Paul Wadsworth, External Communications Manager at Yorkshire Building Society, checks in with us to outline the importance of clear, honest and open communication. Keep reading to delve deeper into his perspective on the role external comms plays within the wider organisation.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I kind of fell into a communications role by accident. I was working as a fundraising administrator at Cancer Research UK when an administrator role came up in their media relations team. I was lucky that they saw my capabilities and invested in me and I worked my way up to a senior regional press officer role. That is when I moved across to Yorkshire Building Society to manage external communications activity across their corporate social responsibility agenda.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
Honesty. It is the number one thing in any relationship and especially so in a communications role. Whether it is speaking truth to power to senior leadership, talking to a journalist or any communications content you are pushing externally. Make sure you are always fully honest.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
One of the main challenges faced in an external communications role is the fast-changing earned media space. Dwindling media outlets, regional media titles especially have disappeared locally not to be replaced by anything substantive really in the digital space and coupled with increased competition for share of voice against other organisations. However, this does provide opportunities for diversification in external communications roles to grow your owned channels (digital/social/customer) and build your own communities. I think it also makes our industry work harder to in the end tell better stories and produce more engaging content.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
I’ve been lucky to work for two organisations that have highly regarded the importance of communications and the work that we do. One of the main functions an external communications professional has is to protect the organisational reputation of their employer. I also think that the pandemic (I bet you thought we were going to get through an article with no mention of the coronavirus) has only served to highlight to all organisations the need for clear, honest and open communication which can only be a good thing for our industry.
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?
It is the unicorn of PR and external communications really, showing the true return on investment that external communications can bring to an organisation and can sometimes mean we are seen as a somewhat nebulous function. What I would say though is that there are plenty of KPIs that should be being presented to senior leadership. These could be for example opportunities to see/reach/tonality/penetration of key messaging/spokespeople used/case studies/imagery.
Also increased brand and organisational awareness (via brand tracking/Ipsos mori) and increased traffic to organisational websites and increased social media engagement, reach and followers.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their career?
Find your own professional voice and ideals and stick to them and I don’t think you can go far wrong.
For me, that was deciding pretty early that I wanted to work in the third sector or for organisations with real corporate social responsibility, ethical and sustainability credentials as it is something that I am hugely passionate about. I am massively aware that I have been privileged and lucky enough to do this though and that it may not be workable for some people.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Storytelling. Everyone and everything in the universe have a myriad of stories just waiting to be told. Listen for them. Find them. Tell them.