Louise Banks on misunderstandings about comms

Louise Banks on misunderstandings about comms
Louise Banks, head of communications and engagement at Mid and South Essex Health Partnership, shares with us how she saw external teams start to appreciate comms functions in new ways at the start of the pandemic.

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

I’ve always had an interest in news and current affairs and enjoyed writing from an early age, with my Dad a PR lead, I followed in his footsteps. I started off in policy and parliamentary affairs with the CBI, but moved on to press and parliamentary work and then got the buzz for media. Later on in my career, I moved further into communications and engagement, and became fascinated by supporting people, particularly those who are harder to reach, looking at the best way to help them understand about managing their health and care.

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

Personally, I think working in communications you need to be outgoing, flexible, able to multi-task and able to understand often complex information and boil it down to its simple form. The outgoing bit definitely helps when you are asked to address local patient groups or to present a plan / strategy at Board level and bring it to life, telling the story and helping people at all levels to understand and buy in to your narrative.

Flexibility is key as no two days are the same, clients/news agenda moves fast and you have to adapt with it.

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 Communications is still a little understood profession. Expectations for comms is that we are fixers and often from executives, for them they see only the bells and whistles, asking for national news coverage is for them the pinnacle of any communications. I had an interesting conversation with a colleague today, when we were re-evaluating the purpose of a group I sit on. The group was set up at the height of the pandemic to enable us to assess quickly situations unfolding in the care sector and support them with comms around the latest changes to government advice. With changes happening almost hourly in the beginning, the challenge was to reduce the burden of comms from the centre and to make this digestable for stressed Care managers.  My colleague openly said: “I never realised what an essential role communications does in making information accessible and reaching out to audiences.” I felt that was a win for Comms!

What one thing would make your working life easier?

An understanding of the head space you need to come up with an effective strategy and good messages that will actually make the changes people want, or support behavioural change.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

We are garnering more respect, since the pandemic we came together as a system to provide a one stop / agency style support for the Mid and South Essex Health and Care Partnership. We have been able to celebrate our wins with awards and are present now at meetings where we can advise on where communications will be needed and to which audiences and on particular platforms – we are in demand!

Still some way to go with some teams though  - comms can still be the last to know!

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

You need to treat every day as school day, keep on enhancing your knowledge and learning, for instance joining CIPR gives you an opportunity to do CPD and never think you have to provide all the answers. I always consult colleagues with any challenges and talk to the people I need to communicate to before putting something together. This helps me to understand what might work and what might not.

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?

I was going to say in the challenges section, sometimes measurement of successful communications campaigns can be difficult, especially when it comes to behaviour change. But I think the basics are website hits, social media reach and comments, media achieved. If you have time to do a baseline survey of knowledge of a subject and 6 months later, another one to see if your comms has made a difference, that’s always a good option to prove concept.

Case studies are a great way to report back too.

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

The podcast has already been a big thing in leisure but I think it will be even bigger in internal comms, helping managers/execs to deliver key messages.

I think we will see more virtual events or hybrid events for engagement – we have started to see this post pandemic, where this is still a nervousness about holding large scale events. Online will continue to be the norm, but with a face to face element for those who want it…making it the best of both worlds.