As Communications and Marketing Director for SUEZ, Naomi Jones has responsibility for both the communications and marketing teams for the UK and Sweden. From starting her career in agency life working in public affairs, she became a specialist in sustainability communications, crisis management and corporate communications, with experience spanning industries from retail to banking. In 2009, she became SUEZ group’s youngest-ever head of department, aged 28.
Naomi has also co-authored the book ‘Managing a Crisis: A Practical Guide’ (2006, Palgrave Macmillan) and is a member of the CIPR’s STEM committee. Read on to learn more from Naomi's rich and varied experience.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
Actually, I originally wanted to work in politics! I started my career in local public affairs and it was a fantastic start to my career. From there, I realised that I loved the entire spectrum of communications and marketing including internal communications, customer communications and marketing, public affairs, brand, corporate affairs. I am so pleased internal communications is no longer seen as the ‘poor relation’ and is finally being recognised as being as critical as external communications.
I like working with different audiences and stakeholders to shape the direction a company goes in and have always found working in communications to be interesting, rewarding and a profession where there are plenty of opportunities to take the initiative.
I also have to believe in what I am selling and love working in an industry which is making a difference and helping to tackle huge issues such as climate change. When I started in this role 12 years ago, very few journalists were interested in discussing environmental issues. Just look at where we are now.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Much is made of writing and creative skills and yes, these are valuable if you want to work in communications. You need to be able to think outside of the box, be engaging and translate difficult concepts.
But honestly, I think the most important skill is having the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The more you understand and listen to your audiences, the better your communications will be.
You also have to have strong ethics. Essentially, you are the guardian of your company’s reputation and responsible for the role your company plays in local communities etc. The recent shift to ethical PR and communications is a very welcome and important one.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
Everyone that has ever managed a crisis or the communications during an incident can testify to how full on and exhausting it is, and comms pros the world over have had to work at this rate of high intensity for well over a year. So that has been tough (especially with also trying to home school 8 year old twins!). There have been many highs and good things to have come out from the last 14 months but yes, that is a challenge I hadn’t faced before at this level. It is good that we are now starting to return to a more balanced place of working on longer term, more strategic communications as well as the more immediate.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
Really positively. I am lucky to have reported to two CEOs who really understand the importance of communications, and of engagement and internal communications alongside external and customer communications.
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?
Measurements that closely align to business objectives. It is important to work closely with other departments in your company to define how you will measure.
I am also a big believer in measuring outcomes as well as outputs and use the updated Barcelona Principles as our guiding set of principles.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their career?
I am a big believer in getting experience across a range of different areas of communications and ideally giving both agency and in-house a go.
I was convinced I wanted to work in a public affairs agency but actually was better suited and found my home in leading a broader department in-house.
Getting that range of experience early on will help you to identify what you are interested in as well as making you a better communicator.
I would also say build your network early on. The communications profession is such a friendly and supportive one so get active on Twitter and LinkedIn and volunteer or get involved with the CIPR and other groups. One of the most wonderful things to have come out of the pandemic is an incredible network of amazing people who all supported one another.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Although the perception of communications is about communicating outwards, those who work in communications know the power of good communications is being a good listener. It is this that leads to an engagement rather than broadcast approach.
You also have to love working with people and building relationships.
And lastly, never stop being curious and a bit nosy!