After a BA in English, I started my career as Editorial Assistant in a communication agency back in the 1990s. Internal communication wasn’t very evolved back then – it was mostly about broadcast and delivering content, mostly through print. Intranets were just coming in, but their purpose was mainly to get news to employees. I feel like I’ve evolved with the internal comms industry from the era of editorial into what is now the engagement era.
I joined Tarmac as Head of Internal Communications in January 2016. I was appointed interim Head of Communications and Corporate Affairs in October, following my manager’s move to a group-level role. It is quite unusual for someone with an internal communicator background to lead Corporate Affairs – it’s usually the other way round. I will never be a PR or
external communication expert, but I don’t need to be. At this level, you draw on the benefits of your own specialism, but must be able to represent the other disciplines and help the team achieve what they need, by providing context and governance and breaking down any barriers and liaising with the stakeholders on their behalf if they need it.
When I moved in house after my experience in an agency, I soon found out that I needed to develop a more strategic perspective. I learnt to build relationships with different business functions and take part in discussions about the business, not just strictly communications. You need to talk about the business first, and then apply communication to that conversation. I’m proud that my stakeholders have noticed that in me. The feedback I often receive is that I build up an understanding of the business challenge very quickly. You need to be able to talk about the business before you talk about communications; otherwise you will only ever be asked about newsletters and channels.
It’s also important to build a strong professional profile: attending or speaking at events, helping other communicators connect, and being invested in the future of IC. I do that by volunteering with the IoIC, first as a member of the Central region committee and, several roles later, I’m now in my second year as Chair.
The HR Director at Tarmac once called me the “Tiger Woods of internal communications”! I think he was referring to my ability to explore new ways of doing things – not for the sake of changing them, but by using evidence and having the courage to make improvements that will make a real difference.
I think it is about believing in what you do, and sometimes being willing to put aside the modesty! I would recommend to any IC practitioner to a) get qualifications, such as Accelerate or other IoIC certifications; and b) enter awards, because it is great benchmarking and it proves the value you are delivering for your business. It’s a great way of obtaining feedback from someone who is looking across all sorts of campaigns from different industries, and recognising your work as something that others might draw on.
I also invest a lot in my professional network, both drawing on other people’s experience and supporting those at the early stages of their career. When I started out, it was difficult to find other communication people to share best practice with outside of formal conferences and events. It is so much easier to find inspiration now, with social media, informal ‘unconferences’ and local networking events.
You must be brave and willing to innovate, and that means figuring out where best to apply your new ideas. Don’t be afraid to try something out, because you will hold yourself back and become your own worst enemy. My answer is to start small – find a project where the stakeholders are willing to do things differently, which will then build evidence that a different approach delivers a better result. There will be a snowball effect as others want the same results! I also couldn’t recommend more building your network. I often say that I haven’t applied for a job for 15 years, and it’s true – people have always approached me thanks to my network. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other IC professionals; drop them a note through Twitter, or ring them up asking for advice. Keep those relationships going, because our profession is built on making the connections.
Kate is the IoIC’s 2016 Internal Communicator of the Year. She has worked in employee engagement for 20 years in a range of roles, both in house and agency side, and covering various sectors. Her contributions to the profession have earned her IoIC Fellowship and over 40 awards for publications and campaigns. Kate is currently board chair of the IoIC and works as head of communications and corporate affairs at Tarmac. You can follow her on Twitter (@how_IC_it).