– Comms networks and comms friends –

Comms networks and comms friends – there isn’t anything more important to us in our careers.

by Jill Spurr

I cried today.

I cried because a friend told me to stop hiding my light under a bushel, and sell myself better. This wasn’t a wine-soaked girlie night to sort my life. This was a colleague, a peer, a fantastically talented and driven Comms professional who I admire, who had taken time to give my uninspiring CV the once over and kicked me up the proverbial for my own good. And she’s my friend.

Now apart from the obvious lightbulb over her excellent advice re: my CV, something else dawned on me: networking has changed my life, not just professionally, but personally too. Hence this blog, because isn’t that what we do? Capture those lightbulbs?

Up until two years ago, I was very isolated as a Comms practitioner outside of my workplace. Even attending conferences, which were always busy, packed, no space, I very rarely made contacts that lasted longer than the coffee break. I had never found my tribe. Working in Communications and being isolated sounds like a contradiction in terms, but experience says I’m not the only one.

The turning point for me was the first Comms Unplugged. You may have heard of it, you may even be sick of hearing about it, because we original Unpluggers never miss a chance to, ahem, plug it. We are so passionate about the magic that happened when we descended on Dorset, willing to take a chance on this mad idea of having a Communications conference without a handful of our principal channels, but it’s no exaggeration to say that CU17 changed my outlook in ways I am still getting to grips with two years on.

This isn’t meant to be another “you need to be at Comms Unplugged” blog, that’s for you to decide, but it’s perhaps no coincidence that the lady who made me cry with her sage advice, compassion and encouragement was also one of those behind Unplugged. That’s where we met, that’s where we connected, and for the last two and a half years, we have been in regular contact about work, life, gin and (my main source of conversation) dogs, via WhatsApp. When I appealed on our little group for some help with my CV, within minutes I had offers from no less than 4 practitioners at the top of their game, people I admire for their creativity and achievements, and yet more of our group saying they had the same issue as me: we can do incredible things for our clients and our companies, but somehow there was a mental block at selling ourselves.

That’s really been one of the biggest benefits of networking – discovering you are not the only one to feels like this, or experiences certain things. Safety in numbers. That in itself reduces professional isolation, because there are others who feel like you do. I am not alone. I am no longer Will Smith wandering through a post-apocalyptic New York City with my trusty canine companion (see – dogs, always dogs). Sharing validates your personal experience and maybe even helps you find you have something to offer others. I know in future, when someone cries out for help with their CV, I can step forward with “I got some brilliant advice when I felt like you do now…”

Having discovered the benefits of broader horizons and shared experience, I’ve actively sought out other networks. Talking shop with your peers can help make sense of the challenges, give you great ideas to work up or repurpose, or sometimes just enjoy the genius of those who went before: @MyDoncaster, I’m talking to you.

And sometimes, the source of the lightbulb is you.

Alongside taking my CV from painful to perfect, I’ve been helping other people with their digital transformation. Following a simple request on one of those networks, I’m talking to several people around the country about a piece of work I’ve just done that may be helpful and even pivotal to them.

I can’t write a CV, but it turns out I can write a wicked report on digital inclusion, barriers to going online and the potential impact on reputation. Go figure.

Do you know what the solution is to those *helpful* inputs from your non-Comms colleagues that Helen Reynolds captures so beautifully in those cartoons we share, #LiterallyMyLife? Share something you have worked hard on, something you are sneakingly proud of, with your network. Helping someone is good for the soul, and even better for our professional development, because sometimes it’s the best way to realise how good you are at what you do. Peer review.

But as I found out probably 20 years in my career far too late, networking doesn’t come to you. You have to put yourself out there. It’s scary at first, but it’s easier through social media if you are introvert. But try it, because believe me, networking is a game-changer. As Comms professionals, our currency is conversation, no matter what the channel, and its okay to spend a little of that currency on yourself. As you expand your network, it gets even easier – come on, we work with social media. We know how networking works.

You just need to step outside to find your tribe – literally, if Comms Unplugged is your route to networking. So if you find yourself sat in an idyllic field in Dorset come September, hit me – we can talk dogs and digital.

Jill Spurr is external communications officer at Vale of Aylesbury Housing and you can connect with her on Twitter at @dreamworkbc