Taking your career to the next level


downtown-montrealiabc montreal


As a former President of IABC UK, I am delighted to have been invited by IABC/Montréal (Canada)  to deliver a workshop to members later this month on business partnering.

As communication functional experts, we often feel that we struggle to make an impact at senior business level.  We have a different balance to achieve: how to work at the intersection of advice and expertise, while demonstrating solid business acumen to cement a reputation as credible advisors.

This is a tricky challenge but luckily it is one with many answers. In this workshop, I will share ideas to help communicators boost their skills and develop their careers, drawing on an eclectic mix of sources from Bob Dylan, PwC, ornithology, among others. This workshop is applicable to both in-house and agency practitioners.

You can find out more about this event – example of Global IABC in action – here:   https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/billets-accedez-a-un-niveau-superieur-taking-you-to-the-next-level-22913124773?ref=estw

If you happen to be in Montreal that day, please do come along!

If you would like more information about this workshop – with a view to having a session in London – please do get in touch.

Leadership and communication lessons from the Apprentice

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In business, securing revenue is key, so this week we saw the focus sharply put on the sharp end of business: sales. The task was simple: sell. Pet products, at a pet show. Cue loads of bad puns.

What not to wear

The first lesson we learned about sales was about matching how you dress to your audience. We saw, possibly for the first time ever, the entire gaggle of wannabes…  without ties! Even Claude Littner treated us to an unbuttoned collar.

If you want to build a connection to your audience, and be seen as a credible connector, then dressing in the right way is key.

Know your market

It is important to do your market research and know your market: so you can identify key focus areas and be credible when you sell. When you are doing your stakeholder analysis, then try to be more insightful than this gem of an insight:

“T-shirts are for humans”, and “In London there is quite a high force of cat lovers”. 

Communicators who limit their stakeholder to this level of analysis are unlikely to make the impact they need to.

“We shouldn’t just jump in and talk about price. We need to build a rapport first.”


Communicators can’t be trusted advisors without building trust.


Clear and incisive decision-making

Your credibility as a leader wins or loses by your capability to have confidence in your own decisions. Of course team input is vital, but indecisiveness gets you nowhere.

Witness this series of statements from the leader of the losing team:

Team member 1: “The two products for me could be the poop bags and the t-shirts.”

Leader: “I was thinking exactly the same thing….[two minutes later] … I definitely think the heat pads and the balloons are the best products for us … [another two minutes later] … I don’t want to hear any more about balloons, we’re going to go for the heat pads and the cat tray.”


Sales & Communication Skills

There is an on-going discussion in The Apprentice about the importance of sales skills. This is always high up on Lord Sugar’s agenda, but today we learned three important lessons about those skills in practice.

First: we saw a couple of people nominating themselves as team leader on the ground that they were good sales people. No, no, no. The skills for team leadership and sales are completely different: putting your best sales person as the sales leader creates two problems: 1) you lose a great sales person, and 2) you risk having a poor leader. As Ruth said, “put your best sales on your best opportunities”.

Ditto communications: being the best communicator or the best at media relations, or the best social media expert, doesn’t necessarily make you the best Director or Manager. Indeed, the guy who claimed he was the best sales manager turned out to be the losing project manager: “you put the wrong people in the wrong place, and not being able to assess what people can do, is bad news in business terms”.

Second: despite the importance of sales skills, Lord Sugar has been known to forgive the occasional sales “duck” (ie zero sales) – especially if the candidate has other skills. However, if you define your main skill as a Sales Trainer, as Ruth did, then surely you need to pace set and demonstrate those skills in practice. Her technique, according to Lord Sugar was “talk talk talk”. I’ve written separately here about the power of listening. Two ears, one mouth: we all know the maths.

Third: back to stakeholder analysis. Witness this exchange:

Ruth:           I don’t think we talked to enough people. I know we’re being criticised for talking to too many people.

Claude:      You’ve got to get rid of the people who can’t pay.

Ruth:           What do you want to say to them? “Please can you just go away?”

Lord Sugar: Yes. Bottom line? “You’ve got no money, sod off.”

In sales, as in communications, it is important to work out who your key audiences (or potential customers) and invest your resources in the right areas.


So what else did we learn from the Apprentice this week?

  1. Male candidates are able to get dressed without putting ties on.
  2. People will spend up to £700 on pet accessories.
  3. Animal balloons!!!!!!!

Most of all I want the POWER: communication insights from the Apprentice

For use in UK, Ireland or Benelux countries only Undated BBC handout photo of (left to right) Karren Brady, Lord Sugar and Claude Littner ahead of the start of this year's BBC1 programme, The Apprentice. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday October 6, 2015. See PA story SHOWBIZ Apprentice. Photo credit should read: Jim Marks/Boundless/BBC/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: Not for use more than 21 days after issue. You may use this picture without charge only for the purpose of publicising or reporting on current BBC programming, personnel or other BBC output or activity within 21 days of issue. Any use after that time MUST be cleared through BBC Picture Publicity. Please credit the image to the BBC and any named photographer or independent programme maker, as described in the caption.

In this light-hearted blog series, IABC UK Board members provide commentary on the leadership and communication skills apparent – or not apparent – each week on the UK series of The Apprentice, hosted by Alan Sugar.


The first week of the series is always slightly odd, with 18 candidates each trying to make an individual impact.

“I want the cars, I want the girls”

One of the things communicators often recommend is that a leader needs to have a vision. However, a terrible vision is possibly worse than no vision at all.

