Language, confidence and self-belief  Рthe path to the boardroom 

I had to pull myself up for how my language was impacting on people earlier this week. The words were unwittingly creating an unhelpful impression and I suddenly started to see the impact it was having. Today I was working as part of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Foresight Panel and the issue came up again.

The problem is that as a profession we have been really poor at doing our own PR. Few people outside of the industry know who we are and what we do. This has been the case over many years and we are still failing to address the issue. I am not sure why it has happened. It could be that we have been too busy working for our clients or that we have been trying to avoid being in the spotlight. But whatever it is we need to start tackling it now if we are ever to achieve our full potential both as individuals and as a profession.

We spend a lot of time talking about how PR and communication is more than just a support function and it needs to be heard in the boardroom. Over recent years in many organisations and the public sector we have seen cuts that have pushed communicators further away from the top table.

It is only us as practitioners that can change this and start to emphasise the business benefits that a strategic approach to communication and PR can bring. It starts with how we talk about ourselves and our work, and most importantly we have to have the confidence in what we do as a strategic function. 

This is easier than it sounds. If you have been downgraded to sit away from the decision making and are told to just say good things about the business then you may feel bruised. The key is you have to ‘fake it until you make it’ as a wise woman once said to me.

You need to start talking as if you are operating at boardroom level. Understand the nuts and bolts of the business and what makes it tick. See yourself working as a strategic advisor that provides guidance in the same way as the head of finance or the head of legal. In short, have some self-belief that as a communicator you are more than just tactical delivery. If this doesn’t start to improve the situation then it may be time to look at whether it is the right organisation to be in.

Alongside that we have to take firm control of our career and development. If we want to operate at the top level then we must show continuous professional development and a willingness to learn and step out of the communication world that we know. If we know where we want to be then we can make the right moves and steps towards reaching that goal.

The time is right for us to start to do PR for PR, in fact with the global events taking place it is now critical. We have to use language to support our path into the boardroom.

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Excuse me could you blow into this

There are few events that I come across at work that surprise me anymore. After 18 years working in police communication roles I have experienced quite a bit both good and bad. But earlier this week I was stunned by the actions of one job hunter hoping to secure a position within the police.

In case you have missed it the article can be found here

The interviewee had driven to the interview but was under the influence of alcohol and after some quick thinking by the interviewer they were breathalysed and charged. The case concluded at court this week.

Often we have a plan of what we think the day at work will hold. We may have a to do list, meetings planned and calls to make. It may all seem fairly straightforward and possibly mundane. The drink drive story reminds us to expect the unexpected and be prepared to adapt and change at short notice.

It is easy to slip into a routine and possibly fail to see what is right under our nose. The challenge is to keep fresh and not to become complacent every minute of every day at work.

We never know what is around the corner so we need to be ready to deal with whatever may confront us tomorrow and the next day.

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Talking it through

In case you missed it today is Time to Talk day which aims to encourage people to be open about mental health issues. If you have read any of my blogs, particularly during the past 12 months, you will know that mental resilience and dealing with the pressure of modern life are subjects close to my heart.

It is still shocking to me that we don’t feel able to talk about subjects like depression and anxiety with our family, friends and colleagues. After all we are much more open now about a whole range of physical conditions and illnesses. It appears that mental health issues are one of the few remaining taboo subjects.

There is so much to gain by talking things through either with close friends and family, experts or our wider support network. I found this was the case when I went away last weekend for a bit of space to think things through. Being able to talk to the group of women that I met was like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. It is something we too rarely do.

Some of the problem is that we have a lot to live up to in the modern world. If we look on social media we see people having a fantastic time and wonderful life, and it can quickly make us dissatisfied. We also don’t want to show any sign of weakness and admitting to finding things difficult to deal with or cope with is often seen as that.

At the heart of things is our need to deal with those issues, feelings and emotions that are in our head. Even if we do not suffer from a diagnosed mental illness we will all face ups and downs in our daily life. At its worst it can leave us feeling down and unhappy. Finding ways to deal with our thoughts and shift our perception is tough but essential.

We need to make sure that today is just the start of a more open conversation where people feel able to raise concerns and issues, and seek help.


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Time to think

For anyone who has read my blogs you will know I often talk about the need to have some time to yourself in this busy fast moving world. Being able to switch off from the endless demands of modern life and social media are more valuable now than ever before. This weekend I had a chance to really try to achieve the silence I have been craving on my first retreat.

It may sound like I was either on a spa break or going religious but it was neither of those things. Along with 20 other women I had a chance to meditate and take time to consider my life and the issues in it. There was only patchy Wi-Fi so it was cut off from the latest news and social media updates which was a real challenge for me.

I only went for two days but it felt like a lot longer. There was no television and when I went to my sparsely furnished room there was total silence. I don’t think I have experienced silence like that for a long time. In the morning all you could hear was the dawn chorus.

So what I have gained from this brief experience of a retreat? Firstly, there is nothing more powerful than when women come together and support one another. There was no bitching, no judging and it was all focused on helping each other. It is something more women should do on a daily basis. Secondly, I realised that meditation is an essential part of a busy life. It gives some silence and head space so that you can be refreshed. I have been fairly poor at making time to do this but when it is just five or 10 minutes I can’t afford not to. Finally, it reminded me that I have a pretty good life and have some amazing people, animals and things in it.

