A career in internal communications

A career in internal communications

By Andrew Holland

A version of this blog post was written for the Institute of Internal Communications (IoIC) #IChoseIC series, where internal communications professionals share how their IC careers started and have evolved.

Seize the opportunity

I remember the day I discovered Internal Communications like it was yesterday. It was 7pm and I’d been at work for about 12 hours having started on the early shift. This was in a call centre for a well-known utility and I’d recently been promoted to call centre team leader. I read the job advert for an Internal Communications Assistant and it jumped out at me. It described everything I wanted to do.

I successfully applied and started a 25-year career in Internal Communications, which has been rewarding at every turn!

In that first IC role, I had two inspirational leaders who really helped me establish my IC credentials. The first was my manager, who was incredibly supportive, extremely capable and forgiving of my mistakes and crazy ideas (although to be fair I think her ideas were often way crazier).

The second was the General Manager of the business, who really did empower people. I remember, having been promoted to IC Manager when my boss moved on, sending an in-depth and very thorough proposal to him for a campaign I wanted to run.

Getting the response ‘make it happen’ was all I needed, knowing I could seek his advice and support if I wasn’t sure of anything.

But why did the role jump out at me?

I’d studied Law and Economics (with Politics) at university, so it wasn’t an obvious career path. Despite having secured a place to complete my training contract, I had already decided not to pursue a career in law. But I’d always loved words and so wanted to find a career where I could write, influence and be noticed.

Temping in a call centre, first as a customer service advisor and then as a team leader, didn’t feel like the beginning of a career I wanted to plan my future around. At the time I had no idea what I was going to do long term.

There were three things in the advert that really stood out. First – that it was all about words. Secondly that there was only one of these roles in a call centre of 2,000 employees, so it certainly had profile. And thirdly, I’d already been on the receiving end of a considerable amount of ‘corporate communications’ that didn’t engage or resonate.

I knew I could adapt what came from the centre into something more meaningful for people locally.

The fundamental skills every IC professional needs

Since that first role, I have learned an incredible amount and seen the IC function evolve and change beyond measure. But I believe there are three fundamental skills that all IC professionals needed then and still need today and that this won’t change in the future.

They are curiosity, being a good writer and the ability to influence.

This is very clear in my current roles, running Comms Leaders, the specialist comms recruitment consultancy, where these are the skills hiring managers are looking for most; and The Academy, where our clients are constantly asking for bespoke in-house training around these key topics.

Looking back now, Law and Economics (with Politics) was a fantastic degree to have as a grounding for a career in IC. I’d never have been able to understand and explain the financials of the businesses I worked for as easily without that economics piece.

The law element taught me the importance of being precise with words and meaning to avoid confusion. As well as an awareness of how important it is to keep communications simple and to the point.

Politics was also useful in understanding the bigger picture and the many influences outside our control, which can frustrate decision making and progress in organisations. The rest has been learned on the job. But I still feel I have so much more to discover as the professional evolves.

The Future of Internal Communications

I see more and more jobs with internal communications and culture in their titles. This is exactly the direction I believe the profession should be going in. Who else in an organisation can straddle Corporate Communications, HR? In fact, every part of the business to influence its culture? Which other function can connect with employees and other stakeholders to drive engagement and culture change?

This current pandemic has helped raise the profile of Internal Communications and its ability to influence. I hope this will remain long after the crisis is over. But unless the profession as a whole seizes this moment and succeeds in influencing beyond the current rhythm of crisis communications, then the opportunity to keep that top-level influence could easily be lost.

Andrew Holland is a Partner at Comms Leaders, MD of The Academy and a Career Coach

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