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Freelance member Elaine Brewster works across marketing, PR and internal communication disciplines. She tells us about how she got into IC, the challenges and rewards of freelancing, and the mysteries of the Gloucestershire cheese rolling competition in the latest in our IoIC People series.

You are experienced in both external and internal comms. How were you first introduced to IC?

A number of years ago I was working for a company who wanted to introduce some new IT and operational systems; at the time my focus was purely on marketing and a bit of PR. This particular project had always been viewed as “something IT were working on” and bore no relevance to the rest of the business, or so we thought. An ambitious “go live” date meant that we had to get employee buy-in very quickly and I worked on internal messaging alongside what we planned to communicate externally. This made me realise the value of keeping employees informed and involved from the outset, rather than trying to engage them at the last minute. Nevertheless we had a great launch and employees were excited at the prospect of using the new systems. And it’s just built from there; I always consider the impact of what I am doing on employees and how best to keep them informed, whether it’s a project, organisational change or just sharing great news stories.

What has been your proudest achievement?

I left school at 16 with no idea of what I wanted to do, and ended up at secretarial college. It took me until I was 31 to decide that I needed some further qualifications to help me identify a career path, during which time I stumbled upon marketing as part of my studies. I navigated my way through an HNC and CIM qualifications, finally getting my CIM Postgraduate Diploma in Marketing in 2006, whilst holding down a full time job and looking after my two young sons. Along the way, my studies opened doors which gave me the opportunity firstly in marketing and then communications. Hard work, but incredibly rewarding.

From a personal point of view it has to be bringing up my sons to be well-rounded, polite and able to make their own way in the world. I am extremely proud of them both.

Do you think marketing and IC teams work together closely enough?

My experience is limited to small teams which provide both marketing and communications support to the organisations I’ve worked for. In that scenario it’s more natural for team members to work closely together and share ideas.

What can marketers learn from internal communicators and vice versa?

In my view it’s all about making your messages meaningful for your audience. It doesn’t matter whether you are enthusing about a pair of trainers, a new insurance service or trying to explain organisational changes; the principles should be the same. I can sometimes watch an advert and have no idea what they are trying to sell me – perhaps because the advert isn’t targeted at me – but I reckon I’m quite astute and if I don’t get it, will others do so? My motto is always to put myself in their shoes and keep it simple.

Have you ever met anyone famous?

Through my work I was fortunate to have been invited to a sports fundraiser in London a few years ago and had the pleasure of meeting James Cracknell. His expedition to Antarctica with Ben Fogle had just aired on TV a few weeks’ previously so it was interesting to chat to him about what they didn’t show on the programmes. I got him to autograph a copy of his book for me and we also had some photos taken – although this was pre-selfie/smartphone days so I have no idea what happened to the snaps.

You haven’t been freelancing that long. What’s good and what’s challenging about it?

I’d been made redundant twice in a short space of time; anyone who has been in this situation will know that this inevitably impacts on your self-confidence, even though you know it’s not “personal”. Being freelance means that I am now in control of my destiny and organisations want me for my skills and experience. It’s been a massive confidence booster and I am glad I made the change.

The challenges are the unpredictability of the work – you could be out of work for a while before the next contract comes along – and also the sense of belonging you get when you are a permanent member of staff just isn’t there. My approach to these challenges is to do the best job you can because this could lead to other work, and try to become an integral part of the team that you’re working for.

What are you focusing on in your work?

At the moment I’m still establishing my business. I’ve got a couple of great clients who are keeping me busy on both strategic and tactical communications; they are at opposite ends of the scale in terms of size and type of organisation so each day is different, but great fun all the same.

How have you seen approaches and attitudes to IC change over the years?

There’s certainly more investment in internal comms than there was even a few years ago, although this seems to be limited in the main to large organisations with established marketing and PR teams. I still don’t think many organisations see the link between good internal comms and employee engagement, so there’s lots of work to be done to change perceptions. What’s great though is that there is much more research to draw on to demonstrate the value of internal comms and that certainly helps.

Where would you recommend people visit in Gloucestershire?

Gloucestershire is famous for its cheese rolling competition – a bunch of crazy people, dressed up in fancy dress throw themselves down a hill chasing a pretend cheese roll on the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. Last year participants came from as far afield as America and Japan.

We’re on the edge of the Cotswolds and we can boast the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, a couple of Roman villas, caves, water parks, castles, the famous Gloucester Cathedral (think Harry Potter) and of course the Cheltenham races.

My favourite though has to be Thornbury Castle which has been converted into a hotel; each bedroom is different and some come with a four poster, there’s an amazing restaurant and beautiful grounds. I’ve been fortunate to stay there twice and can’t wait to go again.

Curry or roast dinner?

Roast dinner without question. Sunday roast is a tradition in our family; the wonderful cooking smells wafting up to my bedroom from the kitchen as a child were very comforting. I carried on the tradition and even though my sons have left home, I still try and make a roast dinner on a Sunday for me and my husband. My eldest son is definitely following in my footsteps too – early on in his university life he rang me to say “Mum, how do I make roast potatoes like yours…..?”
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