As one organisation looks to take on new staff their head of communications and engagement sets out a little of her own comms journey.
This blog has been written to support Helena’s latest comms recruitment campaign. I wanted to talk about how comms as a career can really open doors for you and will do this by reflecting on my own experiences. It’s fair to say that Comms has and always will be my passion, regardless of where my career takes me. It has been an amazing journey against a backdrop of changing comms practices, channels a go go and a technological revolution.
These days my role is more generic but it’s my comms skills and knowledge that get me through each day. I work at a senior, corporate level at Helena in a role framed around business transformation. I work with peers to make decisions that will change the face of Helena’s service proposition plus how we engage with and develop our wonderful teams. What my comms grounding has given me is the ability to make sense out of mess, turn 75 pages of flipchart into one killer sheet and take a high level view when others are focussed on their own service areas. That’s my contribution to the team I work in. I have vision and can see the big picture. This can at times be a curse as I struggle to keep my grasshopper brain focussed on one thing at a time. That’s something I need to crack in 2014.
Right so the look back in time is all true, albeit slightly tongue in cheek. It attempts to show how day to day comms practices have shifted to an unrecognisable point. I guess it also conveys how some really important skills never go out of fashion.
I embarked on my comms career in November 1998. At that point I had never sent an email in my life – seriously. Now I’m surrounded by kit and a walking advert for Apple.
In my first job, the primary method of internal and external communication was fax. There was a fax room and two full-time staff employed to send, receive and distribute faxes. To be honest I found that hilarious at the time, but it was an international company so pigeon English faxes were the norm and effective. My major project there was to create a company brochure to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary. It was a family firm with an old school boss. His brief was: “to make it flashy and spend as much as you want to”. At £25 a copy with five paper types, cut-outs and gold leaf I think I exceeded expectations. My reward was a trip to Argentina to launch it. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that it was dual language Spanish and English and I did the proof-reading!
The next two years were at a college where I learned the trade of print and paper - Pantone pads on my desk, proofs sticking out of my bag every night and days spent sitting alongside designers who I envied completely.
If you are concentrating to this point you will see that in the first 3.5 years of my career I got to grips with fax, email, print and advertising and not much else.
In August 2002, I strapped myself into a rollercoaster and went on a complicated 11-plus year ride around communications, engagement, websites, social media and much more. I’m still strapped in if you are wondering.
Helena was one of the early adopters within the housing sector of customer insight. I mean we really got to grips with it. Until that point I used to wonder how Tesco knew I needed a 50p off voucher for Weetabix and why I waited for ages when I tried to cancel my mobile contract but got a cheerful hello within two seconds of trying to set up a new one. Easy – big businesses are framed on intelligence and customer insight. Helena’s use of CRM and customer insight allowed the comms team to get a lot smarter about the solutions we created.
I mention customer insight because it was a turning point in how we deliver communications and how we manage our internal relations. This was the start of the “don’t come to us with the solution” phase of Helena comms. We treat our internal clients like an agency would. We spend time building up a relationship with our clients, anticipate their needs and offer support when we know it’s needed.
What customer insight meant on the outside was the dawn of multi-channel communications. We may use five or more communications methods to get a message out there because we know from insight that our customers will respond to one of those ways. We know that because we understand their preferences and behaviours. This might seem a bit OTT for a housing provider but the approach has served us well and past and present team members comment on how the daily practical application of these techniques has blown their mind. Somebody commented to me yesterday that they didn’t know how I managed to keep all those thought processes and considerations in my head at once. I guess after all these years I take it for granted but it is exciting every day and you can’t really knock that.
Comms is ever changing. People tell you their business problems and your clear-thinking comms approach helps them to reach a solution and agree a way forward. It’s about relationship building, having confidence in your own ideas and knowing when you back down. The most successful comms people aren’t the ones who sit in the corner writing excellent copy. I have met and worked with a fair few of those over the years. True comms professionals have people skills, emotional intelligence and can recall something somebody said six months ago and link it to a thought they have just heard. They are advisors with a huge amount of responsibility and an innate sense of what’s right and wrong.
People often comment that I think differently to them. If you read my blog from earlier this week about coping mechanisms for comms people then it might be obvious why. Yes, comms people are different but you will rarely meet a bunch of people with so much passion and drive, builders of brands and fierce protectors of reputations. Our recruitment campaign is called #NoTwoDaysTheSame which just about sums up why I am so lucky to work in and around comms.
I’m really looking forward to welcoming new members to Helena’s Comms Team in the coming months and supporting them on the broadest communications grounding out there and some amazing new multi-channel campaigns.
Our roles go live on Monday 20th January. To find out more visit @HelenaPartnersh.
Caroline King is head of communications and engagement at Helena Partnerships who are about to recruit for two new comms team members.