Sara Carbone on the changing operations of communications

Sara Carbone on the changing operations of communications
Sara Carbone, head of Communications and Digital at RCVS Knowledge, joins us to chat about the upward trend on comms' value 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 have always had a passion for words and reaching audiences to inform them about things they should know more about. I trained as an anthropologist at undergraduate, and a journalist at postgraduate level, so I have always been interested in society and how it operates. I chose to go into communications in the not-for-profit sector because it allowed me to bring my passions together and to help bring about societal impact through the power of words.  

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

I think before anything else, to be a professional communicator you should be a good listener. You need to be a sponge, and absorb knowledge about your subject matter and the audiences you are working for. You should  be interested in other people’s perspective and be able to get into their shoes. You should be flexible and adaptable – audiences are all different, and they change over time. Also technologies evolve, and society changes. You can never stop learning.

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

In the past, it has at times been difficult to persuade the wider organisation I’ve been in of the true value of communications, and the expertise required to do it well. I think that has been a general problem particularly in the not-for-profit sector, but that has changed in more recent years. Communications teams are always extremely busy, and it can be challenging to juggle everything and to give enough time and energy to all your projects. It can still be challenging to get on the decision-making table when it comes to the broader strategy of the organisation, and factoring in communications needs well ahead – but again, that is slowly changing in the sector. 

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Fewer meetings, for sure. And being able to have more face-to-face conversations with colleagues. That’s two things, but they are related. 😊

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

I am lucky to work for an agile organisation that understands that communications are at the heart of achieving impact. As so much of our work is about instigating behavioural change, our work is communications through-and-through. As we are also a small organisation growing fast, our senior team and trustee board get the need to develop our communications and marketing strategy in order to continue supporting our ambitions. I am endlessly thankful for that.

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

Gosh. Having a team that works well together is key. Even if you’re the only communicator in your organisation, having positive, constructive relationships with your colleagues is so important. You cannot do this job well completely alone. Having headspace and time to think strategically and creatively makes a huge difference. And resilience, too. 

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?

The impact of communications can be hard to really measure, as not everything we do is quantifiable. Sure, digital analytics help massively – media reach, social media engagement. But a lot of it is down to establishing relationships, working with others to identify objectives clearly, craft creative messages and get under the skin of our audiences. 

Obviously communications teams are responsible for the profile and reputation of an organisation, so qualitative feedback from users can be a very powerful testimonial of that. You could argue that it’s a whole organisation’s responsibility to maintain its reputation, which is totally true, but it’s the communications team’s job to make sure work is carried out with that in mind at all times. 

Finally, an important way to present the impact of communications is to include it as a key component of strategies and projects – there shouldn’t be separate analytics and measures added on at the end, which often still happens. Without communications, strategies and projects could not be delivered successfully. 

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

What a great question… Well, considering where we are today, I think in-person events and community events face-to-face will be BIG when they’re allowed to properly take place again. I am a huge champion of digital, but that personal, direct contact is irreplaceable. As a charity communicator, I am also thrilled to see so many commercial brands embracing social impact as part of their targets, and I think also a result of the pandemic, this is likely to grow still.