Matt Edwards on digital disruption and the demand to upskill

Matt Edwards on digital disruption and the demand to upskill
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.

Matt Edwards is Digital Communities Manager at the MHA, an award-winning charity helping to improve the lives of over 18,000 older people across the UK. In this interview, we sat down to chat with him about how digital has disrupted traditional methods of communication, and addressed why communicators should never pigeon hole themselves. 


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 traversed a mixture of communications, PR, marketing and content production. I think as digital disrupted traditional methods of communication, the role of communications professionals has slowly broadened. I’d say that whilst I didn’t make a conscious decision to move from communications, it’s been a natural progression to move beyond pure internal comms.


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

I think the best communications people tend to be the ones who are most curious about the world around, I think that journalistic inquisitive streak is one of the things that’s probably helped my career grow the most. The ability to spot a good story, and then tailor it to any given audience comes from that ability to distil sometimes complex messages into easily understood takeaways.

I’d also argue that a level of agility, adaptability and flex is also critical – being able to pick up new skills, but also shift priorities is also always key. I think over the years I’ve become far more organised, so that’s an attribute, that whilst I never feel I’ve truly mastered – has improved over the years.


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

In my current role of producing content in a large charity, the sort of challenges I face are around advocacy of why we might be doing something and trying to ensure continual buy-in. It’s also around producing relevant, good quality content at scale. I’m responsible for our video content production – our audience of elderly people have been massively impacted by COVID-19, often feeling very socially isolated, so there’s a voracious appetite for new content.


How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 

We have an excellent and passionate communications team within MHA. I think the challenge is always to balance the volume of messages with personal relevancy and there’s a number of great communications channels within MHA which balances this need very well.


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?

Whilst I’m not currently employed in a strict communications function I think success around engagement and reach are critically important – as is looking at ROI linked to specific comms activities. If you have the luxury of time, I’d always look to do a wash-up session at the end of a project and look if we’ve hit all of our targets for that piece of work. I’m also a big proponent of auditing comms efforts on an annual basis.


What advice would you give to those at the start of their career? 

I’d say try and not pigeon hole yourself. You’ll often work on specific campaigns, activities or projects where you find yourself enjoying certain parts over other elements – it’s normally to not love every aspect. Find out what you’re good and try and create opportunities to do more of that kind of work.

Join groups outside of your organisation and get inquisitive about what other communications teams/people are doing, try not to be too insular or myopic.

I’d also consider that our role is sometimes to be the guardians of our audiences – relevance is key, brevity is best and consider the time colleagues have to digest what we produce and always try and tailor messages for any given segment or audience group.


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

I think accuracy is important as is reviewing content before it goes live – if you’re not a great copy writer, then practise. If you’ve got someone on your team who is a better at reviewing copy, help them spot your typos and grammar. If we distil down our core function, it’s to keep people informed, if your channels aren’t effective then try and measure this and come up with suitable solutions to improve or replace them. I also think that it’s important to avoid anecdotal bias, use data to make your case, it’ll make your ability to effectively influence easier.

At the end of the day it’s all boils down to what do we want people know, feel and do.

Finally, think about the range of skills you bring to the table – communications has broadened to include such diverse digital skills as web development, podcasting and video production. Try and embrace these complimentary production techniques  and upskill at every opportunity.