Five things I wish I knew when starting out…

It’ll be 12 years this year since I started working as an Internal Communicator. I have absolutely no idea where that time has gone. Like many others I didn’t start my career as an Internal Communications professional, in fact, I don’t even think I knew such a role existed. I graduated from university with a 2.1 in IT and I had huge ambitions to take over the tech world. Sadly, the year I graduated there was a huge dot.com crash and roles were tight in the North West.

Luckily during my role as an Admissions Officer at MMU I met a fabulous Marketing Manager, who encouraged me to undertake a Masters in Strategic Marketing after she saw a newsletter I created for the faculty and the rest, as they say, is history.

There have been many highs and lows during the last 12 years but I’ve learnt quite a lot (sometimes the hard way) during this time so to mark this anniversary, I’ve pulled together five key things I wish I’d known when I started out – which I hope helps some of you in some way:

  • Join a professional body. I cannot emphasise this enough. Joining a professional body is literally one of the best things I’ve ever done as it really helped me develop my career further. It doesn’t matter which one as long as you join the one that is right for you and your career. I didn’t join a professional body until I was a few years into my career and I really wish I’d joined earlier. Currently I’m a member of IoIC and CIPR (where I’m currently the Vice Chair for their Internal Comms committee CIPR Inside).
  • Be bold. In the early days I’ve sat mute and not said anything throughout an entire meeting as I feared I wasn’t senior/experienced enough. It’s important that you push that out of your mind. Remember you’re there as the advisor and an expert so seniority shouldn’t come into play. If you have something to add then speak up and if you’re sat in a meeting longer than 10 minutes and you haven’t said anything, question why you are there.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. There have been many sleepless nights where I’ve laid awake worrying about a spelling mistake in a subject line or an article I had written. Was it ideal? No it wasn’t – but the world won’t stop spinning. Learn from it and move on.
  • Keep learning and logging CPD. This is important if you want to be seen as a Trusted Advisor within your field or organisation. You need to keep up with the latest trends and what’s happening in the world of business and comms. I recently signed up for the Internal Comms Diploma with PR Academy which is brilliant and I’ve undertaken quite a few short courses including a masterclass with IC guru Rachel Miller (you can read my write up here). However, you don’t need to commit to courses if you don’t have the time (or funds), you can read blogs, articles, books and sign up for webinars, seminars and events. I wrote a post a few weeks back on my top blogs.
  • Network! Not many of us have the luxury of working in a large comms team and often we find ourselves working either on our own or with a really small team. Getting out and about at various networking events will really help increase your knowledge base and you’ll also get to meet some fabulous people along the way. If you can’t get to any events then use Social Media and make the most of your network on Twitter and/or LinkedIn. CIPR Inside has quite an active feed on Twitter so come and join in!

Let me know if you have any tips you wish you knew when you were starting out and give me a shout if you want to connect, you can find me on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Working with no budget?

Many of us have been in situations where budget is a bit tight or non-existence. Over the years I’ve pulled together a handy list of all the tools that have helped me out in my role without breaking the bank. I’m definitely not advocating the replacement of creative agencies, as these guys are absolute life-savers when you need some support and guidance on the big ticket items. I just enjoy making things look as good as they can be, as it makes such a difference to how people read your message. The tools I’ve mentioned below will definitely help take your materials to the next level:

Design

Firstly, let’s be clear, IC are not a design department and frankly it’s not really our role to make things look ‘pretty’. However, in a small organisation or somewhere where budget is bit of an issue it can be all hands-on-deck at times and sometimes you do have to support leaders/managers if you want to get things done.

Once you’ve made the decision that you have time to support, you will want to use something that’s easy and doesn’t cost the earth. Microsoft Word is fine but it’s restrictive and can be a bit boring. PowerPoint is a bit easier to manipulate but again you’re limited on what you can do. My go-to design tool has to be Canva. If you’ve never used Canva before you are missing out.

This online tool is easy to use, doesn’t require any software and has 1000s of templates, icons and images you can use. I’ve added some examples of some designs you can create.

Pink Hobbies Facebook PostPink Hobbies Facebook Post (1)

It doesn’t cost a fortune and it’s something that will pay for itself throughout time.

Animation

I love animated videos and if I could do everything in animation I would. The only downside is that it can cost quite a bit of money. If you’re doing a big campaign that requires quite a bit of buy-in then I definitely recommend you spend some money to bring in some experts as they will not only design but they’ll also advise based on their experience. Biteable is great for creating quirky short videos that doesn’t require much text. You can upload your own images or use one of the many templates they have.

It’s an online software package which again doesn’t require you to download software to your machine. There are a few templates available which are ridiculously easy to use. You choose the templates, add your words, choose the colours and add some music from their music library, and you’re on your way. I recently created a #CIPRProud video which I’ve attached below. It only took me 20 minutes but it definitely did the job I needed it to do.

 

Photos

If you take quite a lot of photos on your phone then you definitely need to download the Photoshop app from app store. It’s a lifesaver and can make your images look like they’ve been taken by a professional. It’s free to download but there is a small fee if you want to use all the features. Definitely something to consider if you’re the resident photographer as well (we’ve all been there!).

