Helen Fox on getting the basics right

Helen Fox on getting the basics right
Want to learn from the best? Our interview series is the best place to get advice from those with their finger on the pulse of what's new in the comms arena.

Helen Fox, Head of Communications and Engagement at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, shares her insights on the prevalence of big data across the social landscape and delves into why it's so important to nail the basics. 



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


I suppose I’ve always wanted to work in this field. My degree was in marketing and management with my first ‘proper job’ in market research and marketing around 15+ years ago now. During this time and particularly working within the NHS, my role has changed to be more communications-focused.


I still consider myself to be a marketer at heart though.



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


First and foremost, you need to make sure you get the basics right – understand your audience, what your messages are, the most appropriate channel for your audience and how you’ll measure success.


Other skills include:


Setting your strategy (planning), what do you want to achieve (objectives) and how you’re going to get there (tactics).


When thinking about your audience and messages, remember “what’s in it for them”, that way it helps you tailor your messages and make them relevant. If you’ve got time, and most of the time you don’t, test them with your target audience.


Listening is also a good skill to have and that needs to take place both within your organisation and also externally too. This is so you can understand what’s happening and you can tailor your strategy as appropriate and have that continuously evolving approach.


You can’t do everything, so it’s best to focus on three key things at a time and do those well.


Be a good storyteller, people relate to people so it’s important to get this across in your messaging and not being a corporate robot.



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


Everyone has probably said this, but it has to be the covid pandemic. I changed jobs in the midst of it and it was certainly interesting. I went from working in a national NHS communications role to working front line in a hospital during wave 2. I was in at the deep end and a true sink or swim moment.



What one thing would make your working life easier?


Being able to do 20 things at once – I’m not sure that’ll ever happen though.



How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 


I’m really lucky as communications is valued where I work, particularly at director level. Our team also has good working relationships throughout the organisation.



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


I’m not sure there is one, or at least I’ve not discovered it yet.


Like most jobs, it’s about understanding how you work, your strengths and weaknesses and that of your team. Together, you become a pretty formidable communications team.



At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our comms clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?


Making sure you’re evaluating and measuring is important otherwise, how else would you know how you’re doing? You can use the information to continually tweak and look at what’s working and what’s not. You need to set your KPIs and objectives and measure against those to determine your success.


It’s also about looking at how the work that you’re doing makes a difference so you need to blend your output and outcome measures.



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


Probably artificial intelligence. We’re already seeing it starting to emerge through the interpretation of big data and its use within the social landscape too.