Five lessons I’ve learnt as a communications assistant

After 10 months as a communications assistant in an NHS hospital trust, I’m leaving to take up an internal communications (IC) executive role at a large professional services firm. To mark this special occasion (and my first blog post!), here’s five important lessons I’ve learnt as an assistant:

1. Comms is much more than writing – one of the reasons I switched to a career in comms is because it seemed the closest job to journalism – one of my lifelong dream jobs. Thankfully, comms is so much more than just drafting online articles. As a comms assistant, I got to take corporate photos; help organise staff events; analyse social media statistics; create videos for YouTube and commission print design work. And I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I also got to write numerous articles for the trust’s intranet and website which was fun too. That’s the beauty of comms – there are so many tactical and strategic skills to learn and use. Yes, writing is an important piece of the comms puzzle, but it is by no means the only one. I look forward to learning and using more comms skills as my career develops.

2. Internal and external comms benefit from working closely together – as an assistant, I supported the internal and external comms teams which gave me a detailed and helicopter view of the comms team’s activities. I used this position to share updates between the teams and to ensure that both teams considered the trust’s internal and external comms channels and key messages when planning projects and campaigns. Both teams have said that they found my dual perspective useful and I can see how our team outputs were enriched by internal and external comms being closely linked. You only have to look at the recent controversies at United Airlines and British Airways to see what can happen when internal and external messages do not align. Digital technology is steadily closing the gap between internal and external comms, so teams working in these spaces need to align if their organisations want to be trusted.

3. Comms teams are bad at internal self-promotion – as a business function, communications – especially the internal kind – still remains a mystery to many. Try telling an old school friend or a distant relative what you do for a living and watch their reaction (I’m guessing blank stares and excessive nodding). Colleagues can be just as oblivious, believing you have the power to extend their email recipient limit or resolve their pay issues (genuine queries I’ve received). But can we really blame them? The central purpose of comms is to share information with different audiences, yet too often comms teams seem reticent to tell their colleagues who they are and what they can (or can’t/won’t) do. My team received more relevant requests for support (compared to irrelevant requests) after we launched a team intranet page (with photo) and went out and talked to key staff groups about the work that we do. Who’d a thunk!

4. Networking is everything – Before I moved into internal comms, I’d never really experienced the benefits of networking. I’m pleased to say that I’ve now seen the light. That I’ve secured a more senior IC role after 10 months as an assistant is partly due to the contacts I’ve made through attending and helping organise IC events and taking part in IC debates on social media. My IC network has also given me some handy comms tips and career advice, and has shared job vacancies with me – including my new role. My enthusiasm for IC – as evidenced by my networking – was one of the main reasons I was nominated for a 2017 CIPR #InsideStory award. In some ways, I’m fortunate because IC folk are some of the warmest and helpful professionals that I’ve met. However, had I not been brave and thrown myself into the world of IC, I would never have known.

5. Comms can help improve people’s lives – Over the years, certain sections of the UK media have accused NHS communicators of being a ‘pointless’ drain on an already cash-strapped system (See The Sun and The Telegraph). This could not be further from the truth. I won’t go too much into the vital role that communication teams play in the NHS – Amanda Nash, head of comms at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, covers this brilliantly in her recent blog post. My personal experience is that effective communications complements the amazing work carried out by NHS staff every day. For example, my team created promotional material and online content for an eye drop awareness event run by the trust’s Pharmacy team which helped raise the event’s profile and increase patient attendance. It is hoped that the campaign will help improve patient health outcomes and satisfaction ratings and the available data looks promising so far. So there you have it; comms can indeed improve lives.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt over the past 10 months that a) I love working in internal communications; and b) I’m actually quite good at it! This is partly due to the wonderful people who have supported me on my journey so far – thank you! I look forward to starting my new role and the next chapter of my IC career.

What were the most important lessons you learnt when you started out in communications? 

Let me know by leaving a comment below or connecting with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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