Be tough!

This was the message that truly struck a chord with me at our brilliant Future Leaders session with Alex Aiken, Executive Director for Government Communications, on 22 April.

It came from Alex in response to my question about ensuring communications as a function has a seat at the top table. Quite simple advice but so true. Our profession is a challenging, complex and fast paced one. Coupled with managing staff, a busy workload and meeting the needs of residents and teams across our authorities it can be tough – and so we need to be too.

I think we all must be resilient to have got this far, but the session was a good reminder that it’s ok to be insistent and once your foot is in the door with management and members, it’s vital to keep it there.

I think it’s fair to say we all felt somewhat nervous before meeting Alex, many of us pushing our imposter syndrome aside. But straight from the get go it was clear we were all on the same team, all dealing with the same issues and working towards a shared goal – namely improving and at times saving lives and livelihoods.

When asked what we hope to get out of Future Leaders many of us answered ‘confidence’. Alex reminded us that confidence comes from deep professional knowledge.

There’s something quite reassuring about hearing this. As communications professionals we have a wealth of experience and knowledge that we’re all building upon which we should take strength from. 

In what is possibly the fastest pace hour of training I’ve ever experienced there were so many nuggets of advice to take away. So much so, we’ve all agreed to get our heads together and recap on what we each got out of the session to ensure we didn’t miss anything.

My top five gems from the session:

  • Build relationships. A good relationship with your management team, members and the departments across your authority is vital if you want to be part of strategic decision making. Building these relationships takes time and is based on trust and proving your worth.
  • You have to demonstrate value. Alex told a terrifying account of a communications team who failed to do this and so were deemed unnecessary, resulting in job losses for many people. We all produce some amazing work that has real impact in our communities and it’s important to showcase this in the organisations that we work in. By doing this we will increase trust in our teams and highlight the value in what we do.
  • Sometimes there needs to be less learning and more doing! Whilst we all need to learn our trade, doing the job is often the best way to achieve this. Also, as we progress in our careers we need to keep up those skills and being on the ground, using the tools we have to get messages out there, is the only way to achieve this.
  • You have to be mindful of how much information the public can take. Information overload will achieve nothing. When looking at campaigns, think about whether there are smaller themes that can be grouped together so that readers recognise a campaign and pick out what’s useful for them.
  • Communications is a strong strategic tool that can make a real difference to people’s lives. Quite often we are perceived as a ‘fluffy’ profession but if this last year has taught us anything, it’s that the right communications can literally save lives.

I’m sure there are many more examples and lots for everyone to think about and take back to their organisations. For me, as well as some invaluable advice, I gained confidence in knowing that I’m heading in the right direction. Thank you Alex for your time, we know how precious it is. The session was very much appreciated and I’m sure will be a highlight for us all in this amazing opportunity that is the Future Leaders programme.

Emma Lyons is the Communications and Marketing Manager at Wyre Council and one of the participants in the 2021 Future Leaders programme.


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