Former Communications Director, Which?
Why do you do your job?
A passion for story-telling really. I love running a comms team; it’s hard work, but it’s worth it, particularly as reputation and stakeholder management have never been more important. It’s making the complex understandable, relatable and relevant – so people are interesting in knowing what your organisation or cause is about. Importantly, its also how you do that visually and digitally, as well as through more traditional channels.
What job did you want or think you would be doing when you were younger?
I’ve always loved to write – and I read everything and anything I could get my hands on when I was young, a bit like Matilda without the magic powers… So a journalist or a novelist perhaps, but I can’t say I really knew what that was at the time. As I got a bit older, I increasingly wanted to be in or around politics. I did work experience with my MP before interning at a think tank, as I wanted to be part of that world. That’s what took me into public affairs and communications.
Who in the sector do you admire the most?
I admire what Digital Mums does, upskilling women who’ve had a break, and helping them use their newly-gained social media talents in a flexible way. More generally, I admire people who do things differently and who aren’t constrained by what’s been done before. I love Selfish Mother and how she’s using Instagram to refresh a magazine format. I also value intellect: I’ve been lucky to work with a lot of smart people, and that’s a joy of the job.
What are the three most important attributes needed to do your job?
Energy, curiosity and attention to detail. You have to be able span working a 20 hour day when the job demands it, so it helps to have natural energy, drive and resilience. As well as knowing your organisation inside out, you need to be able to spot opportunities and spaces where your comms can have a big impact, which is where the curiosity comes in! Attention to detail is up there because precision matters in good communications; you need a reputation as a trustworthy source to secure genuine media and political impact.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
A great story that flies across channels is still one of my biggest highs. So much work goes into having all your ducks in a row, usually all invisible to the naked eye, but it’s worth it when it works and especially when it’s seamless across them all. Increasingly, it is also about spotting, nurturing and developing talent. I’m a mentor and a member of industry groups, and helping others make leaps forward and avoid pitfalls is rewarding – I wish I’d sought that out more when I was younger, especially when I returned to work after my first baby.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in a role similar to yours?
I’d encourage them to take all the opportunities that come their way – never count yourself out – and also to be active in the sector. It’s very easy to get caught up in what’s happening in your role, in your organisation. But it’s important to look around, see what others are doing, what you could learn from, who you could learn from. People need you to bring the outside in, it’s part of the job.
What is the best thing that you’ve been a part of during your career?
That’s a hard one – as there were great moments in consultancy, the civil service and in not-for-profit – all different! But I loved being part of the work Which? did on social care – pushing for action to help to tackle an emerging crisis. For maximum impact, we aligned a research-based Channel 4 exclusive with the health secretary’s party conference speech, setting out a clear set of actions needed for change and forcing a response. Being the spokesperson that day was a real high. A close second is being part of the team that shifted the early debate on payday loans and the need for stronger regulation, something that’s since become a reality. I’m at my happiest when communications and influencing drive a change for the better.
What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by organisations like yours in the present day?
The hardest thing today is securing attention for the issues that matter to your organisation or cause when the political and news agendas are a) Brexit-heavy and b) far less predictable than they were. Cutting through requires a different approach: a real focus on your organisation’s true priorities and proper insight into your audience.
If you weren’t doing the job that you are doing currently, what do you think you would be doing instead?
If I wasn’t a comms or corporate affairs director (and if I’d actually done a masters instead of taking my first public affairs job), perhaps I’d be teaching philosophy to undergraduates somewhere. I’d still be trying to the make the complex relatable!
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