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Industry experts share how to secure THE top job in comms

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Posted: May 2022

What is your career goal? Establish your own comms consultancy? Head up comms for the leading company within your industry? Become the go-to specialist for the field you are really excited about and interested in?

Goal setting is important to measure our progress and to help us stay focused. No matter what your goal is, having a destination is important to push us to grow and develop a sense of achievement when we meet our milestones along the way.

Many comms pros we speak to tell us that their career goal is to one day be appointed Head of Corporate Affairs/Communications at a respectable company within their industry. So what are the key skills required to gain a top comms job in 2022? We interviewed three Heads of Communications; Mona Patel, Metro Bank, Morgan Bone, Virgin Money and Campbell McIlory, Grant Thornton who shared with us their thoughts on climbing the comms ladder. Read on for some inspiring insights on how to achieve your professional aspirations!

1. Be Creative

PR is undoubtedly very competitive, with an ever-increasing number of companies and products chasing opportunities for media exposure. To rise above the competition, creativity is key.

“There are only so many things you can say about your company’s products. You need to be very creative in telling your company’s story.” Says Mona Patel, Head of External Communications at Metro Bank. “Comms people are in a privileged position to have access to execs. Use this opportunity wisely - think about what information you can glean from interactions with various stakeholders in the business and how that can translate into stories for journalists.”

To maintain a steady flow of fresh ideas, Mona suggests that the key is to keep your horizons wide: “Be curious and always ask questions and find opportunities to learn,” she advises. “Be creative where you get your ideas from, for example, you can look internationally at what companies in different parts of the world are doing. You don’t have to limit yourself to your home market.”

2. Develop a breadth of skills

Having a comprehensive understanding of the communications mix is going to be pivotal in helping you gain a leadership position in the PR and comms industry. While you are likely to have more experience in one area of comms compared to another, try to keep your hands on a variety of projects.

“Make sure you develop a breadth of skills”, is the advice from Morgan Bone, Head of Corporate Affairs at Virgin Money. “Try to extend beyond your specialism - you need to know a bit of everything. Gain exposure to media relations, internal comms, public affairs, and ESG. Always identify useful new trends that can be of value to your internal and external clients, and beyond that, make sure you bear in mind the big picture and help progress the organisational goals.”

3. Nurture your network - internally and externally

It goes without saying that your external network is one of the most valuable assets you can bring to a company. Campbell McIlroy, Director of Global Communications at Grant Thornton, agrees. “Make sure you have a great book of contacts externally, be it journalists or external partners. Always be thinking about strengthening your network.”

Equally important and not to be overlooked is your relationship with internal stakeholders.

“Build real partnerships with colleagues from other functions”, says Campbell. “Use your listening skills to understand what’s really going on in other parts of the business. When speaking with your peers in the other departments, think about what their main priorities are, and how can comms support that? Build relationships with people in your organisation who you will advocate for you and vice versa.”

4. Demonstrate your worth

As communications become increasingly sophisticated, there are more tools and techniques than ever to prove the value of the specialism in a business. Successful comms people should be able to demonstrate their worth with data and measurement tools.

“Understanding data and how to use it is going to be a key skill to help you succeed,” says Campbell. “Understanding the effectiveness of what you do and being able to prove it with numbers and data will be fundamental to help you excel in your career.”

Conclusion

Whatever your career ambitions, these strategies are guiding principles for success. Creativity, breadth of expertise and your network all go a long way, as well as demonstrating value. These skills will certainly help you land that top job. Sometimes, you can have all these things but luck will play its part too. Being in the right place, at the right time helps. We would also be tempted to add courage to the list. To get to the top, you need to have brave and honest conversations on the way up and that takes courage.

With all the right experience and skills, you’ll also need someone to look out for you and keep you in mind for potential opportunities. Knowing a great executive search consultant could be a good part of the equation. As always, we are always happy to give advice!

Onwards and upwards!

Canace Wong
Executive Search Consultant



The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email sarah@the-works.co.uk.

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