doing a lot with a small team

Brooke Courtney on doing a lot with a small team
Brooke Courtney, head of internal communications at Crisis UK, joins us to chat about being ambitious with limited resources.

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

I think it’s safe to say that’s it’s been a happy accident! My focus had always been to work in a role that would enable me to support others. I majored in sociology at University and after graduating, worked in a number of frontline roles, both in the health and social care sector and as a civil servant. Around 7 years ago I moved into housing, taking my people skills into a role in staff engagement for a London-based housing association before moving on to work for Crisis in 2017. I joined Crisis as a Senior Internal Communications Officer and over the past 5 years have worked my way up to head of department and turned a small team of one into a slightly less small team of three.

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

Much of my first 2-3 years at Crisis was spent building relationships and a reputation for myself. I spent a lot of time saying yes to things to build a strong sense of trust and dependency across the organisation and to position myself as someone who does what they say they’ll do. I don’t think I’d be in the role I am now had I not invested my time in this way. For any communicator it’s incredibly important to be approachable, to be curious in others and their work, to be a great listener and to be able to draw out the key points of any piece of work; a lot of complexity can be removed by simply distilling things down to their basic elements.

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

Crisis is an incredibly ambitious organisation - it’s one of the things I love most about working here but it’s also something that creates a few challenges when it comes to prioritisation and workload. We’re a small team, supporting an organisation that’s pretty much doubled in 3 years and until recently have had very little scope around what we do and don’t do. This is our current priority, to carve out the role of our team, the value we can bring and to make sure we’re putting our energy and resource into the right spaces to have the most impact. Right now, we’re challenging ourselves to always ask ‘what impact does this have and how does it support our mission?’, if we can’t see that golden thread, it’s not something we’ll pursue.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

I already feel fortunate to have two brilliant team members but an extra pair of hands (or two) wouldn’t go a miss!

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on internal communications that we’ve never before seen. Previously, staff communications were seen as a bit of an ‘add on’, something that came at the end of a long line of actions, often after a bit of nagging from me. But then Covid hit and all of a sudden staff are looking to you, not only for the practical guidance on what they should or shouldn’t do, but also for reassurance, for someone to say ‘it’s okay, we’ve got this’. It’s been a steep learning curve but I’m proud of the work we’ve delivered over the past two-years and am grateful for the opportunity to influence Crisis’ approach to staff welfare and support – it’s a drum I’ll continue to beat!

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

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking the right questions. Often teams will come to us with a ready-made solution without really knowing what it is that they’re trying to solve or remedy. Being able to dig into things to try and understand what the goal is to then work collaboratively to problem-solve is really important - and a great opportunity to share knowledge and skills.

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?

Evidence is really important to us at Crisis and is something we’re trying to build into the work that we’re leading on as a team. At the moment we’re exploring audience preferences to help us tailor our messaging and to make sure we’re reaching staff in the way that they want to be reached. We have staff in a number of different roles and locations, so a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. My aim for the future is that we’ll be able to draw on data and insight to help tailor our communication and engagement approaches and to provide a range of different channels and tactics to make information as accessible as possible. 

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

Reflecting on the past two-years, I think there will be a big focus on the development of digital workspaces. Providing people with the right kit and technology is one thing, but there’s a huge question mark on how organisations maintain or rebuild their culture now that they’re working in such a different environment. I’m excited to see what new and innovative ideas might come into play and how we build a genuine sense of community in the virtual space.