Clare Parker on 'T-shaped' expertise

Clare Parker on 'T-shaped' expertise
Clare Parker, head of communications at Forest Research, shares with us her take on the toughest challenges in comms at the moment.

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

I was working in broadcasting when a family move to London meant finding a new job. That’s when I joined the Civil Service as a communicator. I think my broadcasting skills set me up for roles talking with and explaining complex issues to the media, public and other stakeholders.

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

I’ve always thought of a good communicator being a T-shaped expert – broad expertise in two or three disciplines, and deep expertise in one. I’ve never met a good all-rounder, but I have come across some excellent teams who are mixed discipline. I think there needs to be a deep-rooted passion in communicating clearly with people at the heart of it.

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

Juggling a range of issues is the biggest challenge. One moment it’s a management or team problem, another it’s dealing with a public enquiry, another it’s planning opportunities with our partners. It’s busy but the variety is very rewarding. The other is educating people to have a specific group of people in mind when they want to communicate and articulating that before we get too far down planning activities. 

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Those last-minute jobs have always been difficult (known as ‘can you justs’). Anything that stops them from occurring would be like waving a magic wand. 

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

Responding to the Covid pandemic opened up the importance of good internal communications. Listening, replying, and delivering clear and concise messages was widely appreciated.  

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

An appreciation of the environment of yourself, your workplace and the people you are trying to reach with your communication is crucial. Never underestimate how differently people consume and react to messages.

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’m all for context. Communication doesn’t happen in a bubble and there are so many outside influences that can impact on successful message delivery. 

Measurement of communication has to be alongside business objectives to be meaningful to the Board, but there’s also a place for evaluating activity delivery in terms of professional development for the communicator. We’re missing a trick by not learning from what we do.

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

The remote workplace is here to stay. It will vary from business to business, industry to industry and person to person. The pandemic fast forwarded conversations about new ways of working. Responding to this effectively, reaching the people we need to reach has changed. Diversification is the key, as is listening and understanding.