Dear comms managers, this is what a young professional really needs from you
Guest article by Lauren Ryan
As someone who is starting out their career in internal communications, my mind is often racing at 100 mph trying to watch, learn, listen, and absorb everything that comms professionals around me are doing. Day in day out, we heed the advice that others are giving us and although some are useful and worth jotting down, people rarely stop to ask young comms people: ‘What is it you need from me (or the team) to really help you develop?’.
Besides from the passive ‘any courses you’ve seen recently?’ or the ‘sign yourself up for some networking events’ - which almost sometimes feel like throw away, tick box questions – people often don’t realise there are so many opportunities in the average working day that can bring value – even if those who are already established in their careers find them the ‘boring’ and ‘mundane’ things.
So, to really capture how you can genuinely help someone who is starting out their comms career, I’ve listed a few of my own thoughts below - which may work for some and may not work for others but they’re definitely things that have crossed my mind!
It may seem boring, but budget management is very useful for us
Obviously, we want to be involved in the action planning, the creative brainstorms, and every other fun part that a good comms project or campaign brings – but the ‘boring’ side of budget management is such a useful skill for young comms professionals.
I’m not saying to trust us with a £200k budget right away but expose us to the conversations you have or how you make your decisions based on different factors. Tell us what elements of a project you decided to scale back on, or why you decided on x instead of y – let us see for ourselves how you stick to this budget, how difficult or easy, it is to manage large and small budgets, and what happens when you have spare cash or nothing at all.
It's an important part of professional life and not something we’ve learnt in school or university. We’ve learnt a million times how to talk in a group and come up with some ideas, but we haven’t learnt the real-life skills of managing budgets and projects – it’s time to bring us into these situations.
Expose us to different projects which have varying significance
It’s great to work on the small-scale projects and to feel like we own some element of the comms team’s outputs. But something which we’re often kept away from are the different projects which have varying significance.
Are we thinking about a financial results message? Are we preparing for a crisis comms piece? Are there some important transformation conversations going on which have a huge effect on our colleagues? Or are we working on a DEI campaign?
We know things can be sensitive and we know the seriousness of confidentiality – all you need to do is brief us on what we can and can’t say (or do) and we’ll take this on board. How are we ever meant to learn how to deal with different comms challenges if we are kept in the dark on what’s going on? Granted, there may be some conversations that require senior stakeholder presence only, or perhaps you know exactly what steps we’re taking so don’t want further input – but even if we sit tight, listen to the conversations, and just make notes on how things are done; it’s invaluable experience that will help us to consider comms from different angles and how language and tone changes with each challenge we face.
Let us try our ideas – you never know, they may just work
The last point, and something I think managers need to get better at, is to trust our ideas. There may be established ways of doing things and yes, you’ll know the business a lot better than we do, but we need the space to try out our ideas.
For many of us, we’ve come from an environment in university where we’ve been really encouraged to explore our ways of thinking, consider alternative methods and to dig deeper to find our style and voice – and I think there’s something the professional world can learn from this.
Whether we fail or succeed, just taking something from an idea and bringing it to fruition and into a coherent, thought-out plan is enough to help us develop our own way of doings things and to shape our comms style. How do I know what kind of comms professional I am if I don’t get to try things out? How will I know what I can offer future organisations/clients if I am yet to experiment and learn from my actions?
For me personally, I’m on a mission to find my comms style and who I am in this industry and what I can offer and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this mindset. So, if there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s to encourage our ideas more and if you have the capacity, help us to bring them to life.
The young comms professionals who are entering the industry have been through many challenges – from a worldwide pandemic hitting us right at the end of university life, to the world becoming more virtual and our networking opportunities plummeting – there’s a real opportunity for managers to be a positive and encouraging influence at this point of our careers, and can really shape what our futures in comms look like.
Thank you to Lauren Ryan, Internal Communications Executive at Imperial Brands for sharing her article with the CIPR Inside. If you'd like to share your internal communication insights and views, email us at [email protected].