Colette Gill on learning to pause

Colette Gill on learning to pause
Colette Gill, head of communications at Merseyside Recycling and Waste Authority, shares with us her take on the three essential skills for comms success.

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

It’s a bit of a strange story – I actually studied to be a Home Economist – my degree is a joint one with the other half being Public Media.  So, I thought I was going to work for a food retailer or a magazine looking after recipe and product development, food ideas and delivery.  However just before graduation I had the opportunity to start as a PR executive at a local PR agency and I was bitten by the bug - so I guess I chose communications, and that was the end of my home economics career!

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

There are a few skills that I think are essential:  

i. The ability to listen: often we are concentrating so hard on getting our voice heard that we forget to listen – and we need to listen actively so that we’re absorbing and appreciating the information being given.

ii. Managing time: Understanding the demands of time and deadlines. It’s important to develop the ability to adapt, work and change at speed sometimes.  It’s all part of the delivery of effective communications and definitely a skill that can be learnt without sacrificing creativity.

iii. Learn to pause: Recently I’ve been using this technique more and more – breathing and stopping myself from giving an immediate answer to a question or query.  Don’t give in to the self-imposed ‘Countdown’ clock in your head that wants to give a sparkling solution and the right answer right there and then. There is always some time (albeit sometimes very short) to reflect for a moment and then decide on a path of action.

Why do I think that these skills are important? Probably because these are skills that we should also use in managing our day to day personal lives– even before we get to work.

Having these skills and applying them in both spheres of life will help you to develop insight, integrity, and empathy for what you do.

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

Working within the local government sphere and as part of statutory and legal structures presents its own challenges not least the perception of this sector being bogged down in red tape, slow process and delayed decision making. So, one of the biggest challenges is overcoming these perceptions.

Working with, and for the general public should be seen as a vocation – delivering essential services that allows millions of people to live their daily lives – everything from child safety, managing green spaces, providing social care services, education, and schools, to ensuring their bins are picked up. I think these challenges are the favourite part of the job – because I’m working for the place I live and love, my community, and my neighbours.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Probably no one thing in particular but maybe more time to plan and be creative, and less emails (!).

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

Communications is viewed as a key resource and an essential to how we operate as an organisation. We try and ensure that we’re building communications actions and initiatives into all of our public facing activities and we’re always striving to improve our internal and stakeholder communications. We’re a small organisation with limited resources so we have to be inventive and creative , and senior management, as well as other colleague understand and embrace that approach.

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

I could probably list a dozen things - but the ones that spring to mind especially for me are: flexibility, the ability to adapt and change, a thick (ish) skin and most importantly to love what you do !

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?

Simplicity is the key – establish what it is that people need to know either as a one off or regular reporting – and then find a way you can present that in a simple clear and visual way (backed up by the stats for those who need them). We present regular visual topline results from communications campaigns, social media channel use and web engagement as well as any additional social value impacts.

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

I’m hoping that they’ll be able to clone me, and my clone can do a few days in the office instead of me!  But seriously I can see the next big and significant communications developments to be in the delivery of messaging and campaigns - be that through more personalisation of the messages or the methods and channels of delivery using new technologies – whether that be that within the home or in out of home settings.