Lindsay Plumridge, Communications and Stakeholder Manager at East Sussex Highways, provides expert advice for those at all stages of their comms career. Read on to learn more about the importance of collecting data and the dangers of miscommunication.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I started out with big dreams of becoming a music journalist. But after lots of work experience at the likes of The Times and NME, I realised (quickly) that it wasn’t for me.
One journalism degree later, I bagged a temporary position in the local councils' press office and I learnt a lot. The fast-paced environment was a great fit for me. Writing, talking to people and being creative was what first lead me to journalism and it’s those things that I now love about communications.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Being resilient, proactive and organised are so important. Being able to juggle lots of things going on at the same time is a biggie. You also need to be able to influence people. Explaining to others that keys messages need to be altered so that our stakeholders can understand it can be hard work! People won’t always agree with you but being able to clearly explain why you’ve made a certain decision is key.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
The hardest part is turning generally dry content into something that’s engaging. Working in highways; engineering and road maintenance speak can be hard to convey in a way that everyone can understand. You also need to fully understand the subject in order to get those messages across – so there’s lots of learning involved.
It’s difficult when things go wrong. When the communications team aren’t kept in the loop and customers aren’t updated it's frustrating. It’s about being able to bounce back and put things right for the next project.
I don’t think everyone appreciates the amount of planning that goes into communications. Often people think it’s a bit ‘fluffy’ and that we sit on social media all day, that’s not the case. We are always working on plans, whether that be an annual communications plan or updating content planners and project plans. We love to plan!
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
Luckily for us, people get it. It took a while but people do understand that 9 times out of 10 a mistake made is due to some form of miscommunication. Because of that, people are really good at getting the team involved and working out how we can help them.
The COVID pandemic really shone a spotlight on internal communications and making sure that everyone has access to key information and that those staff relationships continue to thrive even though we are all apart. It’s really helped improve peoples understanding of just what’s involved to do that.
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?
We try and capture or much information as possible. It informs any changes that we want to make to help us make improvements. We present all sorts of information on who our stakeholders are, what they are telling us about their customer experience and then we can use that to improve that journey.
Sometimes people want all the detail and others just want the headlines. It’s about working out who wants what information and presenting the key information. What detail is going to result in the best improvements.
It’s not always about making improvements. You need to show when something is working well so that you can build on that in the future. Our data tells us that our customers love our gritting service, so we share lots of content about that part of our business as we know people engage with it.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their comms career?
Ask questions. You will never know everything and there is always an opportunity to learn something new.
Speak up. If you don’t agree with something then say. You need to let people know your view, in a way that’s constructive.
Build relationships. Get to know your stakeholders and build good relationships with them. You never know when you may need each other and if nothing else, finding out about other peoples stories is interesting!
Be pro-active. Don’t just wait for something to happen. Always look to see what you can work on next and what communication opportunities there are.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
I don’t feel like there’s any big secret to being successful in comms, it looks different to everyone. I think there’s a lot to be said for being nice, trusting others and building relationships. It’s all a lot easier if you trust the people you work with and, more importantly, they trust you. You need to be thick-skinned at times and not take mistakes too seriously, it happens to the best of us. It’s all about learning from those mistakes and adapting.
Remember that you are the expert in your field, that’s why you do the job that you do! Others will make great suggestions but that’s not always the case. Be strong in putting across your point of view with someone who may not understand comms as much as you do. Trust your instincts!