Part 3: Broke Girls Guide to Professional Development in Communications

Rugby has been a part of my life since I was about 15 years old. I have seen friends break bones, shared pints with legends and never had anyone mansplain the offside rule to me.

I try to reserve spamming my social media timelines for the World Cup season, so feel free to mute me in September. However, last Saturday I broke this self-imposed rule because the Calcutta Cup showdown between England and Scotland was spectacular.  In his post-match interview, Scotland's Finn Russell said in a BBC interview, “At half-time, I had an argument with Gregor [Townsend] because nothing was working. We just came out in the second half with nothing to lose”. I think of how Scotland lost to Australia in the final minutes of the 2015 quarterfinals and wonder if this is a team that plays best when they decide they have nothing to lose? And what springs to mind is a caution I was once given along the lines of; the most dangerous opponent is the one who has nothing to lose.

So, for this post, I am drawing inspiration from a quote from Steve Hansen, the Head coach of the All Blacks and have asked for some tips, hints and advice from our incredible Comms network. 

You learn from everybody. Every encounter you have with a human being, or even animals, if your mind is open, you’ll learn something. If it’s not, you’ll go through life learning nothing.
— Steve Hansen
  • Look outside: Take advantage of our wealthier cousins advertising, marketing and tech. It may sound strange but an actual past time of mine is to get lost in the ‘Our Work ‘page of agencies. Last year during London Tech Week, I went for a few of the free or low-cost evening events and learnt so much. I will be keeping my eye on Ad Week to see what themes, conversations, and trends emerge. You don't have to go to Cannes Lions  Festival to see what the best in the Ad world are doing watch the best of 2018 online for inspiration and check out the website to see what is coming through this June. In January Darren Caveney, arranged an agency day for the LGComms Future leaders and summarised it in a post be fierce and never mediocre – 28 lessons from a top creative agency.  You will find that there is a lot of crossovers.  Brand guru James Kerr wrote one of my favourite business books which is inspired by the All Blacks but is drenched in employee engagement tips, strategy and communications principles. Go further afield for learning whether that be in terms of industry or location. Draw inspiration from across the ponds. What behavioural science, strategy or creative ideas can we learn from sports, psychology, business, entertainment and the military.  

My best advice is to read and read. Don’t get stuck in your lane. Every time you see a comms response try to unpick the story, spot best practice, tactics but from every industry not just your own. That and get a mentor but not always as easy.
— Sam Hodges, Director of Content Communications (EMEA) at Netflix,
  •  Collaboration: It may be the new buzz word, but it rings true. Come together with others and form communities that are built with the goal or learning, sharing and developing each other. Start a culture in your organisation and beyond of sharing the knowledge from training, conferences, events and campaigns. Why not invite someone for lunch with your team or set-up a group call to work out a problem together. Face to face events have a cost attached to them, but many professionals are happy to spare a lunch hour or evening to have a chat about ideas. Over the last few months, I have organised quite a number of these sessions over the phone with senior people talking about a range of things from Artificial Intelligence, development courses, job interview prep and idea development. Even if you don’t have anyone to share with yet start building a collection, so you are ready as you look for your tribe.

Whatever one colleague gains bring it back to the team. In other words, share the learning around so the team and the organisation benefit. That’s definitely the main one. If you’re a larger team and need some core skills, consider commissioning a bespoke version of a set piece for your whole team. It is good for team dynamics as well as learning. I’d say be selective about it if budgets are tight.

— Georgia Turner  1/3 of Comms Unplugged and Head of  Communication and Marketing, Bournemouth Borough Council and Borough of Poole
  • What are you entitled to: Understand your organisation's policy on training, development and allowances for registrations to professional bodies. Get savvy on what you qualify for and how you can ensure you get what you need, i.e. does it need to be in your appraisal or are you entitled because of your role or because of the business your organisation is. If you can register with a professional body make all effort to do the CPD, be on committee’s if you can to network and ask questions.

  • Say Yes: One yes has the power to change everything. It can be hard in the beginning, but it creates a domino effect. One ‘Yes’ changes everything as Josephine Graham shared in her blog post, “What if….?“ for Comms Unplugged.    

Learn from those you work with and be situationally aware. Find a mentor you trust and can share dilemmas with. Use all available free resources (in particular research articles on google.scholar, ResearchGate and ScienceDirect - buy an individual subscription which is not expensive at all). Leadership and Development should be replicable regardless of the industry/role one works in so you need to have an excellent grasp of their general applicability.
— Ella Minty Co-Chair @CIPR_UK Energy Leadership Platform; Chart. PR; @ILM_UK Fellow; #powerandinfluence founder.
  • Mark your own work: I know it sounds brutal but at the end of match teams and players do a de-brief so that they work on their weak area for the next game. Create a benchmark by which you score your campaigns and content. Whether that be the OASIS model or by industry awards standards. From that identify the areas where you need to grow. For example, measurement of campaign objectives, or public speaking skills.  If you are at a higher level why not start judging awards so you can get a better understanding of what is happening in the industry.

