Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I remember when I was studying for my A-Levels, I either wanted to go in to journalism, teaching or PR. When it came time to choose my degree, I had a great tutor who helped me select my BA (Hons) which I did in communications; and as part of my degree, I did a work placement for a district council. My passion for public sector strategic communications ignited there, and ever-since, I have loved working in local government or more substantially, NHS communications. I truly believe public sector integrated and strategic communications directly helps the populations we serve. This has been even more sharply borne-out during the pandemic, where we have seen public sector communications and engagement deliver incredible work.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Flexibility, ability to stand back and see the bigger picture and from every side – sometimes a difficult task if you have to say unpopular things! – and to remain calm. Sometimes a large part of our job is providing reassurance to colleagues and helping to smooth tricky issues, so remaining calm, honest, open, compassionate, inclusive, and proportionate, are key skills. I also think humour, when times are hard, is vital. Remember to centre yourself!
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
System working, nuance and ambiguity. NHS and social care services are integrating ever-more, and as comms professionals, we collectively work on thorny issues, which offers fabulous opportunities but is also a difficult set of skills to acquire. My organisation is the ‘convener’ for the system, which means we bring people together, respect differences and approaches, to find a common way forward. My communications colleagues in our partner organisations are fabulous and we work very well together, so this helps a lot!
What one thing would make your working life easier?
If colleagues could work out their strategic objectives and aims before asking for communications support, and treat our profession as truly strategic. Don’t just ask us to commission a video. I thoroughly recommend Helen Reynold’s Comms Cartoons, if you haven’t seen them. They are very en-pointe!
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
Very well. We are a respected team and we work hard – and our perspective, advice and counsel is appreciated. Our director of comms leads from the front, and has set a great example for us all.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Patience, flexibility, and the ability to recognise things change quickly and adapt to changing priorities. Also, a thick skin. If someone adjusts your work, it’s not personal.
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?
Outcomes. It’s hard to demonstrate, but show when comms efforts have had real behavioural or discernible outcomes. Not just outputs.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
Localism, and more engaging social and digital platforms. The pandemic has revolutionised how we work and communicate, so there’s massive opportunities with how we engage with communities. In health, and running alongside this, are health inequalities and where communications, engagement and insight can be a conduit for change. Societal inequalities are (perhaps) more pronounced than ever before – thanks to the pandemic – and an intersectional and insights-driven approach to tackling health inequalities will be vital in the coming years.