Kate Ellis, Digital Communications Manager in the Government Equalities Office, chats with us about the constantly shifting goalposts in comms and explains why digital comms should never be dismissed as the poorer relative in the comms family. Read on to learn more from her diverse experience.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in digital communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I wouldn’t say working in comms was something I consciously set my sights on. I always wanted to be a women’s fiction editor (and was for a while!), but whatever role I’ve done, I’ve always made digital communications a part of it because I really enjoyed it. It’s something I’ve become really passionate about, so I decided to make the permanent move into digital communications two years ago. And I’m really loving it! I’m learning so much about communications as a whole, but especially how digital fits into the traditional media and campaigns space, and how it really holds its own.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Comms is such a fast-moving, ever-changing space. So I think it’s really important to be:
1. Dynamic – you have to be able to go with the flow of constant change and moving goalposts.
2. Bigger picture thinking – no matter what part of comms you work in, it’s all about stepping back and understanding where you and what you’re working on fits into the bigger puzzle, and to always keep in mind the objectives of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
3. A team player – you really can’t deliver anything alone! It’s so important to be able to work with others, whether it’s your wider comms team or other people in your organisation who are key to delivery.
4. A self-starter – you have to be willing to just get stuck in and give things a go!
5. Adaptable – I think it’s so important to pick up skills in different areas of comms, and be able to flex to work on different things, whether it’s digital content plans or picking up journalists’ queries.
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 biggest challenge for digital communicators is that they’re expected to be multiple people in one: photographers, videographers, graphic designers, animators, words people and analysts. There’s absolutely no way you can do all of these things well! And if you can, you are an absolute genius human who needs to be cloned and given to digital teams everywhere – hit me up.
I find that you can excel in two, maybe three areas, and can be okay/good at the others. But that is essentially five different jobs. So I think the challenge for digital teams is to make sure they have people who can cover all areas.
I also don’t think organisations put enough resource into their digital comms teams, and I think it’s because people often don’t get digital. And it can be challenging to change perceptions. But did you know that there are 53m active social media users in the UK? There are 53m people at our fingertips, just one button away! And the fastest way to reach them is through digital comms. So digital comms definitely shouldn’t be seen as the poor relation in the comms family!
At React & Share, we’re obsessed with measuring our efforts to prove our worth to internal stakeholders – what measurements do you think digital comms teams should be presenting to their board?
I think it all comes down to what your objectives are.
If it’s about brand awareness and reach, then you of course want to be showing reach and impressions metrics. If it’s about influencing and changing attitudes, it’s engagement.
And don’t forget to shout about your increase in followers. I like to share big milestones with senior management, so every now and then they’ll get an excited email from me saying we’ve reached X-amount of followers on our channels. It never hurts to remind them just how many people you’re talking to!
Something that I find really helpful to do to prove digital’s worth is to send around a social media round-up, in the same way you would a news summary, if a big announcement has been made, or you’re running a big event. Showing key stakeholders’ live reactions and comments can be invaluable.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their career in comms?
Just say yes to opportunities. I’ve said yes to working in Athens, Greece (which kickstarted my career in book publishing!); a secondment with Downing Street; a stint at the Foreign Office during the pandemic; and my next escape is to work on digital comms for the G7 Summit in Cornwall. Even if you don’t absolutely love every single experience, I guarantee you will come away with new skills and you’ll be so glad you did it. As my dad always says to me about every role I’ve had: “it’s good experience.” And he’s never been wrong!
I’d also say to really think about what kind of comms role you want, and what your dream organisation is. The very best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is to make sure the values of the organisation you work for match your own personal values. I was convinced I wanted to be a fiction editor, and when I got there I couldn’t work out why I wasn’t happy. And when a careers coach asked me whether my values matched the company I worked for, it all clicked into place. They didn’t.
My absolute passion is equalities, and I’m really into politics, so working in the Government Equalities Office is the perfect match for me. To get to talk about gender equality day-in-day-out is what I live for. And I’ve never been happier in a role!
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
For me it’s two things:
1. Building relationships with people in- and outside your organisation – you need good, strong working relationships with people inside to make sure your comms is the best it can be, and outside to help you promote what it is you’re
2. Be willing to keep learning – comms, especially digital, changes all the time, so you have to always keep one eye on technology and trends! A great way to do this is to sign up to Matt Navarra’s Geekout newsletter – a weekly, free resource on all the social media news and more that you need.