Ruth Jackson on macro, micro, and strategic comms

Ruth Jackson on macro, micro, and strategic comms
Ruth Jackson, communications manager at Cambridge Enterprise at the University of Cambridge, joins us to chat about switching work modes on the fly and the shift to strategic comms.

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

I started out as a radio journalist with the BBC – my dream job at the time - but I didn’t like either the hard-bitten environment of the newsroom or the shifts. A move to Cambridge found me in an administrator role with Cambridge Arts Theatre. Within a year I’d been promoted to Membership Manager, a role which gave me my first experience of marketing communications. I was hooked and have since developed my career through roles in the private and public sectors, both B2B and B2C.

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

A passion for what you’re doing, integrity, and resilience. Passion because it’s very hard to communicate effectively if you don’t believe in the messages you are delivering; integrity for building trust and conviction; and resilience because communication often involves change, and it can be tough leading people through that.

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 am constantly juggling different projects and switching between the macro and micro as I go from strategic to tactical issues and back again – I love the stretch and variety, but I certainly need a strong coffee to get me powered up in the mornings! I think the biggest challenge though is every communicator’s - convincing my audience – be that my colleagues internally or customers and other stakeholders externally – to engage with what I am communicating.

A particular challenge was delivering a brand update for Cambridge Enterprise two years ago. It was the focus of my first year in post and required support from senior stakeholders at the University and the Board. We decided to go for a hard launch which was great fun but a lot of work and pressure to get everything ready in time – as I was presenting the revised brand to the company, half the team was upstairs managing the switch on the website and delivering brand packs to everyone’s desk. We love cake at Cambridge Enterprise, so we even marked the occasion with a branded three-tier cake and some bubbly. 

What one thing would make your working life easier?

A team of elves who magically get all the little jobs done for me! 

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

Historically I think it was largely seen as a tactical resource with little understanding of how communications can really add strategic value to a business. That’s started to shift over the last few years as we’ve leveraged awareness and engagement through integrated marketing communications supported by a strengthened brand. Now our colleagues are more likely to ask how we can support a project rather than to simply ask for say a flyer or an event. They have certainly got used to us asking ‘Why, what is it you’re trying to achieve?’ rather than simply saying ‘Sure thing, I’ll start working on that right away.’

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

Being bold, courageous, and humble. You need to think big ideas and have the confidence to communicate them, but you also need to have the humility to listen and learn from others and to be flexible.

Practically, I’m a firm believer in the value of joining a professional body like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). It’s essential for ensuring you keep your skills and knowledge sharp and for building your professional network.

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?

Our team provides regular reports to our senior leadership team, and we also feedback at our company meetings. We’re continually evaluating our progress against our marketing and communications plans and iterating as we go. It’s important to use the analytics available to you on your different platforms to measure and report back on the effectiveness of your campaigns but you then need to take time to pull out the narrative behind the numbers for your internal stakeholders – presenting them with statistics without context can be of little value and be misleading.

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

AI isn’t new but our understanding of how it will impact communications is still in its infancy. The ability to work with AI systems to facilitate improved communications will become an expected skill set. 

The role of behavioural psychology in communications is already coming to the fore and looks set to take centre stage as key for building influence and driving engagement in an increasingly noisy environment.