Nicky Speed on being prepared to take risks

Nicky Speed on being prepared to take risks
Nicky Speed, head of corporate communications and external relations at Edge Hill University, joins us to chat about challenges in comms and taking risks.

Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

From a really young age I wanted to be a journalist. I love people, I love stories, I could listen all day to interesting characters, I loved writing at the time too, and so it seemed like the perfect job – being paid to be nosey. My time on newspapers was a fantastic experience but I quickly realised I didn’t have it in me to be a national hack, and being a homebird I wasn’t prepared to move to London either. I decided to move into the world of PR as many journalists tend to do - and I’ve never looked back. I love what I do, you are using so many of the same skills you learnt as a reporter in the world of comms – and more!. I still get that buzz too when one of my press officers is onto a big story.

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

For me, empathy and listening are absolutely key. You are the eyes and ears for the organisation and the best placed person to understand public mood. Being courageous, prepared to take risks and challenge the status quo are also important attributes, if you’re too risk adverse nothing will ever change. You need to be able to build relationships, influence, persuade and negotiate – and also be very diplomatic at times as you come across so many different personalities.

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

I once had someone who would say to me, ooh can you just make this all whizzy, it used to make my blood boil. Having said that, I like a challenge and was able to educate that person and break down their stereotypical views to enable them to understand the real value of strategic communications.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

An email free day would be bliss. Or a personal chaperone to make sure I get to all my meetings on time.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

The leadership team understand the importance of communications and values the role my team plays in effective reputation management. I’m regularly asked to present to groups internally about the power of good communications which means I’m in a fortunate position to be able to shape or change perceptions and increase people’s understanding about how vital our work is to the organisation.

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

Being prepared to take risks - feel the fear and do it anyway is my motto. Also learning from others, I’m always looking outside of the sector and encourage my teams to do the same. I learn from my team every day and they learn from me. Technology alone is constantly moving and you need to keep on learning to stay on top of your game.

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 be clear with stakeholders about the objective and show impact. In every campaign plan, while we will always share metrics on the softer measures such as engagement, sentiment of coverage or conversations, clicks, open rates, visitors etc, we will always try to demonstrate how our work has made a difference and resulted in that clear call to action. Keep evaluating your work and sharing with colleagues - even if they don’t ask for the metrics.

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?

Audiences want more authentic comms, they care about big causes, equality, diversity and inclusion, social justice, sustainability. We will need to demonstrate the social impact of our work more and more and ensure that our content is genuine. I don’t really think we’ve got to grips yet with the pros and cons of AI either and how it will impact on the profession but  it is here. Video is going nowhere any times soon and new platforms and trends will keep emerging so keeping up pace will be key to survive in the ever-changing world of digital communications.