Nick Thompson, head of communications for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, shares insights from his long experience in the industry.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications?
For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance? I actually started life as a PE teacher, but moved into journalism when I realised it was possible for me to do. To move to London I crossed over the great divide and became a press officer at Westminster City Council before training in all areas of communications over a ten year period.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Commitment, persistence, and an ability to work with a whole host of different people with different skills, styles and expertise. If you can tell a compelling and relatable story, you are 50 percent there in communications. The rest is hard work, but rewarding.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
Budgets are always a challenge, especially in local government, but also perception I still meet a lot of people who think communications is a press office, here to spin something and make an organisation look good. The role of a modern day communicator is totally different, we put audiences first and often have to distill very dense or confusing information into easy to understand and accessible formats. We also spend a lot of time arguing for truth and honesty within the organisations we work for, I can say with certainty that this is the case in every organisations I have worked for.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
More time, without giving up leisure time! Communications is often more about dealing with competing priorities, rather than doing one project or task to your absolute best. That is a shame, because on the odd occasion I see other communicators given time and space, they often turn up with something brilliant.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
Slightly old fashioned, we deal with the press, but we are on a journey and educating an organisation in what you do is often just as important as what you do. I still haven’t really managed to explain what I do to my parents though – so I’m obviously not an expert…!
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Cliché alert. But it is genuinely hard work, and a willingness to understand challenges and opportunities before tackling them. It is so important to educate yourself every day in what other people do.
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?
Always, always feedback the evaluation reports that demonstrate what you do – whether it is a story of success or a story of learning. It is crucial that internal audiences understand the principles of campaigns, and how a communications project is always fluid and never set in stone. It is also useful to feedback any successes that demonstrate a change of heart or a change of mind, in your target audiences. Demonstrating changes in behaviour is a hugely powerful tool.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
Has to be the ongoing changes to digital – into augmented reality, AI, and how social media continues to develop around the ever-increasing clamour for regulation