Adapting communication for the digital age at the FT

Adapting communication for the digital age at the FT

We love finding out how students are progressing through their careers. So we couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to catch up with former CIPR Advanced Certificate student Emily Gibbs, now corporate communications manager at the Financial Times, about what she’s up to at the FT. Emily recently spoke at CorpComms Social Media in Action conference about how the FT is adapting its comms for the digital age.

I started by asking Emily what’s it like working in corporate comms for a leading global news organisation like the FT?

This year is the FT's 125th birthday and it couldn't be a more exciting time to work for a media brand that's recognised around the world for its outstanding business news and analysis. The media industry is changing rapidly and radically, with technological innovations reshaping the way we  interact and engage with our audience. In the comms team we not only work closely with the FT's  stimulating and highly intellectual editorial staff, but are the first to know about new digital  developments, for example our recent launch on Flipboard. Add to that the fact that we operate globally, always mindful of the 24 hour news cycle, and you have both a challenge and an opportunity on your hands. No two days are the same and there is never a dull moment!

How are you adapting your comms for a digital age at the FT?

Despite the world around us changing, our comms objectives remain the same: develop and maintain the FT's corporate reputation, promote our excellent editorial content, build brand awareness and develop affection for and understanding of the brand internally. However, the advent of digital means we have an increasing range of communications tools and channels at our disposal. This includes social media, which is the fastest growing driver of traffic to – it increased 35% in 2012 – and is a central part of our communications strategy. It’s a powerful way of tapping into new audiences and reinforcing relationships. Mobile is another key channel, driving over a third of traffic and 15% of subscriptions to the FT.

Internally too, we use a range of digital tools and platforms. We’ve recently moved to corporate Gmail and use Google hangouts, drive and chat. In 2011 we launched a new social intranet, which is an interactive and collaborative tool a bit like Facebook for FT staff. Video is now a key part of our internal communications strategy.

What have been the major challenges?

I would say there are four main challenges:

Cutting through the noise:  The volume of conversation online is immense, making it difficult to make yourself heard and identify where you should be listening. Twitter lists, Google alerts and daily monitoring help here and I also read The Browser daily digest –  a list of five fascinating topical articles.

Making the most of new communication channels:  We try to include video and images to support our written press releases, as well as physical giveaways for a big launch. With so many means of communication available, the way we interact with people is also changing. Some journalists now tell us they’ll only respond if we contact them on Twitter.

Having a quick response time: Social media has changed the way we deal with crisis communications and it’s imperative we’re able to respond rapidly but transparently, even if this means saying 'we can't tell you much now, but we are looking into the issue' or similar.

Keeping up with the pace of change: As PR professionals, it’s our job to be ahead of the curve with industry developments so we’re able to advise the business. We need to constantly develop our strategy to make sure we do this.

What have been the results so far? Have there been any surprise successes or failures?

One game changing initiative we launched late last year was FT Digital Learning Week (DLW) which aimed to inform, educate and create a dialogue with FT staff about all things digital and social media. We ran 40 events in seven FT offices around the world with a range of internal and external speakers covering the themes of social media, digital advertising, mobile, digital in the media industry and data analytics. Following the event three quarters of FT staff said they'd expanded their knowledge about digital and were applying new learning to their work.

To keep up momentum we recently launched an internal social media hub. It’s home to bespoke how to guides, tailored videos and best practice examples to ensure our staff know how to use social media effectively for both personal and professional use. Interestingly, it was the internal speakers who were most popular at DLW and we now run monthly lunch and learns where someone from the FT shares digital insight with the rest of the business. We’ll be running DLW again in October 2013.

How has what you learnt studying for the Advanced Certificate helped you in your work?

Studying for the Advanced Certificate gave me a deep understanding of the history and theory of PR, including the various methods of communication. I apply much of this knowledge to my job, in particular ensuring two-way communication. The importance of dialogue rather than broadcast has never been more evident, as we seek to increase engagement with the FT's audience. This includes readers, advertising clients, media and the global influencers who we know will help position the FT as a digital innovator and a must read publication for the world's top decision makers.

Do you have one key piece of advice for comms practitioners who are looking at adapting and updating their comms to keep pace with the digital world?

Face-to-face communication and strong networks have never been more important. As vital as it is To manage your personal reputation online, make sure you build relationships offline too.

Thanks Emily!