Luisa Robertson on creativity, resilience, and empathy

Luisa Robertson on creativity, resilience, and empathy
Luisa Robertson, communication's manager at Tom's Trust, joins us to chat about her journey into communications and what she thinks are the most important skills in comms.

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

I kind of fell into communications really. My background is in journalism, but I had to change the direction of my career when my eldest daughter was born as she was quite poorly. This also made me re-evaluate working in the publishing industry as it all felt insignificant compared to the enormity of some people’s lives. Visiting Great Ormond Street on a regular basis was a humbling experience. When I was able to return to work, I worked as a contractor initially, working with public sector organisations on staff magazines and other written content and I soon realised that I loved working in communications. I then went on to secure a permanent role within the NHS, which meant I got to do work that I loved that also really made a difference. Working in communications is varied, challenging and rewarding – something I feel even more now I have crossed over into the charity sector.

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

A huge one for me is empathy – walking in someone else’s shoes helps you to understand human behaviour and people generally; it allows you to see the whole picture, which in turn helps you to understand the needs of the audience and how you communicate with them. Being relatable and a ‘people person’ also helps – as well as an ever-cheerful disposition! Being good at communications means you’re great at listening to a story, but also helping that story to be retold in a way that is accessible to everyone.

I think resilience is essential – something I’ve continued to develop both personally and professionally. Not every idea or campaign will go as planned, but it’s important to reflect and learn so you can do even better next time and not take criticism or ‘failure’ too personally (which I still struggle with at times!). Having confidence in your ideas and skills is also important (although not something that always comes easily when you’ve had a career break). Creativity is at the core of most communications too – even the dry stuff needs a touch of creativity to make it relatable.

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 in some organisations, communications still isn’t always valued as a strategic function. Communications is so much more than ‘making something look pretty’ or churning out press releases. Making the communications voice heard is an ongoing challenge in many places. I’ve generally been fortunate with the organisations I’ve worked with – I think the biggest challenge for me in the past was fitting family commitments around sometimes unsociable hours, but the whole approach to flexibility as a result of the pandemic has seen some really positive changes. As a working mum, the challenge of achieving work-life balance can be a hard one. Working part time gives me flexibility to achieve that. In the past, employers were much more rigid in their thinking around flexible working but there is definitely a shift in attitude.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

People placing value on the role of communications in an organisation and ensuring its part of the overall organisational strategy. Unlimited tea and chocolate would also help.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

I’m extremely fortunate in my current role. Our co-founder is very pro communications as a whole and especially proactive around media relations. The team is quite small, so the fact that a communications manager role even exists shows just how much value is placed on communications activity.

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

The secret of success to me is to keep showing up. You’ll get knock backs and criticism but to keep showing up, keep working on the good ideas and to try not to take things personally.  The next I would say is to keep shouting about it! Tell everyone in your organisation what you’re doing, tell the outside world what’s happening within your organisation and keep being seen. Obviously, there’s a whole lot of strategic planning, execution and delivery to accompany that too. Finally, I think it’s important to never stop learning. Standing still isn’t an option in our industry so you need to keep evaluating, learning, and reflecting. If things don’t work, adapt and change, if they do work, decide how you can make your practice even better next time.

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’ve recently been learning a lot more about measurement as part of a Leadership Communication course with Socially Mobile and it’s something I’m keen to understand and deliver in greater depth. I personally think it’s essential to be transparent and sharing all your measurements with internal stakeholders if you’re going to have trust and openness in your organisation. Knowing what you’re doing, and what you’re doing well (and not so well) matters to everyone and helps everyone to understand the value of effective communications. It helps everyone to learn what you’re good at and where you can improve. Without knowledge, you can’t improve – as a team or as an organisation.

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

I recently worked with a client on AI and the Internet of Things which I’ve found way more fascinating than I thought I would. I’d love to see a way AI can be integrated into communications activity – although I don’t think it is about to replace writing any time soon which is a relief! There’s no substitute for the human brain in terms of use of language and creativity. I’m interested to see how technology and automated processes can help to free time to focus on the irreplaceable elements of communications though. Imagine having to do less of the bits you don’t like or that take lots of time, but more of the creativity and crafting of good comms. I think it will be interesting to see how Metaverse could be used too – thanks to the pandemic and our life in front of a screen, we’re possibly more open to adopting virtual integration into our everyday lives.

In terms of communications channels, I think we’ve already seen how successful social media vertical video content has been, but I think we will continue to see a rise in organisations adopting TikTok and Instagram Reels.