Denise Fraser on adapting to the constant change of comms

Denise Fraser on adapting to the constant change of comms
Denise Fraser, head of communications at Seafish, shares with us her take on flexibility and resilience in comms.

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

I always enjoyed creative writing at school and getting an idea down on to paper. Although it wasn’t something I ever really considered as a career. At 19 I decided I wanted to get out of my home city of Edinburgh to experience life elsewhere and figured the best way to do that was to go to University.

I looked at a few prospectus’ and found a degree in Public Relations at Leeds Metropolitan. In all honesty, the degree was less important than the experience but this looked like something I could do and would enjoy. 

It was an excellent course which gave me lots of practical experience through work placements. So when I left University I got a graduate job with a PR agency really quickly and I’ve worked my way up from there.

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

You need to thrive on constant change. The comms world is completely different from when I studied at University and we’re always having to learn and adapt from every campaign and activity that we do. What worked last year might not work this year. I always encourage my team and my colleagues to try something different. 

Resilience is important too. Communications is subjective and you often need to deal with different opinions. Not everyone will like what you create or a campaign might not hit the mark. It’s important that you learn and evolve. Also, stick to your guns if you know something should be done a certain way. As the communications expert, you have the experience and knowledge that other colleagues might not have so don’t let yourself be overruled.

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

One of the biggest challenges we have at Seafish is our huge remit. We cover seafood from catch to plate so this means we have more to communicate than we can handle as a team. Brexit and Covid-19 magnified this challenge as the seafood industry have needed us more than ever. Internal engagement, which we also support, has had to adapt too. It’s leaving very little time for headspace and thinking time which we need to keep our communications effective. I also need to be mindful of mine and the team’s mental wellbeing to protect us all from burnout. Thankfully Seafish is a very supportive employer and we try to be more realistic with what we can achieve. 

Simplifying content is a challenge too and one we’ve been dealing with for a while. We work across complex topics and we’re trying to be mindful of our various audiences across the seafood industry and beyond. As a team, we are trying to upskill our colleagues in writing more simply which is making a huge difference. 

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Clearer objectives and a measurement culture. It would mean we only spend time on the activities that are supporting the organisations objectives and we’d have more evidence of what does and doesn’t work.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

It’s seen as a vital cog in the wheel. As a knowledge sharing organisation, if we’re not communicating what we do then we question the point of doing the work at all. In the past, communications was seen as the bolt on to a project once it was complete. We’ve worked hard as a team to get the organisation to think about the communications at the start of projects and this is really paying off.  

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

You really need to believe in what you’re communicating. If it doesn’t match your own values or make you feel good about your own purpose then it’s harder to motivate yourself. 

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?

Whatever measurements were agreed at the start of a project! People only really understand data if it is relevant to them so that’s why we constantly push people to think about what and how to measure before we do anything. If it’s part of the plan then they should be interested. 

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

I’m hoping more people and more budget! Organisations are starting to see the value of strategic and proactive communications and the communications job market is very healthy.  I also think internal engagement is going to have a bigger piece of the comms pie. The legacy of the pandemic is more remote working. This means internal comms needs to work harder to reach and engage everyone.