Charli Bevan, Digital Communications Manager at Ofwat, chats with us about the four personal values that guide her work and shares advice for those striving for continuous improvement.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I took a year out to work abroad when I graduated and managed to land a graduate job in merchandising, which is what I really wanted to do at the time. Three weeks in and I hated it! It wasn’t creative enough for me so I made the slightly risky decision to quit and try and find work back in hospitality for a while until I figured out a plan B. This was back in early 2015 when (believe it or as it’s only 6 years ago!) social media and digital communications were starting to become more mainstream – I didn’t even realise at the time it could be a career, not clicking that there, of course, had to be a person behind corporate accounts!
I sat down and created a ‘map’ of all the things I enjoyed and had skills in, it was a huge brain dump but helped me search for jobs based on what I actually like doing – With no solid paid experience in comms apart from some volunteer work during my university years, I got lucky that a small charity took a chance and hired me as their Digital Engagement and Marketing Officer and I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity and step into the world of comms! I worked there for 2 days a week, still waitressing on the side, for 6 months before going full time working in digital communications, network and event coordination. I was with The QNI for 3 years before moving from the charity sector to start my government communications career.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
I think it’s really important to have a set of personal values that guide the work you do and to shape your personal brand, whatever field you are in. Mine are Authenticity, Creativity, Compassion and Empowerment, and here’s why I think they are useful for comms:
Authenticity: Human comms will always win over corporate jargon in my eyes. Being authentic, honest and open as an organisation will resonate with audiences and boost trust 99% of the time. A company that is great at doing this and are a huge inspiration to me are the one and only Innocent, everything they put out is spot on, and even if it isn’t they still manage to turn it around in an authentic, clever and honest way!
Creativity: Thinking outside the box and doing things a bit differently is a must for anyone working in the ever-changing world of comms, especially digital comms. I love working in digital as everything is so fast-paced, this allows for some degree of trial and error, if a tweet doesn’t quite land it will be old news pretty quick, the immediacy of social media gives the opportunity to test (and learn from) creative ideas that may have been rejected in the past for being too risky when budget or long term planning was involved! Striking the balance between strategy and not missing the moment on social media is something that can be tricky, particularly in government comms which often involves lots of sign off, but having creative sessions with the wider team regularly can help everyone gauge where the line might be for content so a ‘trend’ doesn’t become a missed opportunity.
Compassion: Comms can often go in peaks and troughs in terms of how busy you and your team are and you also often have to work with stakeholders from around an organisation (or externally) who may have very different roles and barriers in the way of their work that you may not be aware of. I find compassion goes a long way, it’s nice to be nice and if something doesn’t quite go to plan or a deadline isn’t hit, as an old manager at McDonald's (my first job) said to me when the queue was mounting and things got stressful, ‘it’s only burgers and chips’ – the majority of things are fixable if they don’t go to plan, and it’s better to work together on a solution rather than getting frustrated.
Empowerment: The best managers I’ve ever had empowered me to step up, take the lead on projects I could add value to and trusted me with new ideas. I think feeling empowered to vocalise innovative solutions to problems is really important in comms - it’s a fast-paced, ever-changing landscape and if you aren’t working in an environment that feels safe to be yourself and share your views there’s a very real danger of your team’s work becoming stagnant.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
In previous roles have learnt a lot from experiences that involved implementing new ways of working or new innovations that disrupt the status quo. I’m actually really glad I had these experiences now, as it taught me the value of being equipped with research, evidence and evaluation to demonstrate the value of change and also how to strike a balance of managing different stakeholder groups and decision-makers.
My previous role before Ofwat was in internal comms, and these skills came in particularly handy in that arena – internal comms isn’t for the faint-hearted, it’s a really important role in an organisation and is often not given the credit it deserves. I’d really recommend all comms professionals doing a stint in internal comms at some point in their career – I learnt so much and have come away with lots of transferrable skills that I now apply to how I approach digital comms, particularly during evaluation.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
Pre- pandemic I would have said less of a commute into the office, but that’s all changed now I’m primarily home-based, it’s been nice to get a better work-life balance (I used to spend 3+ hours a day on a train 5 days a week and I’m not sure how I did it!) but that said, I do miss the social side to the office and being able to bounce ideas around with colleagues across a desk – some of the best work happens that way, so I guess a magic carpet to get me to and from offices quickly to have that interaction and still be home in time for dinner!
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
With a focus on producing clear, concise, targeted and relevant communications, the Communications team are there to help colleagues’ work make a real impact. Staff from across the organisation really respect comms as a discipline and know we as a team are there to support them and their wider work.
Our comms team has wide-ranging expertise in internal and external communications across all platforms and disciplines and work collaboratively to build a communications package that helps staff and the organisation as a whole make a real difference. The team’s new customer insight function also enables us to better understand customers’ priorities, behaviours and experiences, to ensure we’re focusing our work in the right areas. All of this multi-disciplinary experience has resulted in a really well-rounded function that is a core part of Ofwat’s strategy and wider organisational culture.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
In yourself: Authenticity, there’s nobody else like you, who can do what you do, in the way you do it. Owning what makes you and your communications style unique will get you further than trying to mould yourself into how you think you ‘should’ be.
In a team: Forward planning so you are set up work in an agile way and have time allotted for continuous evaluation with clear feedback loops.
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?
Not just the ‘what’ but the ‘why’ – metrics that give us a picture of what’s happened (like how many impressions or engagements a post got) are helpful to give an overview, but it’s the ‘why’ that will help improve work for the future. Was it posted at a certain time? What was different about the design or format? What tone was the copy written in? What hashtags did it use?
Delving deeper into the possible reasons why something worked well (or didn’t!) is key to ensure we learn as we go and can tweak strategy and content to continuously improve, safe in the knowledge it’s based on evidence.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
It’s not really the ‘next’ thing as it’s already here, but with the head of Instagram recently confirming that they are shifting focus from being a photo-sharing app to an entertainment and immersive video platform to compete with the likes of Tik Tok and Youtube, I think it’s safe to say video is here to stay!
In a recent Ofwat campaign, our data showed that video content, particularly videos with sound or voiceovers, were more engaging than static graphics which suggests that a focus on video is a sensible move for everyone from influencers to government bodies!