Sophy Horner on thinking backwards as well as forwards

Sophy Horner on thinking backwards as well as forwards
Want to learn from the best? Our interview series is the best place to get advice from those with their finger on the pulse of what's new in the comms arena.

Sophy Horner, Director of Marketing and Communications
at St John's Hospice, shares her insights on the importance of having a guiding purpose. Read on to learn more about the role of purpose in Sophy's career. 


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


Like many people, it wasn't a straightforward route. I started in customer service, moved to a role in sales (the days where you drove around in a car visiting your customers!) and became interested in marketing. With marketing came engagement and communications...and here I am at St John's Hospice in lovely Lancashire!



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


This is where I get on my soapbox about engagement! Epictetus said, "we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak". Communications is sadly often about transmission i.e. pushing out what you want to say, so organisations and people can forget that you can't communicate with someone unless they are engaged. To engage someone, you need to listen and find out what is important to them, what is worrying them, what they want.


To me, good communications is also about doing your homework rather than leaping into something, taking time to step back and think about your vision, your values, your objectives and strategy - if not then it can be a knee-jerk reaction rather than something thought through. Take time to 'think it backwards as well as forwards'. I'm a big fan of testing messages - your target audience and colleagues will tell you the truth and although it may not be what you initially want to hear (especially when you have spent time creating them!) - it does mean the messages will ultimately work better 



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


A good question! Sometimes it is about juggling when so many issues feel like a priority, sometimes it is the pressure you put yourself under? Challenges that stand out to me are dealing with crisis communications and also about changing roles. It is a big decision to change jobs and like many decisions in life once you have taken time to think matters through and make the actual decision you can go forwards much more easily.



How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 


I'm lucky - my role of Marketing, Communications and Engagement Director sits on the Senior Management Team so communications are considered on the same level as finance, nursing etc. We also have a Board that is very supportive of the three disciplines, so I genuinely believe I have the backing of the organisation. Just as importantly the staff here understand how important communications and engagement is - they see its impact on recruitment, income generation, internal communications - everything so I love the fact they come with ideas and feedback!



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?


When working with the Board we show the impact of our work such as social media stats, printed media coverage, our work with income generation, reputation management etc. Ultimately for my organisation and the Board it is about showing the positive impact that marketing, communications and engagement make to the patients and families we care for. St John's Hospice is an incredibly special service - we are there for people at one of the most challenging times people face so, they are the number one focus. Our patients, families, their carers and friends and the local community who support us (around one-third of our income is from the local NHS, the rest is raised by our amazing community) are what this organisation and Board are interested in - our community and so we listen to what they say, act on it and are measured by them. It's not simply about numbers - a patient story can show so much more than a set of statistics alone.



What advice would you give to those at the start of their career? 


One of the many great pieces of advice I have been given is when you are looking for a role, ask yourself two questions - "Can I do it and do I want to do it?", you need to answer 'yes' to both. I have found this really helpful. 


If you are at the start of your career looking for your first break, try and get some work experience to talk through at interviews - show that you can work with the general public and show what you are passionate about to support your qualifications. Remember that budgets are always a consideration - whatever the size of the organisation so, show what you can do on a tiny financial budget. 


To perform well at interviews to get that job you want, I like the acronym 'star': 

  • Situation: Describe the situation and when it took place.
  • Task: Explain the task and what was the goal.
  • Action: Provide detail about the action you took to reach the goal
  • Result: Conclude with the result of your action.


Whatever phase of your career you are in make sure your line manager gives you clear objectives - that way you can show what you have achieved and how - this will really help you when you move onwards as well as giving you a sense of achievement so that you enjoy your role.



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


Purpose - for me it is about having a guiding purpose, which is to work with my hospice colleagues do everything I can to keep this local charity sustainable so that patients and their families have the care, compassion and support they need and deserve at the end of life.


I have a picture of Marion Anderson on my wall with her words, "If you have a purpose in which you can believe, there’s no end to the amount of things you can accomplish.”