Holly Langley, Communications Officer at Hope for the Future, discusses the challenge of reaching those who lack access to digital channels, and shares insightful advice around community building.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I started out in education and community engagement in the museums and heritage sector. I loved speaking to different people who all had varied experiences to share and different needs. I really enjoyed developing ways to support and connect these people and build long-lasting communities. Nurturing this connection to new and existing audiences is what I find so interesting in communications and why I am now Communications Officer at the climate charity Hope for the Future. Clear, accessible and tailored communication is so vital in connecting, educating and empowering people. So much good can come from a conversation; judgments can be reversed, people can be inspired, anxiety can be reduced. I hope to be helping kick off these conversations across the country!
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Be patient: When writing, designing a graphic, or creating a video there can be times when you’re happy with what you’ve produced but something just isn’t quite right. With the fast paced nature of digital communications in particular, it’s easy to keep pushing on and override these hesitations. I think the little things are what make the most difference to audiences engaging with your content. It’s important to carve out time to be your most creative and have patience to find that ideal way of phrasing your message - it’ll make a big difference to the person at the other end of the screen.
Be open-minded: It is very easy to get sucked into a bubble where you are surrounded by people that share your thoughts and values. This can lead to the use of jargon which alienates so many people from the conversation. I think it’s important to challenge your assumptions and always consider the experiences and perspectives of other people. I make a conscious effort to think about how my words and images will make people feel.
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 biggest challenge I face in my role is talking about climate change without making people feel uncomfortable or anxious. We all hear about climate change and more and more of us experience its effects. Very few people have the time or capacity to act. I completely understand if it is not at the top of everyone’s list right now when jobs, housing, health and family can be so precarious. At Hope for the Future, we acknowledge that individual acts are not the only solution to climate change. I communicate the need for engagement with MPs to take larger scale action. We provide training and support for people to have their voices heard. This takes the pressure off the individual and onto a collaborative process with decision makers. The communications challenge is growing awareness of this approach and increasing people’s confidence to go from anxious to empowered.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
Digital communications and social media has brought so many benefits but I do miss talking to people face to face! I do always consider the human at the other end of the screen, but it can sometimes feel like you’re speaking into space. I just wish there was an easier way for charities to cut through the frantic nature of social media and have conversations with their followers in a more genuine and personalised way. I am also very aware of the difficulties of including everyone, especially in the face of digital poverty. It is easy to get swept up in concentrating solely on audiences online, when many are excluded.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
At Hope for the Future, communication is at the core of what we do. Our offer is training people in communication so that they can build relationships with their political representatives and make change. The role of communications is perceived as vital to grow awareness, build communities and educate people across the country. We have some very talented and creative people inside and outside of the communications team so I really enjoy generating ideas with staff on how we can reach more people with what we do.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Planning. I know it seems boring compared to all the amazing technology and creativity involved in communications but without planning, communications can fall flat. I try to make sure I allow more time than I think I need to plan my strategy including aims, target audiences, communications channels and monitoring methods. Attention to detail with planning makes time and space for new ideas, learning from mistakes and successes, and collaborating with partners.
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?
I think among the different ways to monitor your communications, skills and staff expertise can often be harder to pin down. It’s important to keep track of what staff learn from a series of social media posts, just as much as how much engagement they get from external audiences. Measuring confidence and knowledge in particular areas linked to the content that you’re evaluating could be really useful to identify specialisms to build on, as well as skills gaps where you might look for external training.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
I think the next big thing will be decided by the users and audiences of our communications! That’s what I love about where we are right now. Organisations are being led by users and that’s positive. I think we should all be flexible to tailor our communications to the current culture and trends rather than isolate ourselves from popular culture. I want to speak to people in a way that feels genuine and really listen, not just broadcast in a style that suits me.