How to build a high performing communications team

(Thanks to Neil Grayshon for the image!)

Building an excellent communications team requires lots of equally-excellent strategy, hiring, people management and culture building – and more.

I knew when I started at FutureGov that I didn’t have experience in this area, so reached out to the good and the great of the UK PR industry for their thoughts on what it takes to build a high performing Comms team.

There’s lots of fantastic advice here, so thanks to all of those listed below for their input.

Want to add your views on what makes a good communications team? Leave a comment!

Becky McMichael – @bmcmichael

Mix up skills and experience – 5 ex-corporate PR agency folks will give a single dimension.

Mix up ages and backgrounds – a part time working mum will have a different perspective on work to a 26 year old full time office based staff member for example.

Enable areas of specialty to develop – design/creative, writing, crisis etc. And let people really get to grips with it / develop along a pathway they enjoy.

Cultivate a team identity, be famous within the company, be helpful and spread your skills across other divisions like sales, marketing, leadership team etc.

And one thing we all forgot: shit hot business acumen. Too many comms people have a shockingly bad understanding of market forces, accounting and economics let alone their own industry. You can’t advise your CEO on how to position an earnings announcement if you don’t know your p&l from your elbow…

Phillip Follows – @phillipfollows

@benrmatthews Having good or working knowledge other teams’ needs and processes and communication value of comms throughout org.

— phillip (@phillipfollows) April 22, 2013


Zoe Amar – @zoeamar

Invest heavily in getting buy-in for what you all do from key internal stakeholders. Have a chat with them over coffee about how they expect your team to help them. The trick here is to show that you are listening and finding out how you can be useful whilst ensuring that the team is more than a service function.

In my experience a good communications team is strategic. It drives the organisation forward. The PR/website etc is just one element of how it adds value.

Always look for people who can add extra value, for example through a strong network or a great social media presence. If they can use their skills to ‘reverse mentor’ colleagues that’s even better.


Benjamin Southworth – @inthecompanyof

@benrmatthews for me, it’s finding the brand activist and letting them lead. Translation is a poor analogue for passion.

— Benjamin Southworth (@inthecompanyof) April 22, 2013


Tom Glover – @gloverboy

Trust in your team in the fast paced comms world of today is absolutely key, giving a communications team working flexibility and judging them on the work produced not how and where they do it. As is your ability as a leader to empower your team to be accountable for their own projects and areas.

I put great value in people who come to me with solutions. I don’t just want the problem.

Understanding that we can’t ‘sprint’ the whole time and that you need to judge when the team needs to peak for big bits of work (and communicating that) and when they should reenergise in the lulls.

In my 121s I try to focus on the three big things that really matter, the big ideas or campaigns that are going to have real cut through. I suppose this is a focus on fast delivery as it is so easy to get distracted on multiple tasks.

No process for process sake. It drags people down. Smart reporting and planning that adds value.

If there is a mistake, back the team 100% publicly so they know that you have their backs. But have the honest and straightforward conversation with them.

Make sure you make time for fun and always celebrate success – regular team lunches to mark great work, build up some traditions for things like birthdays etc.

The GB rowing team have a ‘hot wash up’ after a race – immediately having an honest conversation about what went well, what could have been better and lessons learned. I’m trying to do this after key campaigns and projects.

Goes without saying, but you can’t do any of this if you don’t have talented people and there may have to be hard decisions about exiting people who are not up to the job. I also think you have to focus your energies on your best people.

Keith Johnston – @keithajohnston

@benrmatthews when hiring look out for @cipr_uk membership status and involvement in the profession

— PrivateWealthComms (@keithajohnston) April 22, 2013


Chris Lee – @CMRLee

Tick all the boxes: social, search, content, PR, analytics.

No slackers, no divas.

And read this: How to be an Amazing Digital Marketer

Ruben Govinden – @RubenGovinden

@benrmatthews cakes is always good and if anyone starts using jargon, avoid

— ruben_govinden (@RubenGovinden) April 22, 2013


Ged Carroll – @r_c

I would add being numerate into the mix on this.

This may also help: 29 Things for PR People

Katie Moffat – @KatieMoffat

I always liked the advice, never work with anyone that you wouldn’t invite home for dinner.

Damien Clarkson – @DamienClarkson

I have always enjoyed working with people who are passionate and creative. Almost everyone you interview will be capable of doing the job but you want the people who will innovate and inspire you, not just tick boxes.

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