I am not sure I could do it for longer than a couple of days because I don’t like being parted from animals and of course family. The experience was invaluable and has given me an opportunity to recharge my batteries and reconnect with my thoughts. The next step is to take the learning from my time and build it into my daily life. We will see if I can achieve that.


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A spot of turbulence

Life is a lot of fun. It is exciting and busy. It has great opportunities and things to enjoy. But it can also be very hard, difficult, complex, challenging and tough. So how do we make sure that we can come through things relatively unscathed?

In the past few weeks I have been ill. It started at the end of last year and then lingered despite the attempts to defeat the virus with two lots of antibiotics. It is something I haven’t kept quiet about because it has been really frustrating. The more days and weeks that past the more annoyed I got that I was still feeling tired, ill and bunged up. I know this is something that a lot of people have also battled with in recent weeks.

One thing that kept going through my mind was that I just didn’t have time to be ill. I have work, home life, a horse, my gerbils and all the things I like doing to try and fit into each day and being under the weather just wasn’t helpful. It made every day a struggle as I had to try and complete my obligations.

I like to pride myself on my resilience. The ability to bounce back from stresses, challenges and frustrating things that happen. I always feel that I am invincible and can keep going on and on a bit like the Duracell bunny. This week has proved to me that I can’t.

The illness, the work, the responsibilities I have all conspired against me. It left me nowhere to go when a few little problems arose. I reached capacity and the only place left was a little meltdown. I should have spotted the warning signs earlier and done the right thing. The right thing was to give myself some time out, some time to recover from the mounting pressures.

We can often be out of touch with our situation until it comes to breaking point. It is important to take better care of ourselves. I was interested to see a blog I wrote from about this time last year that was inspired by a survey that found public relations work was among one of the most stressful professions. If we know these things then why don’t we look more closely at our lives and build in some capacity that will leave us somewhere to go when the pressure is on?

Time for us to be kinder to ourselves to make sure we can regroup and bounce back from the turbulent times in our lives.

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So you are a head of comms

I have been interested in the discussion taking place in the last few days about the role of the head of communications. There has been an issue raised about how hard being the most senior communication person in an organisation is, particularly in the squeezed public sector. But what does the head of communications actually do?

In many cases I am sure the senior people in organisations are not really sure themselves what they want from the person in charge of the communication function. They are not sure what they want from the changing communication landscape itself and it all becomes a very confused situation. This makes it critical for the person given the responsibility to lead communication to be clear about what they believe the role is and what they can bring to the business.

Being a head of communication means you have to be able to scan the whole organisation and understand how it works. You don’t have to know the minute detail but you are expected to know what it is, how it functions and where the priorities are for the next five to 10 years. Alongside that you have to be able to keep up-to-date with the developments in communication, what works, what opportunities exist and how you can make best use of the changing landscape for the organisation.

There are a whole range of skills that the senior communications person needs to have. They have to be resilient as it is a tough world where the responsibility stops with you. It is your decision-making that may be put under scrutiny. You have to be calm and confident in the middle of the worst possible situation. When the crisis happens it is up to you to be the voice of reason, calm and support to deal with things. You have to be able to influence at the highest level. Often you will be the lowest paid of the senior managers round a table but that can’t affect how you operate if you want to be effective.

Above all you have to be a leader and be able to motivate a team, providing training and support, bring in new talent and build and rebuild a team as people leave and join. Any leadership position can be a lonely place which makes having a strong support network really critical for a head of communication.

So why do we do it? After more than 15 years at a senior level and as I start my ninth year as a head of communication I can say it is because there is no better job. It is pressured and tough but you get the chance to see things develop, come to fruition and really benefit the organisation. If you are in the public sector it can’t be about the money so it has to be about the opportunities and the feeling of having a positive impact on people’s lives.

We have lost some of the best public sector heads of communications as they move on or retire but I believe there are many keen people ready and willing to take on the responsibility. For me it still remains an interesting, exciting and rewarding job to have.


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A time to grow

After more than two weeks trying to get over a horrible virus I am finally starting to feel better. It has meant I can start to look to the year ahead and some predictions of what may be ahead.

It is going to be another challenging year with the start of stepping away from Europe and closer to home the election of the Greater Manchester mayor. There is no doubt that public services will face more budget reductions and as communicators that is going to bring extra pressure.

But that difficult environment brings opportunities to demonstrate what communication can do to help manage change and uncertainty. There is a chance for public sector communicators to get more involved in helping to shape the future as they have a unique position that gives a broad understanding of the service.

The 12 months ahead is a time for public relations to grow into a strategic function. All of us working in the industry have a duty to elevate what we do by focusing on ethics, delivery and frontline benefits to organisations. This is our time to redefine public relations as much more than promotion.

For my part I want to end this year feeling that I have been able to help communication and PR grow. I want to play my part in moving things forward so the future is bright for the industry as it has a huge amount to offer to 2017.

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