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Why I love internal communications – and how I got there

What started as an "add on" to my PR job, has now become my core focus and most fulfilling aspect of my career.

As a kid, I always liked writing. I won some junior writing competitions in school and then edited the school paper as a teenager. The University of Victoria, Canada – close to where I was raised in Vancouver – had a very well-regarded creative writing program. When I got accepted, I was a little concerned how I was going to apply my degree later in life. Ending up a professional poet seemed a bit far-fetched. But my mother always said that if you can write well, you can write own your ticket anywhere. So off I went to study poetry, fiction and screenplays.

When I graduated university, I was lucky that a contact put me in touch with a global tech company in Vancouver that was hiring a PR Coordinator. I knew nothing about public relations but I was told I would be able to write briefing books and press releases so it seemed like an excellent opportunity to get my foot in the door. What they didn't tell me was that I would spend the entire first month just scanning press clippings.

They soon started trusting me with more responsibility. Every now and then in that role, I was asked to draft and send e-mails to employees about what was happening at the company. In those days, internal communications was not a separate discipline; it was more like a 'hot potato' marketing activity – projects were tossed to anyone working in corporate marketing who could string a sentence together and who had a few hours free. Sometimes it was me. Sometime it was the events person – or even the graphic designer – who was tasked with the work.

When this company closed their Vancouver office, I moved to another local in-house position. This time, internal comms was part of the actual job description. Here, I built on my knowledge from my previous role and supported broader IC initiatives, from messaging and presentations to the company's global internal newsletter. It was still purely functional, but I enjoyed communicating with, and getting feedback from, an audience I could relate to – my colleagues.

In my mid-twenties, I moved to New York for "just one year". I saw it as the chance to finally pursue my creative writing dreams. Advertising seemed like an exciting place to start. During an informational interview with an advertising agency powerhouse, I was gently advised to stick to PR or corporate communications. If I went into advertising, she explained, I would likely have to take a few career steps back: start as a junior copywriter or even an admin. It was clear that it was an intensely competitive industry and there was no guarantee I would make it.Plus, my creative writing samples were now five years old and "from Canada".

So I started looking for roles in PR. I was keen to move to agency life and soon started at a wonderful PR firm in midtown that was focused on media relations and social media for tech clients. For PR agencies, reputation management was the primary focus 15 years ago. I can't think of a single client who asked for Internal Communications support in the four+ years I was with the firm.

I have now been at Peppercomm, an integrated marketing agency, for the past 12 years, starting in New York and then moving to London, where I currently reside. I have seen a shift over the past decade in what clients are seeking from agency partners. While PR is still as important as ever, companies now recognize the power of internal comms and understand that positive employee experiences create good company culture. There is a greater understanding that company (and individual) growth and success can really only occur when employees are valued, informed and heard. Forward-thinking companies know they need agency counsel and support to ensure they meet employees' evolving needs. This has been accelerated even further by COVID-19.

Looking back at my career, my writing degree certainly helped in my various IC roles, but it's been great to flex new muscles and develop new skills along the way. My role is so much more than writing – critical thinking/problem solving, analytics and insight, project management, branding & design, negotiation, tech integration, enterprise partnership, and client relations are all part of the skillset I use every week. If I don't know something, I ask smart folks for help – or look for training opportunities.

I have been lucky that I have worked for four wonderful companies, and four wonderful bosses, in three countries over 20 years. But I know I'm the exception to the rule. I have seen friends and family crumble under the weight of negative workplace experiences – and we all know, sadly, that workplace pressure can be crushing and can contribute to poor mental health. In my role, I play a small part – but a meaningful part – in helping companies create greater connections with their employees. It's a rewarding aspect of my career and one that I think will be of even greater importance to industries and employers in the coming years. Internal communications is not something I set out to do, but I sure love where I ended up.

Why #IChoseIC
Keeping the conversation going on mental health


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