Jennifer White on being a news junkie and having a strong work ethic

Jennifer White on being a news junkie and having a strong work ethic
Jennifer White, senior PR and content manager at Strutt & Parker, shares with us her accidental journey into comms and the many skills required for comms success.

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

Completely by accident! I was originally going to do a history degree but a teacher at the time put me off the idea by saying it was a useless degree. I ended up doing some work experience in a PR agency in Liverpool and the rest they say is history. I loved the buzz of the office, creative brainstorming, fell in love with writing and enjoyed working on different client accounts.  After this, I decided to do a PR degree with a year in industry so I could get experience for my CV and it was the best decision. You can never underestimate the importance of learning on the job and I tried to soak up as much as possible while I was there. I decided not to apply for a big agency and got my placement in a very small agency in Manchester but they had some great clients and they were two of the best people I’ve ever worked with and still have great memories. They were incredibly talented comms professionals but also kind and went out of their way to help me develop in my career and there was no such thing as a stupid question. This had a huge impact on my future management style…

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

There are lots of skills and attributes required, being a people person is essential and a strong writer is non-negotiable as well as having a passion for the news agenda! I’ve tried to instill this in teams I’ve managed but the ones who live and breathe news stand out by a mile. The ability to be agile and not precious is incredibly important. You need to be adaptable to work in new teams, with new management and you need to move with change and not get set in your ways or even writing style. Comms is ever evolving and it’s up to us to stay on top of trends and push brands forward.

However,  the one I think can’t be taught (sorry!) is work ethic. A lot of comms activity relies on ideas and concepts being driven forward and convincing the powers that be and I think a strong work ethic is essential to be a successful comms professional.

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

I think the fact that comms is ever changing and so much is outside of our control is the biggest challenge. You can have your whole day planned out and then breaking news story happens, which mean you have to push the to-do list to one side, cancel your forward planning meetings and push out reactive comms. Although this is a challenge, I also love this about working in comms!

A particular challenge that stands out for me in a past role is when I took on a maternity cover which included heading up Marketing & Comms. It would have been a good learning experience but then Covid hit, which meant I had to rip up the handover notes and write a digital marketing strategy for online delivery. This was at the same time as juggling all internal comms. With the daily government announcements and adapting all comms for different audiences, alongside marketing the new online delivery, it was definitely my biggest challenge to date. Still a good learning experience in hindsight but definitely a baptism of fire…

What one thing would make your working life easier?

I think clear strategic direction is essential for successful communications. In previous roles pushing for clarification on the bigger picture and the vision for the future holds comms back. It’s a painful exercise but businesses need to be clear on their overall strategy, with comms as an essential element of success. Comms does hold a mirror up to the organisation but the organisation needs to be willing to act on the changes required for success.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

In my current organisation comms is valued but we need to champion the benefits of PR that is linked back to the wider business objectives.

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

Be agile and NEVER do what has just been done before!

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 am passionate about measuring success and proving the value of comms back to the business. You’d be surprised how many companies still use AVE and vanity metrics. Comms is a strategic function and good measurement leads to smart strategy. Data is key here and metrics are vital. It is important to invest time and resource into research to set benchmarks. I am (rather sadly) a huge fan of dashboards that link back to business goals and show how comms adds value to the business.

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

It has to be tech related! I’m interested to see how augmented reality will be part of future comms campaigns as well as the widespread adoption of artificial intelligence.