Communications guiding principles – across sectors and audiences

Introductioncommunication tags, abstract vector art illustration

During the course of this year, I have been lucky enough to visit/shadow a range of communications teams. The aim was to get a greater understanding of their priorities and how they work. Added to my own experience in local government communications, this blog summarises what I have learnt.

I discovered that although there are a lot of nuances and different terms used, there are key guiding principles which run throughout all professional communications teams.

I would like to thank to my hosts Alison Steel a very experienced and professional communications and marketing director at Kingston University and Paul Sandell the legal comms guru at Thomson Reuters.

Differences and similarities

The following subject areas were on the agenda for my visits and come up repeatedly at networking events that I have attended with communications professionals.

  • Structure and roles – depending on the level of resource and emphasis for the organisation e.g. PR, communications and marketing this can vary greatly.
  • Specialist versus generalist professionals – a mix of both types seems to work best
  • Ways of working – the key is having a communications strategy and supporting this with principles. By sharing plans and sticking to the principles, it is possible to influence internal and external stakeholders and communicate effectively.
  • Channels – sometimes individuals are responsible for specific channels and sometimes there is a shared responsibility. But in all cases, clear segmentation and targeting that is supported by a strong approach to measuring and evaluation deliver the best results.
  • Strategic planning and priorities – it’s essential that these are directly linked to the organisations priorities and reflected as communications priorities.
  • Importance of business continuity – how to guides, cross-skilling and business continuity plans mean that crises can be better avoided.
  • Culture and behavioural values – working with HR to ensure that this is understood and demonstrated across the organisation, is critical to support communications and engagement.
  • Getting ‘buy in’ from the organisation – through internal stakeholder management and clearly setting out the stall for communications. Supporting self service where necessary will help to bring everyone round to the benefits of communications!
  • Writing for a global/diverse local audience – Plain English is key to getting your message across whatever the audience.

Comms trends

Alison Steel highlighted the importance of website Service Engine Optimisation and digital channels. As well as the need for audience segmentation and the greater emphasis on having a core narrative which is then re-purposed as content for different channels and audiences.

Paul Sandell felt the profession as a whole could improve on monitoring evaluation and was working on this as part of his business planning.

Farzana Baduel – Founder of CurzonPR  gave her to take on the future of the PR industry at a recent CIPR networking event. She touched on the demise of the print industry and increased use of digital channels. She talked about the importance of producing engaging content and the benefits which social media gives us, in terms of the ability to measure. She felt that PR agencies should be embracing the PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) model in order to measure change in the form of meaningful metrics.

She also mentioned the importance of professional development and respect for colleagues  in relation to the convergence of communications, marketing, digital and PR disciplines. She works across continents and underlined the importance of understanding different cultures and ways of working.

Public sector

Due to budget cuts and the emphasis on digital communications, we are delivering a lot less print media. We are doing more for less, taking advantage of local and contractor partnerships to sponsor events and projects. It is even more crucial to prioritise and focus communications on supporting the organisations’ business plan and administration political priorities. Monitoring and evaluation and audience insight helps us to target our messaging and use limited resources effectively.

Kingston University– Higher education communications and marketingKUni

The Marketing and Communications Team at Kingston University were centralised and more generic roles have been developed. This change was supported by internal stakeholder engagement throughout the process and cross mentoring and how-to guides for the team to share knowledge and experience.


Thomson Reuters, Legal  – Global private sector communicationsTR

The cultural values at Thomson Reuters: ‘The Answer Company’, have been embedded through a programme of employee education and come out strongly internally and externally. This starts with the organisations trust principles, as a trusted provider of business intelligence and a news source. It goes further to promote trust and transparency through everything the organisation does.

Guiding principles include ‘pace and predictability’, with ‘customers at the heart’ of the approach, are closely aligned to the organisational goals.  A strong commitment to planning, leads the work which informs the ‘operating rhythm’ for communications delivery.

Internal communications ask the following questions about the messaging/channel – What do I need employees to : Know, Feel or Do. The employee perception and activity in relation to this is reflected on twitter at #workingatTR.

Changing sector in a communications careerchange

This leads me onto another issue which Theresa Kinight – Media Relationship Manager at Methodist Housing Association recently blogged about on Comms2point0.

Her post on how does it feel to change sectors as a comms person?  highlights what I’ve found, that good communicators can work across sectors taking their professionalism and transferable skills and applying them to the organisations’ situation.

Better Placed recruitment consultancy also covered this issue more specifically on Making the move from the charity sector into the private sector. I believe that lots of our skills as communicators are transferable and it is a fascinating career challenge to apply them in different scenarios and environments.

Let me know your thoughts @katygibbins1

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