Sian Trew, Director of Communications and Engagement at The AHSN Network, sits down with us to detail why we all need to be scheduling less meetings alongside sharing her vision for an ethically-driven comms future.
Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?
I probably fell into communications, rather than always intended to work in it, but I have always had a love of words and an interest in how people interact and what makes them tick.
I studied English and French at university and went on to train and work as a journalist. I then got a fantastic opportunity to move across to communications and PR – working as a PR Officer for the British Paralympic Association and have worked in communications ever since.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?
At a strategic level, I think communicators need to be able to challenge and question – acting as the stakeholder's voice within an organisation. I also think we need to be good at reading people and situations, understanding what the likely reaction to something will be and recommending actions based on that.
At a more operational level, I really value the ability to write well – whether that is for news updates, web content, or scripts for videos, presentations and events – the ability to craft really compelling content is essential.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?
Across all my communications roles, I think the consistent challenge is the need to demonstrate expertise and the value that you bring. We often talk in communications and PR about how anyone thinks they can ‘do’ communications, which can be really frustrating, particularly when people think that all we do is ‘wordsmith’ or ‘make things look pretty’.
But I think that just proves the greater need for training, accreditation and qualifications in the sector to demonstrate professionalism.
Communications can be a very fast-moving sector – not only do new technologies and new ways of engaging emerge all the time, but attitudes, issues and societal expectations develop and change too, which means the way we communicate needs to as well.
I’m a passionate believer in continued professional development in communications to ensure we keep abreast of all these things and can evidence we can be that ‘trusted advisor’ in organisations.
This is also linked to really good evaluation and measurement. It’s notoriously challenging to measure outcomes and impact of communications and PR activity but when you get it right, it does so much to demonstrate value.
What one thing would make your working life easier?
It’s probably a bit of a cliché at the moment but definitely less meetings.
I think the world of working remotely has opened the floodgates for meetings and I would just love to have some time without meetings to get things done. Don’t get me wrong, an important part of working in communications and PR is meeting with people to understand what’s needed and generating ideas together, but there is a balance to be struck.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?
Communications is really valued where I work – the organisation really recognises the link between reputation, awareness and positioning, and its future and ability to grow and develop. However, I know this isn’t the case in all organisations – which is why measurement and evaluation demonstrating the outcomes and linking to organisational impact is so important.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Be adaptable, flexible and humble. Priorities change and things emerge - out of the blue sometimes - and you need to be able to adapt to changing demands quickly in this role. I also think you have to be really personable. Communications is one of a few departments that has to be across every aspect of an organisation, which means you have to work with people with very different expertise and professional backgrounds. So, having the ability to get on with people, speak their language and build relationships is key.
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?
Communications teams should definitely be looking to determine the outcomes achieved as part of their communications evaluation. Not just how many peoples saw or liked a post but what action was taken off the back of it. This also needs to be linked back to organisational objectives to ensure communications demonstrates its value to the organisation as a whole.
Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?
I think the pandemic has really shone a light on brands’ contribution to society as well as their ethical practices so I think we’ll see more of brands demonstrating their corporate responsibility. Similarly, I think people want to hear from and about real people and their stories and build connections – so perhaps not a new thing, but I definitely think there will bean increased emphasis upon story-telling.