Exhibit 1: two of the ‘vision’ statements from this year’s crop of candidates:

– “I want the cars, I want the girls, but most of all I want the power.”

– “Every morning I wake up with a surge of adrenaline around my body because I want to be a global phenomenon.”

Ridiculous. On the other hand, we also had this:

“The Trailblazer is a fully managed and implemented business growth campaign that starts with a focused base camp to remove the clouds from our clients’ business growth mountain so they clearly can see the summit we are aiming for.”

Lord Sugar’s response to this? The usual, straight-talking: “What a load of bollocks!”

The best vision is, of course, somewhere between these extremes.

Throw yourself into the thought pond

Of course before even creating a vision, your organization needs a name:

“Can I throw my thought into the thought pond and suggest that we call ourselves the Sugarbabes?”

Sorry: you just killed the fish. It won’t surprise you to hear this came from the mouth of the candidate who got kicked out this week.

Now, you have a name and a vision, so you will need a leader.

What credentials do you look for in a leader for a task that is food-related? Witness this exchange:

Candidate A: “Has anyone got any experience in food?”

Candidate B: “I do have some knowledge about food. I cook. And I’m intolerant to loads of food.”

Candidate C: “Because of what you said, I’d be stupid not to say yourself.”

Brilliant! Do none of the other team members eat?

Eventually, these two competing organizations (teams) got their names, visions and leaders sorted out and were able to tackle the work at hand.  These three ingredients are the keys to success for any company; and it is the job of communicators at the top of an organization to help communicate these things to create long-term success.

Engage your brain at some point

So, what was the result?

Team Connexus: 9 people, profit £1.87. That’s 20p each for a whole day’s work (at that rate Lord Sugar’s £250,000 could hire these nine people for 133,000 days, or 366 years).

In this case the failure of the task was down to poor project management and bad product design: and a focus on ‘adhering to the specification’ without questioning the bigger picture.

The good communicator and the good leader will always create an environment where people can think beyond their own role and process, and “engage your brain at some point”.

Having a name, a vision, and a leader is clearly not enough. These three need to be aligned and leaders need to create the conditions for others to do their best work.

Communications expertise aside, what have we really learned?

  1. No one will buy a salad that costs £9.00.
  2. If you eat, that qualifies you to be a leader.
  3. You can hire an Apprentice for 20p a day.

We’ll be back tomorrow, and commenting on the car crash that is almost guaranteed to occur when the apprentices tackle the wonderful world of shampoo.

Or as Lord Sugar’s bad puns would have it: “it’s going to be a bad hair day.”

The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global  membership association with a network of 12,000 members in more than 80  countries. We deliver on the ​Global Standard ​in communication through educational  offerings, certification, awards programs and our annual ​World Conference.​ Follow  us on Twitter ​@iabcuk

Stephen Welch  is currently working at Dialog Semiconductor, leading the development of the Communications Department; to ensure continued success of this fast-growing business. He has expertise in helping organizations improve their communications to support culture change, innovation, communication, leadership development.

Magna Carta, Quantum Physics and Nick Clegg


At the recent #EuroComm conference, I was invited to give a light-hearted talk as part of the Rapido session. Rapido sessions are a series of five minute talks on (within reason) any topic of choice. So for five minutes, I riffed on Magna Carta, Quantum Physics and Nick Clegg.

One of the common misconceptions about Magna Carta is that, out of its 63 clauses, only 3 are relevant today.

Which suggests that 60 are not. This is a 5% success rate. So the question is therefore why the document has become so famous and so revered. After all, a footballer who scored only 3 goals in 63 games is unlikely to be hero. Or a European Union that has been going 63 years, but with only three good ones …. oh wait….

But if many of the clauses are irrelevant to today’s world certainly the concepts and principles are relevant. So which is it? Relevance or irrelevance? But we don’t have to choose: we can borrow from quantum physics and declare that “Magna Carta exists in a quantum state of both relevance and irrelevance.”

And actually it can even be argued that the UK General Election of 2015 increases the relevance of Magna Carta because it is actually the party manifesto of each of the seven major parties contesting the election in Great Britain. Yes: whatever your political views, you can find inspiration in Magna Carta to help you decide how to vote in May.

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Does your work add value?


Only half of communicators say all their work is aligned to corporate strategy and goals.

I developed a benchmarking database (covers 81 organizations, across 10 countries, with approximately 390,000 employees) of communication practices, and the link to organizational performance by identifying the #11ways communicators can contribute to performance. It turns out that high-performing organizations (compared to average ones), are:

  • Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free
  • 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
  • Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences
  • 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective.

The idea was to develop a database to explore the connections between communication practices and organizational performance, and answer questions like: “what are the common communication practices that have an impact on performance? And are there things that communicators do which actually contribute to organizational under-performance?”Three in particular stood out:

The know-it-all leader and the know-a-little communicator?

Half of organizations say that corporate messages are generally devised by senior executives, potentially relegating the communications team to the role of a paper-boy or paper-girl: just delivering the message.

Indeed, some communications departments are referred to the SOS team : “Send Out Stuff”. If corporate leaders are devising the messages they’d better be good at it, but only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating. There must be a lot of horrible communications going on. Or, as one organization anonymously told us: “Executives that think they know how to communicate with employees, but don’t!”

So it seems that executives should listen to communicators’ advice more. But only a third of communicators admitted that their level of business know-how and understanding was high.

Two-thirds of communicators, we therefore suggest, need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people. Repeat: only a third of communicators admitted to knowing their own business. No wonder they don’t feel listened to.

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