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Our team: Together for Short Lives

19 February 2013

Myra Johnson, director of communications at Together for Short Lives, tells us what life is like for its comms team.

How many comms staff work at your charity?

Our external affairs and communications team is made up of eight staff. Most of us are based in our Bristol head office which has a really inspiring view over the rooftops and spires of the old city centre and Corn Market.

What does the comms team do?

We deliver five different member newsletters, a fortnightly e-bulletin, as well as regular briefings on the latest policy developments. We also publish resources and information, so a great deal of our time is spent editing, proofing and managing design and print. We invested in Adobe InDesign training so we can publish more in-house – which gives us greater control and cuts costs.

We have a challenging lobbying agenda, focusing on the major changes taking place in the health service. We want to ensure the sector is ready for changes to the NHS and has the skills and information to meet these new demands. We campaign across the UK for sustainable funding for our sector and more co-ordinated care for children who need palliative care.

We’re very proud of our digital media success. Following the merger of ACT and Children’s Hospices UK to become Together for Short Lives in Oct 2011 we had to rebuild our social media presence – almost from scratch. But with a lot of hard work, creativity and an experienced team, we’ve really delivered. We now have a Twitter following of more than 14,000 and over 8,000 Facebook likes.

We were lucky to be chosen to benefit from this year’s X Factor winner’s single and were also chosen as one of the six charities to benefit from ITV’s Text Santa campaign. Our team put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes for those amazing opportunities.

What's been your biggest achievement as a comms team so far?

It’s hard to highlight one key achievement – there have been so many. We’re very proud of our brand and the strong visual identity we’ve developed over the last 18 months. As you can imagine our team faced lots of challenges providing a communications function in a newly merged organisation.

One of the toughest challenges, and biggest achievements, was our new website.

Our vision was to develop a go-to place for all those who care for a child with a life-limiting health condition. The project took nine months from start to finish and we now have an amazing flagship website. The functionality is really complex but it’s designed, with the user in mind, to be as intuitive and interactive as possible, and we’ve had some great results so far.

What's happening over the next year?

Breaking taboos surrounding children’s palliative care and raising awareness of what families need is at the heart of our work. At the moment our team is very focused on developing and delivering our flagship campaign – Children’s Hospice Week (26 April to 3 May 2013). The campaign is backed by our celebrity patrons Simon Cowell and Holly Willoughby and this year will focus on siblings’ needs.

What do you see as your biggest comms challenge?

The language of children’s palliative care is pretty heavy going – there’s lots of technical terms and alienating jargon. Finding the right words, developing key messages and explaining our work is a daily challenge.

There’s no easy way of describing who we work with; there are lots of sensitivities, and every family will have their own personal vocabulary. Some may feel comfortable describing their child as having a “terminal” illness; but others will want a much softer approach. We write for many different audiences and each needs its own specific lexicon that still fits with our brand positioning and key messages.

What's it like in your office?

The word “together” is part of our brand – and “together” sums up our team. There is a real team spirit and we have a philosophy of sharing the load and rallying round when the pressure is on.

We’re not strangers to a high octane working environment and it can get frantic at times. Thankfully we all have the ability to switch from focused delivery to lighter moments of humour, team chatter and high five moments. There are a lot of cat lovers, so we have invested in a team cat called Treacle (the cuddly toy variety), who keeps us on our toes.

Myra Johnson

director of communications, Together for Short Lives

Myra has led the comms team at Together for Short Lives since the charity’s launch in 2011, leading on brand, PR, marketing, publishing, events and digital and social media. Prior to this, she managed the comms team at ACT before its merger with Children’s Hospices UK. Myra has over 20 years' experience of charity communications.