Gabriele Severini, Communications Manager at the NFDA, checks in with us to discuss the need for empathy in communications. Read on to learn more from his unique experience within a large membership organisation.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I have always been passionate about languages and how people communicate. I studied languages (translation and interpreting) at the University of Genoa in Italy and during my third year, I spent a semester in Malaga, Spain, for my Erasmus exchange programme. This was a fantastic experience that broadened my perspective of the world and pushed me to move to London where I did a Master’s degree in International Liaison and Communication. When I finished my studies, I was actively looking for a role in comms, but I was unsure whether it was going to be PR, social media, SEO or what else. Thankfully, I got the perfect opportunity to work on a lot of distinct but correlated areas.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
The world of comms is so broad that specific skills may vary depending on your main focus. However, writing and verbal communication skills are always important. In particular, the ability to quickly understand complex issues and "translate" them into an easy to digest format. I also think interpersonal skills and a degree of empathy as well as emotional intelligence are useful to help connect with people and communicate effectively.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
Challenges vary. Be ready to scrap your plans if necessary and meet tight deadlines!
The nature of a job in comms means that there will be times when you plan your working day in a certain way, but things get turned completely upside down and you need to manage a PR crisis or promptly respond to something that has occurred externally.
One of the main challenges I encountered especially at the beginning was dealing with topics I was not fully familiar with. You often have very little time to "become an expert" in a certain subject and, eventually, the greater your understanding, the better your comms outcome. This is challenging but equally very stimulating as you have the opportunity to learn something new all the time.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
I'm lucky to work for an organisation where the role of communications is central. We are a membership association, representing businesses led by busy senior leaders who usually have very little time on their hands. We need to quickly identify and communicate relevant announcements and changes in legislation or produce content of our own. Communicating clearly and timely to our members is paramount, either directly or as a consequence of media activity such as a press release or a social media campaign.
At React & Share, we’re obsessed with measuring our efforts to prove our worth to internal stakeholders - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to their board?
Again, it depends on the main focus of your comms role. We have worked on digital campaigns where clear metrics are usually available and KPIs can be easily set. If your main focus is PR the traditional way, as it's been for me, do measure your coverage and report back on it. Brand recognition and, more in general, awareness of your business will grow as a result of successful PR activity but it may be difficult to prove it. Luckily, we live and work in an era where most things we do are measurable one way or the other so, keep track of your achievements.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their comms career?
Bring your ideas to the table, in comms things can be improved in many different ways. Enjoy it, keep learning, and know your worth. A career in communications is exciting, especially if you work in a sector that you are interested in. Not only there are always plenty of things to learn both about the company or industry where you work, but also about comms best practice. The basics remain the same, but the way things are being done is continuously evolving, from PR to digital marketing. be critical, but not too harsh on yourself as mistakes happen.
Some may underestimate what it takes to write a good press release or run a successful social media campaign. There's a big difference between doing something and doing it well. Make sure you know your worth, are aware of the things you have learnt and your skills. At the same time, collaborate with those who can help you! Not only from a comms point of view but also and especially in terms of sectorial expertise. I find it useful and rewarding to listen to colleagues who are more knowledgeable than me about industry-specific issues and then try to convey a message that reflects as accurately as possible their opinions.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
It depends on how you define and measure success, but, in general, business-wise, having a strategy is fundamental. Keeping in mind your target audience and the goal you want to achieve through your comms will always benefit you.
Having said that, I often feel we need to keep it as simple as possible. There are so many different channels and solutions available to us that we can easily overthink and overcomplicate our work.
On a personal level, listening to those around you and working closely with them is a must!