Kirk Millis-Ward on resilience, empathy and artificial intelligence

Kirk Millis-Ward on resilience, empathy and artificial intelligence
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.

Kirk Millis-Ward, Director of Communications and Engagement at the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, chats with us about the role that metrics play in honing strategic focus and shares his thoughts on the role of artificial intelligence in communications. 


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

In its simplest form communications is about connecting with people. 

I originally trained as a physiotherapist and the thing I loved most about my time studying physiotherapy was the challenge of building rapport with our patients quickly. 

That is something that stayed with me when I retrained as a journalist and it helped enormously as I switched beats over the years.

My journalism career brought me back to the NHS after I made the jump into PR as a media relations specialist and I couldn’t be happier about landing back in the health service.

The ability to connect with people is an essential skill for any professional communicator – whatever the sector or discipline.


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

To make those connections there are a few important tools to have in the toolbox. 

Empathy is fundamental to good communications. The ability to understand what our audience might think or feel underpins so much of what we do and provides the foundation for the advice we provide.

Resilience is crucial too. The last year has shown just how tough the day job can be and that it’s often Communications Teams that take the brunt of organisational responses to crises. We need to do more to invest in our own health and wellbeing and as leaders in the industry, we have a duty to do more to support our teams.


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

Public-sector communicators have had a year full of challenges and it’s been no different for me. I would say though that the pandemic has helped secure a seat at the top table for communicators. We have proved our strategic value time and again, but the challenge now is how we support our communities through the recovery from COVID-19, shaping the conversations we have and making sure our actions match our values.


What one thing would make your working life easier?

A Twitter edit button.


How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 

Communications and Engagement is seen as a strategic partner and an enabler of improvement. We have worked hard to prove our value and the positive impact we can have on the people that use our services.


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

Giving good quality feedback is hugely important for senior communicators and it requires a mix of honesty, empathy, and diplomacy. We should all remember that our relationships are a valuable currency!


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?

For me, it’s about impact not output. Communicators should be less focused on counting activity or measuring reach and much more interested in what happens because of their work. 

Measurement should be used to demonstrate how we have attempted to deliver that impact. Good measurement helps us to maintain our strategic focus and stops us from getting distracted by day-to-day firefighting.


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

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is going to fundamentally change how people live their lives and communicators are going to have to navigate major societal change while we work out what it means for our profession. Big data has the power to be truly transformational.