Editor’s note: In this miniseries, communicators tell their stories of transitioning from internal to external communication, sharing the biggest challenges, most transferrable skills and advice for others interested in making this change.
Here, Katherine Loftus explains the challenges of transitioning from an internal to external communication role and advice for other communicators who are considering making this change. Want to share your story? Email the Catalyst editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What was the biggest challenge of transitioning from an internal to external communication role?
I noticed a perception among some external communication colleagues that internal communication was merely tactical — a series of activities inspired by the whims of the CEO. I always had a personal interest in internal communication and the idea that, when done well, it could make a huge difference to the employee experience.
I was also energized by the belief that effective internal communication could lead to real impacts on the bottom line. Being young, a bit precocious and probably desperate to be taken seriously, I set about finding a way to prove these people wrong.
I realized I needed to demonstrate the strategic thinking behind the tactics, and it was through this exploration and research that I first found IABC. There, I discovered a community that included some big names in internal communications (like Angela Sinickas), as well as many other communication practitioners who shared my values and interests. One of these was Zora Artis who, as president of IABC Victoria at the time, helped me build my strategic skill set, connected me with other practitioners and has continued to support me throughout my career, most recently encouraging me to get my SCMP certification.
If you're looking to get into a role with any media relations component, you need to build skills such as responding to and managing media inquiries, organizing press conferences, pitching to journalists and managing talent. I was fortunate to have a manager (Anita Rivera, national director communications at AHPRA) who supported my interest in changing to external communication. She went out of her way to help me get more media experience, advocated for strategic internal communication at an executive level and helped me build a strategic skill set.
What internal communication skills easily applied to your role as an external communicator?
Working in internal communication gives you great access to the C-suite, and I'd encourage anyone in an internal communication role to build their corporate and business knowledge, as this is going to significantly improve your internal work and give you an edge when you move into an external communication role.
The access you get to the business decision-makers when you work in internal communication, and the experience of presenting to executives and working with the board, is going to work in your favor in an external role. Just think about when you’ll need to brief an executive for a media conference, or write a speech for them for a product launch. You’ll understand the nuance of working with them.
I’ve worked with some CEOs who were really on board with internal communication and understood the part it played in the communication ecosystem. Others needed more convincing, but being able to explain how internal and external communication affects reputation and bottom line, the importance of strategic alignment, and the connection between customer experience in the outside (TV commercials) and inside (customer service team messaging) worlds is all going to help you (and give you an advantage) in an external role. It will show you take an enterprise-wide view of communication.
Additionally — and this should never be underestimated — as an internal communication practitioner, you have very few places to hide … your colleagues (who also are your audience) will not only seek you out to tell you what they think of your work, but they won’t hold back! Sure, it helps you grow a tough hide, but it also makes you really mindful of your audience — which is a great skill to have in any area of communication.
Additionally, demonstrate that you know how to set measurable objectives, segment and define audiences, plan communications and evaluate their impact.
What advice do you have for other communicators making this change within the field?
Explore your interests with a mentor. (I found my wonderful mentor through IABC!) Speak to people who work in media relations, and learn all you can. Even if you're not in a media-facing role, you'll be working with others who are, and you need to understand how this really critical part of external communication works.
Understand the reasons why future employers may have reservations about making the change, and be ready to respond to their concerns and convince them otherwise.
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A globally certified strategic communication practitioner based in Melbourne, Australia, Katherine Loftus has been working in communications for the last decade. She’s found her sweet spot in public affairs. Loftus likes using communication to help solve the world's most “wicked” problems and that she gets to work closely with those making big decisions that affect peoples’ lives.
She gets a kick out of great writing, too, particularly those moments that politicians and leaders use words to cross the “normal” language barriers to make their point. Communication has the power to innovate and influence change, and that’s why she loves this work.
Loftus is the secretary and governance director for the IABC APAC Board, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in media and communications and a graduate certificate in editing and communications from the University of Melbourne.