Katy Brownbill on being a specialist generalist and working in the NHS

Katy Brownbill on being a specialist generalist and working in the NHS
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.

Katy Brownbill, Head of Communications, Marketing and Engagement at the NHS Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group, checks in with us to chat about the last twelve months of NHS comms. Read on to find out more about the need to keep going and being prepared to kiss some frogs. 


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

My degree is in psychology and this has given me a real interest and passion in people and their behaviour. Communications is so important and significant in supporting people, instigating behaviour change and reinforcing positive behaviours and changes. Working in the NHS, this has never been more important than it has been over the past 12 months or so!

Really understanding what motivates people and what matters to them really drives my thinking for engaging and communicating with patients as well.

I also have a background in the hospitality industry which always helps when it comes to event management!


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

You need to genuinely be a people person – if by nature you’re not able to place yourself in the shoes of the people you’re communicating with and to really understand what motivates them your communications won’t have the authenticity that’s needed.

Being curious is also essential, some may see this as challenging but being able to ask the right questions to really drill down to the essence of the matter in hand is a real skill. Slightly controversially you need to be a great keeper of confidences, this is not to be underhand or sneaky but being a trusted advisor is a really important role.

You also need to be super-resilient, flexible and be willing to turn your hand to literally anything!


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 could mention COVID as a particular challenge but that goes without saying for pretty much everyone in COMMS over the past 12 months.


How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 

Really positively and I am aware of how privileged I am. I work as part of a small team who is responsible for both communications and engagement so it’s a really broad remit. Our executive team and our Governing Body really see the value of strong and authentic communications and take responsibility for this – understanding that it is a golden thread that runs through the organisation and is everyone’s responsibility, not just the domain of a few people in one team.

The support means that we’re quite rightly held to account for the work we do and the way in which we do it but this leads to thinking and doing things differently with a real focus on our communities and our staff.

We have a whole host of execs and clinical leaders who are keen to be involved as well – whether it’s talking heads, quotes or even staring in our Tikor engagement videos!


At React & Share, we’re obsessed with measuring our efforts to prove our worth to internal stakeholders - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to their board?

This is a tough one! I’ve focussed in this interview on how important people and their behaviour is in communications yet effectively measuring behaviour change and the impact this has is one of the most difficult things I have found in terms of measurement.

The days of measuring success and effectiveness simply by counting the number of ‘bums on seats’ or followers seem a long time ago and now I’m very much focused on quality. The best question to pose or to reflect to a board is the ‘so what’ – because of this then that – the difference and impact is the most important thing to measure regardless of numbers.


What advice would you give to those at the start of their career? 

Keep going and be prepared to kiss some frogs! Not every industry or business will suit you, your values and your style and you won’t suit every field – try to get as much experience as possible to find the best fit for you – once you have this you will find that the passion and drive will follow.


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

Being a specialist generalist – I do believe that communications is a specialist skill but that when working in communications you should be a generalist, able to have experience of pretty much everything. There are things you’ll be better at and things that you’ll enjoy more but being a jack of all trades is a real secret of success and will provide so many different and varied opportunities.