Vikki Buxton-Helyer on keeping pace with the changes

Vikki Buxton-Helyer on keeping pace with the changes
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.

Vikki Buxton-Helyer, Head of Digital & Campaigns at the Competition and Markets Authority, chats with us about the growing commitment to tackling misleading information and shares her advice for those seeking to make their mark in the crowded digital space. 


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

It was a bit of both in all honesty. I started my career, straight out of university, working for (before it became the official website) as I was a huge fan of the sport, and had the chance to do a wide variety of jobs including writing news reports, interviewing drivers, creating videos for the website, and managing the full range of commentary and news it provided on race weekends. I then changed career to become a government press officer, which was really exciting, but I also had the pleasure of working closely with colleagues in marketing, strategic comms and digital as part of this. I found all aspects of comms really compelling and interesting, so when the opportunity came to switch from leading the press office to the digital and campaigns team I jumped at the challenge.


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

I think they’re similar for anybody that works in comms. You need to be creative, able to multitask, good at translating complex or “jargony” messages into something most people can understand, have good influencing skills and be confident delivering work quickly. Obviously, you need to understand your discipline and keep pace with changes, given there is constant evolution in the digital space. Most importantly you need to be able to understand your audiences’ needs and deliver content or services that meet it.


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 think the biggest challenge is balancing the need to ensure a pretty busy workload is executed well and to fairly short timelines, and giving my team (and myself) the headspace needed to generate creative ideas or approaches to work. I think this is something we've all found more difficult while remote working, as it is so much easier to informally brainstorm while we are all in the office together. But we have found ways around it and produced some really exciting and well-regarded work over the last year, not least the IVF guidance we recently issued to help patients considering this treatment understand more about their rights and the information clinics provide before signing up.


What one thing would make your working life easier? 

More hours in the day would be great! My team is responsible for creating digital communication strategies for the organisation's work, publishing user-friendly and accessible content on GOV.UK (and some of the reports we publish are several hundred, if not a thousand or more pages long), helping other colleagues create user-friendly content or services where they're seeking input from specific audiences and writing and designing really interesting content for use in all of our social media channels. The CMA has a number of projects or investigations on the go, which is great, but it does mean our days are pretty full, so a few more hours would always be helpful. But I don't know anyone in a communications role that wouldn't say this.


How is the role of digital perceived in your organisation? 

On the whole it's seen as really important, not only because it allows the organisation to be transparent about the investigations it's conducted, but also because we know most people get their information online. Which, as an aside, is something that the pandemic has definitely given further impetus to, and I don't see that changing in the future. Where my team adds value is helping to explain to colleagues with other specialisms, like lawyers or economists, how we can use different digital platforms or products to reach and engage different audiences. We are also taking a stronger role in helping them design user-friendly content at the start of their work, not just creating digital communications products or plans later on. When coronavirus hit, we quickly started receiving extremely high numbers of complaints about ‘price gouging’ (traders significantly raising prices overnight) and my team was central to the creation of reporting services (like the online form) that placed the user experience at the heart of service development.


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

It's pretty much what I've already said. Obviously, there's certain technical skills you need, as well as a deep understanding of your discipline. But just like any good comms operator, you need to be able to help your organisation or client understand who their audience is, what that audience needs and then provide them with strategies and content to meet that need. Obviously, the digital space is very crowded, with lots of different voices all competing for similar audiences, so to be successful you need to do your research, make sure you really understand them and where they are (digitally speaking) before putting any plan or content in place. Also, be authentic, people have got pretty good at identifying marketing from useful information, and will quickly switch off its if it's the former masquerading as the latter.


At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think digital teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

Again it depends on the work you're doing and the objective you need to achieve. I think the key thing is to set out upfront what your KPIs are and why have you chosen certain measurements, as well as explain what they mean. For example, to be truly successful you might need to not just attract people to a piece of content or service, but also incentivise them to then click a link and  then read or interact with some longer-form content. Every step of this journey gets harder as you go through it and that's something that your client or internal team needs to understand and support you in creating the easiest and most engaging user journey possible. Obviously, both reach and engagement metrics for each of these steps would then be crucial for evaluation. But reach can be a pretty superficial measurement, if still attractive to internal audiences, and engagement isn't the easiest to extrapolate and then explain to your organisation, especially as there's a whole world of engagement that we don't get to see. So making sure you’ve thoroughly explained all of this to your stakeholder will help them understand what success looks like and appreciate what you’ve (hopefully) helped them achieve


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

That's the exciting thing about digital, it's constantly evolving and can often surprise you. At Christmas 2019 who knew that TikTok would be the most downloaded app for a year? Obviously, voice technology offers the potential for continuing innovation in how brands or organisations connect with people and turn them into customers or stakeholders. I also think the growing commitment to tackling misleading information is really important at a time when so many people get their news from, or trust what they see, on social media or apps, and it's going to be a key issue for all of us working in digital for the foreseeable future.