Rosanna Coppen on tailoring comms to human behaviour

Rosanna Coppen on tailoring comms to human behaviour
Rosanna Coppen, head of communications at Southampton City Council, shares her take on behavioural science and its connection to effective communications.

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

I have always been passionate about writing, story-telling and art and design. I studied English and Art History at the University of Birmingham for this reason, although I was also tempted to do an Art degree.  Perhaps I will do that too one day!  After university I had to think about what careers might combine the things I most enjoyed, and this led me into advertising, where I was lucky to work for two of the largest and most established global agencies - McCann Erickson and Ogilvy.  I also studied for my Charted Institute of Marketing Diploma, which gave me a good grounding in the professional skills required. It became clear I had a natural fit to Account Management - working for clients, understanding customer insights, delivering successful strategies and impactful creative.  But what I loved most, and still do, is the creative process, whether that’s my own or others.  I adore working with copy writers, art directors, designers, illustrators, photographers, actors and film producers.  My role now is much broader than these areas, but this is where I feel I come alive the most.

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

It’s really important to understand human behaviour and swivel the chair so you are looking at the world through the eyes of your customer or client.  To write a good advert you need to give people a good ‘reason to believe’ you, to sell in an idea or strategy you need to understand what the client wants and also what the customer wants and marry the two.  It’s also important to know what questions to ask, and to think through each step in the chain and foresee issues and barriers.  You have to be persuasive, tenacious, diplomatic, passionate, and also analytical.   Three areas of great interest to me are audience insight, behavioural science, and creative that pulls on the emotions.  These three areas are integral to success in communications and marketing.

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

Time is often not on our side in communications and marketing.   Often the demand for communications out strips the ability to do the job as well as one might want, and steps in the process get forgotten or time for good creative thinking gets squashed.   A thirst for the ‘now’ also can lead to late nights copywriting or editing, or writing strategies. What I have found, however, is that challenges can often feel much more manageable with a good team around you.  I am extremely lucky to have such a team, full of flex, ideas and good creative thinking.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

To turn off WhatsApp and emails for half of each day!

A lot of work messages come through on both these channels and can eat up a great deal of desired focus time.  However, like most IT related systems, they also have a good side. I have two young children and they allow me to work from home in a way I wouldn’t have been able to before.  So like all things there are swings and roundabouts.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

I’m happy to say that communications is seen as vital to the organisation, it is understood to be an important component to success.  We meet weekly with the Chief Executive, Deputy Chief Executive and Leader of Southampton City Council and have good working relationships across the broad range of services we provide.  These relationships have only been strengthened by the pandemic, and the need to react to government guidance swiftly with local messaging.

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

I think the ‘not so secret’ secret to working successfully in communications is that you need to truly care about your audiences and the services or products you are selling.  To connect with an audience in writing, visually or verbally you have to be interested in people and what they think and feel.   You have to care enough to put yourself in their shoes and walk around for a while.   This comes much more naturally when you believe in what you are communicating and know that it is important.  The information you are communicating may not always be palatable or easy to communicate, but if you believe in the organisation and services provided, it means you will find the best way to communicate the message so that it is understood.

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?

It is extremely vital to have the metrics to understand how successful you are against your own targets - and those targets should be well benchmarked against your competitors. Corporately we measure channel growth, quality and content development across social media and email marketing, commercial targets we have achieved through outdoor advertising revenue, reduction in print spend, media relations sentiment, staff informed ratings and awareness of corporate values, nominations to staff awards and membership of internal social media channels, in addition to campaign outcomes and outputs. We regularly report on these to our senior leadership team and Cabinet Members to ensure they understand the impact of our work, and how we are achieving against our  5 year Communications & Marketing Strategy.

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

I think a better use of behavioural science in day-to-day communications and marketing is where the industry will naturally move to.  It is there in places, but not always well understood or applied.  I think this will change to become the ‘norm’.  The digital and social media landscape will also naturally grow with potentially new platforms that we need to add into our armour.  The amount of channels that must be deployed to reach the variety of target audiences will continue to grow, and so keeping track and working out the detail behind what works for your organisation will remain crucial.