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Build your own future: Five ways I developed my comms career

10 September 2019

Earlier this year I presented at the CharityComms Career Conference, sharing the ways in which, at my wonderful Greater Manchester charity, TLC: Talk, Listen, Change, I’m building a Comms department from scratch.

When I started, it was my job to develop everything comms-related from the ground up and I wanted to give the charity the best I could. Within this, I’ve quickly developed my comms practice and many questions from delegates at my presentation were around the “self”. For example – “How do I make this work for me?… How did you have time to XYZ?… How did you not get burnout?”.

So, I thought I would outline some key things I’ve done, which have helped me maintain balance in my role and develop me as the social and comms leader I want to be.

Develop yourself outside your organisation

Should the place you work support you to grow? Absolutely.

However… can you rely on one place to help you grow into the professional you want to be? I would say, not really. I’m lucky and my work is very supportive, but I knew that my development was my responsibility.

I took it upon myself to grow outside of my organisation. This included self-help books, finding an external mentor who could guide me and challenge me, a lot of online reading and attending events and training outside of work hours, to name a few!

This ultimately led me to apply for a master’s degree in something seemingly unrelated to my day-job in order to stretch me intellectually. However, I’m six months into my part-time course and already I am seeing the transferable skills to the charity sector.

Bottom Line: Take ownership of your own development and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box – it all links up eventually!

Integrate Marketing & Comms throughout your charity

I strongly believe comms is an integral business function that has touch-points to every area of your organisation.

If you have a very large team with a “set” job role, this may be more difficult, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. For me, it was simultaneously a business requirement and my choice to become involved in things that are, at first glance, beyond the ‘comms’ remit. For example – recruitment, the waiting room decoration and bidding applications to name a few.

By speaking to other team members, I began finding comms solutions to a variety of organisational problems. You may be thinking “More work?! Are you crazy?!”. Yes and yes.

Although it may create more work, if you’re set on developing your career, you’re planning on working more already, so just work in the right kind of direction. Integrating comms helps you work outside of your comfort zone, learn new skills, get to know your colleagues and also strengthens your department as a business function. Moving forward at TLC, we’ve moved beyond this into going rogue down the path less travelled. We’re now aiming to scrap the Marketing & Comms strategy all together (deep breaths comms professionals!) and instead, incorporate it into a much larger organisational vision.

Bottom Line: Go where your skills are needed and stretch yourself, you never know what you may be able to help with.

Find your personal practice

I didn’t ‘fall into’ a comms career for charities, it was an active choice. So, I kept asking myself “What makes me different?”.

I knew I couldn’t be everything so thought about what makes the way I approach things professionally unique and ran with this. Your ‘practice’ is YOUR way of doing comms. My approach is collaborative, intensely integrated, colourful, unapologetically enthusiastic and has continuous improvement at its core. This felt more ‘me’ and gave me integrity as a professional.

Once you understand your strengths and style, you can share it with others and contribute to the conversation. Look for speaking opportunities, writing opportunities and attend networking events to find your ‘professional tribe’. Get on Twitter (if you’re not already) and meet new people, see what’s going on and how you can be involved. Also, it makes ‘work’ feel a little more like ‘fun’!

Bottom Line: Be yourself, everybody else is taken.

Time management

A lot of people asked, “how did you have time to do all this?”. The answer is not super clean cut…

I can’t pretend it wasn’t intense and at times, really stressful. Ultimately, I think the answer is, I prioritised my career and chose to put it before other things sometimes. I decided this would be short-lived, for a few years, to grow into the next version of myself and get me where I wanted to go.

In terms of practical time management; integrate everything you can, use digital where possible, shut off your emails sometimes and take time off when you’re feeling run down.

A personal top tip of mine is that I have a paper diary (old school!) which shows a full week over two pages. I split this down the middle of each day with work on one side and personal on the other. This helps me balance my energy and time for all areas of my life. Also… write everything in pencil, it’s much less messy when things inevitably get moved!

Bottom Line: Your time will be limited so find a management approach that works best for you.

In a nutshell, you are responsible for the kind of professional you want to be. It’s empowering to take this on, challenge yourself and ultimately, it will not only benefit you and your current charity, but it will give you skills and experiences for the long-term. Who knows what awaits you in your career?

For more from Paige check out @PaigeComms on Twitter.

Paige Hughes

marketing and communications manager, TLC Talk Listen Change

Paige is the Marketing & Communications Manager for TLC: Talk, Listen, Change. She has 10 years’ experience in the charity sector and others such as hospitality, education and SME’s that have a health or service delivery focus. She enjoys collaboration, shaping narrative, brand building and communication for social change.