There’s loads of stuff out there for free online - TED talks, podcasts, blogs, Twitter chats etc. Maybe look at accessing some of this together with other team members to share and discuss what you learn and make it more collaborative and interactive. Also, make sure anyone in the team who does get some development from that precious budget brings it back and shares with the team. Think of fun and active ways to do this and get people involved rather than talking at people. Choose your learning opportunities carefully so that they really meet a need and you can implement what you learn. Make those pennies count. Finally - learn by doing.  Just try stuff - explore, create and be curious. Oh and books. Good old-fashioned books (Or audiobooks if you prefer). Do book swaps, get recommendations from people. But going analogue is a great way to feed your brain in a more relaxed, peaceful way going at your own pace.
— Sally Northeast, 1/3 of Comms Unplugged and the Deputy Director for OD, Communication and Participation at Dorset HealthCare University NHS Foundation Trust .

Find the gap and sidestep: What are the unexplored ideas, the unwritten stories and the unanswered questions that you can hone in on? A perfect example of this is the informative blog post by Lisa Potter, "Learning on The Go Making time to learn new things." in which she provides her perspective and fills a gap in content. Another is Comms Hero who are giving me so much FOMO at the moment with their exciting and fun conferences.

I really hope this series has been helpful and please leave your comments below or share on Linkedin and Twitter. My vision for this space was that it be a place of experimenting and learning, so posts like this are special.

Some starter Newsletter to subscribe or websites to check out.

  •  Digital Buzz Blog

  • Hubspot’s Marketing Blog

  • Campaign Live

  • Buzzfeed  Adweek

  • The Marketing Society

  • Creativepool Daily,

  • Social Media Today

  • Gorkana

  • DigiDay Tech Crunch

  • Social Media Today

  • The Verge

  • Marketing Dive

  • The Drum

     

Podcasts to try

  • IPA AdTalk, CNN Boss Files,

  • Virgin Voom

  • Campaign podcast

  • Connected Podcast

  • Eat Sleep Work Repeat

  • NPR How I Built This

  • Marketing Week

  • O Behave

  • Ogilvy

  • Secret Leaders

  • The IABC EMENA Podcast

  • The Drum

  • Innovation Ecosystem

  • Strategy Skills

  • HBR Ideacast

  • The McKinsey Podcast

  • Madison & Culture with David Sable

  • Ice Cream for Everyone with Willem van der Horst

  • The Bottom Line

  • Vergecast, Pivot hosted by Kara Swisher & Scott Galloway

  • The Green Room, Connected

  • Secret Leaders

  • How to Make Brands Real Famous,  

Learning from failure

As I sip my Sunday coffee I ’m reflecting on something surreal that happened this week.



I am a finalist for an industry award for the first time. Scary.

A campaign I developed, ran and managed made the finalist list of the 2018 UK & European Employee Engagement Awards in the Internal Communications category.

As someone who never wins anything, I didn’t know how to feel. When I was completing the submission, it took me a while to believe that my work was worthy of being entered. But thankfully the deadline coincided with Public Service Communications Academy 2018, so I was surrounded by my incredible network who gave me the extra push I needed and our Head of Communications was there every step of the way to help me.

Whether we win the award or not in January, I have already won. I have turned a failure into a career-defining moment.


It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.

J. K. Rowling

 

In April I went through an interview process for an internal communications role at a housing association. Failing to get through to the next stage was hard, but I understood that I had to develop my understanding of communicating with internal audiences better and have real tangible examples of my work. Maybe it was fate but once I decided to learn, things started coming my way that allowed me to increase my knowledge of internal communications and employee engagement. I developed the ‘Be Epic’ campaign for our IT service delivery team which is the shortlisted project and support a number of our services internally with their messaging. I also met Rachel Miller Director of AllthingsIC, the industry guru who has since taught me some invaluable lessons.

I have plugged in more with our corporate change manager who regularly shares her insights from a change management perspective, and we now work on more assignments together. 

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

 Henry Ford


What have I learnt over the last six months from this failure?

  • The proof is in the pudding.

  • Find or create my own opportunities to develop the skills that I need because nobody is going to do it for me.

  • How to measure effectively and be dynamic.

  • To have the courage to get out of my comfort zone.

  • I may fail again, and that is okay. In fact it is what I need to grow.

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.

Ken Robinson

  • I have to trust my gut.

  • How to design and execute an award-worthy internal communications campaign at zero cost that solves a business problem.

  • How to prioritise as a business stakeholder.   

  • Develop a stronger network of professionals working across various discipline of communications and industries.

 

Some of the great resources that have helped me develop my internal communications skills.

AllThingsIC

Comms2point0

Gatehouse

LG Comms

The IC space

Institute of Internal Communication   

 

I also have a couple of submissions in the Unawards and the shortlist is out on Thursday 14 November, so fingers crossed. But in the meantime, what are you waiting for the unawards18 public vote is open

You have a tough, tough challenge now to select the winners from three important categories:

Lifetime Achievement

Comms Team of the Year

Best Guest Post of 2018

You can cast your votes HERE

The public vote closes on 26 November (midnight)

See you in Birmingham for the Unawards on Friday 7 December