George Emery, digital content and comms manager at the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, joins us to share his take on the future of comms and essential skills for success.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and being creative. More recently in my career I’ve been developing my skills in storytelling through videography.
Although it might not be among the more obvious paths into communications, my degree in International Relations and Politics put me in good stead for this career.
It helped me develop my skills in debating and arguing or defending a position or theory. In communications, especially in the press office, the skill to persuade, engage and inform has proven invaluable on several occasions!
After an internship at university in marketing I moved towards communications as a career plan and would eventually move more to media relations and then digital communications. In all areas I’ve valued the ability to be creative – none more so than in my current area: digital content and communications.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Confidence, flexibility, an attention to detail, innovative thinking ‘outside the box’ and a willingness to be creative.
But probably most importantly in my opinion is the skill to not let a challenging experience set you back.
We can all doubt ourselves after a mistake or a misjudgement and in communications a mistake such as a typo or in a response to media can be very public. But it’s about not letting that follow you around.
Confidence isn’t the same as arrogance. In my view the latter isn’t an asset but a liability in communications. Confidence is not letting challenges knock you for six but learning from mistakes and embracing challenges.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
The obvious answer is the workload, as I’m sure it is for most people working in communications.
We strive to ensure our content calendar is as full as it can be and to mark every awareness day and event we can – while also communicating in the most innovative way key public health messages, supporting recruitment to our Service and keeping the public informed around how they can help the NHS help them during periods of high demand.
There is only a finite number of hours in the day in which to do every story justice.
A particular challenge has been ever-evolving and relentless digital communications campaign around the COVID-19 pandemic. In London Ambulance Service we were at the forefront of the capital’s response to the pandemic on a number of occasions and although we achieved some of our highest ever engagement on social media and our website, it was relentless and at times very tough.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
Flexibility in terms of being able to work from home has made my working life both easier and far more enjoyable. As a team, we’ve achieved an effective and smooth balance between office working and home working.
Personally I’ve found a happy medium with two or three days in the office. I am more efficient with my time when I’m in: timing my video production and edits for those days and have been able to get more done in the days I’m working from home. London Ambulance Service providing the required IT equipment promptly in 2020 to enable easier home working was crucial and invaluable.
Ensuring these experiences continue to influence our thinking in how we work and not gravitating over time to how things were will continue to make my working life easier.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
The role of communications is, thankfully, respected and understood by other departments in London Ambulance Service. This is because what our Service does is at the forefront of public health, so being able to share vital updates and information with public (and indeed staff and volunteers) is seen by operational and other corporate colleagues as of high importance.
We are also recognised as a vital player in major incident planning – not least because of legal obligations to ensure effective crisis communications in the event of a major incident.
In my view the COVID-19 pandemic cemented this even further – in terms of Internal Communications as well as External Communications. Indeed our Internal Comms team have deservedly been shortlisted for an NHS Communicate Award for Internal Comms and Staff Engagement around reaching staff and volunteers during the pandemic.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
For me it’s having or developing the aforementioned skills and attributes on innovation and strength to learn from mistakes and challenges – but also not pigeonholing yourself into one area: trying new things and always wanting to learn a new skill or take on a new challenge.
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?
There is a risk when working in communications that we become too reliant on measuring our outputs and content by stats and figures. While important, I’d argue sometimes it’s sharing the actual content rather than its performance that is important.
At London Ambulance Service, in the early summer of 2020 we produced a high-quality video about the Service’s response to the first wave of COVID-19 – which featured the staff and volunteers from the frontline themselves. We viewed our colleagues as a key audience of this video, despite the main target audience being the public. We recognised that staff and volunteers would value this as a reflection of their hard work and we have the most positive feedback for this piece of work that anything before it. We didn’t share any stats on how many retweets or views – we let the content speak for itself and I think that is a strong way of presenting comms work.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
I think social media is at an interesting junction – especially the ‘traditional’ channels like Facebook. A key part of our digital communications strategy is storytelling through video and we’ve adapted this in recent months towards shorter, snappier clips – to attract the Instagram Reels audiences. I think short, concise (TikTok style video, if not always on TikTok itself) is the best way to reach younger audiences.