Lewis Edwards, communications specialist at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, joins us to chat about the importance of soliciting feedback both internally and externally. There's no other way to ensure your communications are as impactful as possible.

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

I actually started my working life at 16 years-old as a footballer, so my journey was quite different. I have always loved storytelling and writing, so I pursued a degree in journalism and found my way into NHS comms after working in the private sector for a little while. I feel comms work is a nice blend of many disciplines, and the skill set required enables you to work on so many projects in many ways. It is the diversity of the role that I enjoy and the people I am able to meet as a result.

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

Listening. I cannot stress this enough. I think this is one of the most important skills my comms colleagues practice. We have to be on the pulse of how our staff, patients and general public are feeling, and what they are saying. This has really been put into the forefront of our work across the pandemic, when staff and patients alike are feeling isolated and facing totally new and unique challenges. Effective comms only works from feedback, and those who create the comms need to disseminate that feedback in its purest form.

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

Balancing planned work alongside operational support to one of the major hospitals in the South West is a day-to-day challenge. As nice as it is to work in a planned way, we have to be adaptable to daily challenges that require our support in an instant or certain circumstances that require us to be very reactionary.

As I’ve alluded above, the COVID-19 pandemic has been like no other challenge. I’ve been really mindful that, certainly at the start of the pandemic, people needed information about how they could work, live and just make sense of what was going on. We are also a small team, so my to do list can quickly be added to.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

I prefer to think about what already makes my working life easier, which is easily answerable by: ‘my colleagues’. This doesn’t just extend to the comms team, but to the wider teams I work with. I thoroughly enjoy and feel energised by interactions with the people I work with and how ideas can be generated from the briefest of corridor chats — something I have missed in the last year and a half.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

I’d like to think it has always been appreciated, but the pandemic has certainly promoted the importance of what we do, and substantiated the connections we have worked so hard to forge. I am lucky that comms is seen as a pillar of the structure of the organisation, and that’s reflected by the breadth of work we engage in.

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

Honesty, and not being afraid to challenge, but being available as a trusted advisor to your colleagues across the organisation. There is nothing wrong in offering up an alternative or a challenging solution, especially if you are well informed of the temperature of the staff in your organisation and the public/customers you serve.

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?

On the theme of listening, we should be actively engaged in the process of feeding back to the organisation. For organisations on a scale such as ours, ensuring that one person can have their voice heard, and detail the potential change that one voice can make is vitally important. So measuring the impact of behaviour change of our employees is something hugely important from an internal point of view and, perhaps a little simply, showing your colleagues the difference that engaging with your comms team can make. I think we can get through so much work on a weekly basis, it is important to detail to the internal audience the level of that work, and the results that work has had. Whether that be securing media opportunities to tell positive stories and the reach of their success, or working with external stakeholders, telling the organisation what worth our work can bring opens up conversation and enables two-way appreciation.

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

After the year or so we have had, nothing beats the power of face to face. So I think a movement back to some really traditional ways of communicating — just talking to people, and listening to them. Although online meetings have enabled work to carry on in the best way possible, I have really missed the chance to engage with people in close quarters.