Like many people in the profession, I started out in journalism but it was once I moved into an account manager role at a communications agency that my career in internal communications really began. Skills I had while working as a journalist, including good craft skills, holding my own with a client, and effectively managing projects, were all assets that helped me in my agency role. At first, I worked primarily on editorial projects but I rapidly moved onto client projects that were increasingly strategic in nature.
This gave me the opportunity to work on a broad range of projects with clients in many industry sectors. I had intensive exposure to internal communications and it was an area I grew to love, so when the opportunity for a role in-house came about through a contact, I jumped in and never looked back.
My focus at the beginning of my career was quite different than it is now. The path that led me to where I am today began with a communications role I accepted with an organisation going through a merger. I had worked for this company previously and was asked to come back to help support the merger process. It was only supposed to be a brief role, but morphed into a permanent position. From there, I moved into financial services – I was in banking when the crash hit – and then professional services. It’s fair to say that large-scale change became the norm in both of these sectors for quite a while as they adjusted their business models during the recession which followed the crash.
After some time working in professional services, I had been considering making the switch from in-house to working as an interim. I had come to a stage in my career where I needed a fresh challenge. At the same time, internal communications as a specialism had developed and become more mature, opening up fresh career opportunities. It certainly wasn’t without a few qualms but, with my experience of working in change-focused roles, it seemed like consultancy work would be worth a gamble rather than seeking another permanent role. Right from the off, my first interim role convinced me it was the right choice.
Many organisations continue to look for guidance and assistance with change management, but not necessarily long-term support, so I haven’t had any doubts about my decision. I think this is an exciting time for everyone in the profession and it will be interesting to see internal communications continue to grow and develop to adapt to the changing needs of organisations and the people that work for them.
Interim positions are expected to be short-term and fast-paced, which really energises me. I have also been fortunate to work with some great companies, on some very interesting and transformative business projects, providing me with a wide range of experiences. Taking on these interim roles allows me to work with organisations I admire. In turn, I have managed projects that I was genuinely passionate about.
I also think organisations stand to gain much more than they would expect from bringing in an interim. Alongside the remit you have been given to provide strategic advice or come up with creative solutions, you also bring a mix of skills and a fresh perspective that will complement the permanent team. For my part, I enjoy having the chance to work with a really wide group of people, experiencing different business cultures and learning something new wherever I work that may help me in a future role.
You are there to be the voice of reason, so you need to understand the issues quickly and be willing to provide an honest and objective opinion. To do that, you must be an information sponge and make sure you stay focused to successfully deliver within the short time frames that you have. That means not allowing yourself to get distracted by too many side issues. I think our instinct as communicators is to offer help wherever we see a need, but it’s important to keep reminding yourself that the deadline clock is ticking.
You do tend to see many of the same challenges across organisations but one absolute constant is the change happening economically, socially and institutionally. What fascinates me is how organisations have responded to these changes and pressures over the past decade.
I’ve seen businesses be quite reactive; wrestling with how best to respond to the difficult environment, how to be fleet of foot and how to manage the type of large-scale change we have seen. Suddenly, the change cycle was being drastically compressed. Understandably, employees in organisations experiencing this type of transformation have felt unsettled. This has been particularly apparent for people who have worked for the same organisation for a long time.
Organisations are also asking quite a lot of employees now and there are pressures to not only have wideranging business skills, but also to keep up with new technology and platforms. It can be overwhelming, and the key to success is being able to filter out the noise, which is where good communications can play such an important role in giving a clear sense of direction.
Whether you are freelance or permanent, you need to invest in yourself – read as much possible, stay up to date with developments and maintain a wide network. These can be easy to neglect when you have a busy workload, but they are vital to your success.
More generally, it is a good idea to be well informed about the wider political and economic environment and business in general. I would also recommend working in different sectors, make sure you are seen as a business expert rather than just a communications specialist, especially now when expectations are so high for employees to have that breadth and depth organisations want. Having this knowledge will enable you to hold your own and act confidently in any situation.
BIOGRAPHY – Deborah Brambill
Deborah is an experienced internal communications professional with a strong commercial focus and a proven track record of creating effective employee communications to help drive change. No matter how large or small the project, she believes in knowing the audience, creating simple, clear and engaging communications and ensuring there are always opportunities for employee involvement.
As part of Gatehouse’s interim team, she has undertaken temporary roles in a wide variety of organisations over the past three years, evolving their communications to ensure they are fit for purpose and set for success for years after she has moved on. Find her on Twitter: @dbrambill