Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I’d love to say that it was always my passion, but I actually fell into a communications role after University. My childhood dream was to be a children’s presenter and my degree was much more production based, but jobs in that field were very hard to come by outside of London. When I returned to the north east, I applied for a job at a PR agency and started in an admin role. I took the time to learn from the bottom up and absorb what everyone was doing around me. It helped me understand all aspects of a busy communications office and that everyone’s role plays an important part. I’ve been in various communication’s roles for over 20 years now and never really looked back.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
You need to be curious by nature and always questioning if what you are doing is the right thing and will make a genuine impact. Being a good communicator is as much about listening as it is about talking and being a good listener is crucial in this role.
You also just need to be yourself. Openness, honesty and authenticity goes a long way, and you want to be the person that people think of when they need help and advice.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
Balancing what’s needed and what’s wanted is often a challenge and being able to manage expectations is an important skill.
COVID-19 has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced throughout my whole career, but equally it’s forced me to step outside of my comfort zone in so many ways and I’ve learned a lot as a result.
We have some great comms people in the NHS in the North East and Cumbria who have been amazingly supportive. There have been days where everything felt massively overwhelming and a bit scary, but having people to call on to ask advice and just confirm that you’re doing the right thing has made all the difference.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
More time to pause and reflect. We work at a very fast pace and I can be juggling multiple projects, requests and meetings at any one time. I’m at my best when it’s busy and challenging and can easily get swept up in operational stuff. This has been absolutely necessary during the last year or so, but it’s also important to look forward, take stock and get my head back in planning mode.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
I am very fortunate to work in an organisation that values the role and importance of communications and engagement. We have a very supportive senior management team who appreciate our skills and knowledge and most importantly listen.
I’ve been very involved in the operational response to COVID-19 which has given me invaluable insight into how the organisation works, how the wider health and care system works and has helped me to build really important relationships. I was still relatively new to the NHS when COVID-19 hit, but I’ve probably gained more experience in the last year or so, than I would have in five years working in normal times.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
I don’t think there is a magic formula. For me, it’s about being passionate about what you do and really believing that you are making a difference. You also need to be able to build productive relationships with lots of different people from lots of different areas and never make the mistake of thinking that you know it all and have nothing to learn.
I also think having a strong gut instinct is also massively important — if it feels wrong, it very often is!
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?
We are big on measurement as it helps you understand if what you are doing is right and has meaningful impact in the right places. We could spend hours trying to justify our role and return on investment, but the real value comes from demonstrating how our work supports the strategic vision and values of our organisation. We don’t always get things 100% right, but good measurement helps you to see what works and what doesn’t and that’s how we learn and evolve.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
I hear Artificial Intelligence talked about a lot. Given the growing need for immediacy, I can see how this is both exciting and mind blowing at the same time. Personalisation is something I have been interested in for a while now, especially in internal comms. There’s a lot of very clever, intuitive technology out there. It’s going to be very interesting to see how comms changes over the coming years and how messaging will become much more customised and preference based.