your new 3-person comms team. who makes the cut?

Very rarely in life do you get to choose a brand new comms team from absolute scratch. You normally inherit folk and work with what you've got. But what if you had a blank sheet and the chance to choose. Who would make the cut?

by GUEST EDITOR Ben Capper

Let’s just say you were creating a Comms team totally from scratch.

Let’s also say it can only include three people.

Sure, you could always buy in a bit of agency time here and there, but that’s essentially your lot.

Who makes the cut? Who doesn’t? Why so?

Would this be the same as it would have been five years, or even a year ago?

How do we future-proof ourselves? What experience, and what attitudes would you want to see?

OK, so I admit it, there is a selfish point to me asking you, dear comms people, these questions. I’ll be starting a new position, heading up a Comms and Engagement function shortly within a new Health and Social Care Partnership here in Wirral.

It’s an NHS Vanguard thing. So it’s a completely new approach to delivering a healthy local population. And with new ways of working, there comes the demand for a fresh, dare I say it “innovative”, approach to comms and engagement.

So, yes, I am going through this though process myself right now.

However, this really has got me thinking about these questions as a whole? What is the role of a small in-house comms team these days?

And what are the utterly essential roles you can’t do without to get a new one off the ground?

To kick things off, here’s my suggestion for what a small but perfectly formed CommsTeam2.0 should consist of these days:

  1.  A Defined Leader.

This person sets the agenda, the pace, and the culture of the team. They own and are accountable for creating and delivering a strategy.

They basically do everything suggested in this excellent blog post.

They’re the face, the voice, the heart, and the soul of the team.

They live, breathe, eat and sleep the agenda. They may create democratic decision-making in the team, but they ultimately have the guts to say yes or no: and stand up alongside other big-wigs in the organisation.

To start with at least, they’re all over any piece of comms (be it press releases, brand identity, you name it) like a rash.

They’re a flack shield, but also an evangelist for the work that the team is engaged in.

They lead innovation. They create an open, trusting culture within the team where the others are encouraged to push themselves to the limits of their capabilities, and to seek out new challenges.

They create a happy working environment, where everyone feels valued, and free to push the boundaries – safe in the knowledge that you’ve got their back.

The above, I think is the kind of role that every comms team needs, and I guess describes the type of leader I’m hoping to be in my new role.

But in terms of specific functions, I guess, the following two make my final team-sheet:

  1.  Insight Specialist

Especially in the public sector, and places where we’re trying to change behaviours, someone with a real appreciation and expertise in research is essential – and needs to be in place right from the get-go.

Right at the beginning, there may not be all that many press releases to actually write. There might not be a lot you really can video, and it’s the role of the team leader to make sure any “we want a leaflet” requests are handled in the “appropriate” manner, prior to there being any strategy in place.

Day One of any new team in this environment should be all about getting to know your audience. Understanding what makes them tick. Understanding what moves them. Understanding what rational and irrational factors prevent them from making better choices.

For this, you really need a specialist, who lives and breathes this stuff.

They need to be as comfortable with human beings as they are with data. They need to have a real understanding of the whole range of insight-gathering techniques (including those that haven’t been invented yet!)

And this person needs to be able to lead your testing when you’re at a stage when you’re creating comms or any other interventions, and lead your evaluation at the end.

This person’s work will create the evidence for underpinning your entire strategy, and therefore every piece of comms output you create during your tenure.

It’s that important. 

  1. A “Do-er”

You might call this a Comms Officer, Assistant, Senior Comms Delivery Specialist, whatever.

But basically this person is your main “do-er”.  They’re a bit of an all-rounder.

They’re the one that is responsible for doing the stuff like drafting press releases, managing your social channels, updating the website, working with agencies to see campaigns through to fruition.

They’re the ones that have the motivation and the space to innovate – to do cool little videos on their iPhones that get tens of thousands of views.

They’re the ones that set up SnapChat as a comms channel. They deal with the details on the ground.

So, yes, this person might not be all that experienced. They may have had a year somewhere before. They might have had 10 years somewhere before. It may be their first job.

What sets this person apart though is their attitude, their instinct, their willingness to get their hands dirty, and to try new things. They have a constant eye on new techniques, but have the ability to apply them to the team’s overall strategy.

They may not ultimately be accountable for everything they do. But they do feel a very real sense of responsibility for everything they do.

You’ll notice there aren’t lots of senior marketers or comms people in my ideal team-of-3.

Neither are there any in-house graphic designers (though having a basic grasp of Photoshop in the team wouldn’t go amiss of course).

That’s because when we can only afford a small team, I think we need to start putting more of a premium on the “thinking” rather than just the “doing”.

I’m a marketer, a creative comms person. So I love the “doing” bit.

But whatever I do “do”, I want to make sure it suits our audience, and hits the mark. I want to make sure it’s based on insight, and we can measure its impact, and I want to make sure it’s the right thing, at the right time, delivered in the right way.

You can always buy in more “do” from agencies if you really have to. But I don’t believe you can truly ever effectively out source the “thinking” bit.

So that’s my mythical small, but perfectly formed, brand new comms team. Follow me on Twitter and I’ll keep you updated on any actual vacancies that may occur!

But for now, I’m really interesting in finding out what everyone else thinks.

So remember, the rules of the game:

-          You’re only allowed 3 people (one of which is you)

-          You’re starting your team from scratch

-          You do have the option to use agencies should you need from time to time.

So who makes the grade for you?

Join in the conversation with a live Twitter Chat on Wednesday 7 October between 12.30pm - 1.30pm. Hashtag #IdealCommsTeam

Ben Capper is marketing manager at Wirral University Teaching Hospital (and will soon be heading up a Comms and Engagement function within a new Health and Social Care Partnership in Wirral) He blogs here.

image via Flickr creative commons