Events

This is a bit contentious as some organisations can be a bit funny with anything that involves collecting data – especially with GDPR on its way. However, if you can get through the legalities of using it then Eventbrite is well worth the effort as this tool really helps keep things in order. It sends automatic alerts, allows you to collate lists, you can sort by acceptance, ask custom questions and to top it all off it helps you to create badges (if you know, you know!). It’s free to use if you’re not charging for the event – so definitely look into it if you’ve never used it before.

I hope you find these useful. Are there any more you use that you think should be added to the list? Let me know and I’ll include.

Do we really need a seat at the table to make a difference?

Earlier this week, I took part in #commschat which was all about how IC plays a part in managing reputation in an organisation. It was a great conversation and if you’ve never taken part then I urge you to check it out (every Monday at 8.00 p.m. via @commschat).

During the chat a point was raised about IC having a seat at the table. This topic of conversation has been part of my IC life ever since I started working in the field. I’ve held many conversations with lots of peers about how they could transform the organisation if they had a place at the table rather than their ideas being ignored or being treated like someone who ‘just writes newsletters.’ I completely agree that having a voice or a seat at the table could definitely change the way some senior bods saw IC but I also believe that this shouldn’t really stop us delivering and making a difference.

For a few years I was part of the gang that spoke about the unfairness of not having a seat at the table and how we were poor relations to PR/Marketing and External Affairs. I moaned about being an after-thought and some of my ideas not being taken seriously at senior level. However, after a particularly challenging day at work I decided to change my mind-set. Rather than sit in the corner staring at my emails I started to make small changes – first thing I did was to leave my desk. I went and spoke to people about their roles and what they did. I listened to them and made connections. I invited myself to team meetings and shared ideas when they were facing some tough decisions. I basically became a ‘fountain of knowledge’ as some of my colleagues used to call me. I made sure I understood the organisation inside out and who the key influencers were, I kept my ear to the ground and tried to sense the general feeling of the organisation. It’s not an easy task and some people will be reluctant to let you in but perseverance will pay off in the end.

Understanding the culture and the people of your organisation is something your senior leaders will thank you for. Not only does it help you get a sense of what is happening across the site but it allows you to grow into a trusted advisor. In my opinion if you want to make significant changes you need to be able to build trust with colleagues, leaders and your peers. Going in like a bull in a china shop is not going to do you any favours and even if an idea worked brilliantly in the last organisation it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work in the next one.

It will not always be plain sailing – there will always be challenges along the way but one of the great things about Internal Comms peeps is that we tend to be fairly resilient and we rarely give up.

So don’t worry too much about not having a seat at the table – remember actions speak much louder than words.

What do you think? Do you agree or do you think having a seat at the table is crucial if we’re to make a big difference?

Why bother with CPD?

A few months ago I took the plunge and decided to invest in the CIPR Internal Communications Diploma with PR Academy. I’ve worked within Internal Comms for more than 10 years and I was deliberating whether or not this course would add anything to the knowledge I’ve gained through experience. I’d read all about the course, spoken to several people many times about what it entailed and spent many hours weighing up the pros/cons – especially as I was paying for the programme myself.

In the end I was swayed by the positive testimonials from everyone who had undertaken the course previously. I decided to join the online version as it was easier for me to manage with work and other commitments. I’m part-way through the programme and I’m really enjoying it. I was a bit worried about going back to academia, especially as it’s been 10 years since I completed my masters (and I still have some scars!) but so far it’s been fantastic. It’s been great to learn the theory behind some of the tactics we deploy as communicators as I think it really helps us strengthen our Trusted Advisor status in organisations that we support. It’s also useful to go back and truly understand the basics of internal communications to help you think more deeply about some core decisions we make in our role. I’ll keep you all updated as I progress but so far there are no regrets!

I’m a big believer in Continuing Professional Development and I think we need to take ownership of our own development rather than relying on others to make that decision for us. Ultimately you are in charge of your future and the goals you want to achieve so you need to choose about the direction you want to go. I’m all for speaking with your manager and getting feedback/support but don’t allow budget restrictions or other influences deter you from doing what you believe is right for you.

Of course, it doesn’t always have to cost lots of money; you can gain experience and knowledge by volunteering for committees, joining a professional body or just by networking with like-minded people. Twitter and Linkedin are great forums to connect and learn from others. I particularly enjoy reading blogs and articles that others share online – I’ve listed some of my favourites below:

http://www.allthingsic.com/
http://redefiningcomms.com/
http://www.helendeverellcommunications.com/
http://www.alivewithideas.com/blog
https://www.ragan.com/InternalCommunications/Internal.aspx
https://www.ickollectif.com/
https://www.gatehouse.co.uk/blog/
http://blog.bananatag.com/internal-comms
https://handhcomms.co.uk/blogs
http://www.marginalia.online/category/articles/

Let me know if there are any more I should include on this list!

You can find out more about the IC Diploma and others by visiting: https://pracademy.co.uk/