Guest Interview: Communications, Cancer, Children

The next willing participant in my Local Profiles season 2014 is the lovely Rachel Burgoyne, Communications Manager at regional charity NI Cancer Fund for Children. Rachel came to my attention for two reasons – firstly, I’ve noticed this charity improve leaps and bounds in recent years (also noted by the CIPR as they’ve been shortlisted for a PRide Award this year!) Hello, Kate Middleton flipping pancakes?!

Kate Middleton NICFC

Secondly, Rachel has one of the coolest Twitter handles in the industry (@Comms_Manager). So when it came time to choose an in-house PR/Communicator to represent the voluntary sector, NICFC was an easy choice. Working with such an emotive issue like childhood cancer, however, is not easy in the slightest, so I was keen to hear how Rachel manages the issues involved:

Rachel Burgoyne

How did you get where you are today?

I studied History and French at University and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do afterwards. As part of my degree I taught English for a year and after that I knew that teaching wasn’t for me! After University my first job was as a Business Developer for Coca-Cola Bottlers Ulster. I was really interested in the marketing and communications side of this role but as I didn’t have any formal qualifications I made the decision to complete a Masters in Communications, Advertising and PR at the University of Ulster and haven’t looked back since.

As soon as I completed my Masters in 2006 I started working for the Cancer Fund for Children as a Fundraiser. This was a great job to start out in as it was so diverse.  Not only did I get to work on marketing and PR for different fundraising events and campaigns, I also gained experience managing sponsorship and charity partnerships. After a few years finding my feet in this role I applied to become the Communications Manager for Cancer Fund for Children and I have been here ever since.

What three tips would you offer someone just starting out in the industry?

  1. The first thing I would look for is experience. It doesn’t need to be paid for but with so many people looking to get into communications and PR, candidates need to stand out. Experience could be writing or editing a university magazine, or starting your own blog.  Volunteering is another great way to get experience and I have had volunteers who have come to work for the charity for a few months and have gone on to find permanent jobs in communications.
  2. Creativity is another essential. Every business is competing to cut through the noise and be heard especially in the charity sector where communications and marketing budgets are extremely small.  I would be looking for someone with fresh and creative ideas.  I have always listened to the advice of our CEO: ‘surround yourself with good people!’
  3. Finally, be active on social media. I recently held a very informal interview with someone who was keen to get experience in PR and Communications. When I asked them whether they used social media their answer was no. To me this was a big no-no as PR is moving more and more online.

What’s a typical week like in your role?

A typical week at Cancer Fund for Children is pretty full on. We have a small team which includes a Designer and freelance PR Officer who works 3 days a week. Between us we look after all internal and external communications. In any one week we could be writing copy for new services materials – this week for instance we produced an information booklet aimed at teenagers and young adults living with cancer, drafting and distributing press releases to promote an upcoming fundraising event, managing our website and social media, responding to news stories and journalists’ enquiries, arranging interviews with families to promote our work, organising events and working on content for our latest newsletter.

As the charity has grown bigger over the last few years internal communications has become an increasing focus of my role. It’s so important that all our staff have a shared understanding our key messages and know what is going on in different departments. A large part of my time is spent organising staff days and we recently produced a staff handbook which has become an encyclopaedia of knowledge.

What has changed in for the better and worse since you started in the industry?

The growth of social media has been both a blessing and a curse for the charity sector. Social media allows charities to be much more creative and target their audience at low cost. However for small in-house teams it can be very time consuming. Once you commit to social media you have to remain active and set aside time every day. We are on Facebook and Twitter as this is where our audience is but with the growth of social media channels there can be the temptation to spread yourself too thin.

If you were hiring for an entry-level position, what would make a candidate stand out?

As I mentioned before ideas and creativity would make the ideal candidate stand out.   Excellent qualifications are great but if someone can demonstrate how they put these skills into practise – for example organising and promoting their own charity event – that would get my vote!

What is your proudest moment to date?

My proudest moment to date has been working on the communications campaign for Daisy Lodge, the charity’s short break centre for families living with cancer, which has been shortlisted for a CIPR Pride Award. The new facility, which cost £3 million to build, will allow us to provide every family affected by childhood cancer with a therapeutic short break allowing them to spend quality time together away from hospitals and treatment regimes.  I’m now working on the official opening of Daisy Lodge and I’m very excited that our special guest will be local golfing hero and four time Major winner Rory McIlroy.

When you switch off (if you switch off!) what do you do with your own time?

I have a toddler and another baby on the way so I have to admit I don’t have much time to switch off! Although I do enjoy good food, fine wine (when I’m not pregnant of course) and walking our two dogs. Any free time these days is spent watching the Good Wife on Netflix as I’m pretty exhausted after a busy but enjoyable and rewarding day at work!

Wow more babies on the way, local Comms is having a baby-boom to rival the celeb world! I’m sure you all join me in wishing Rachel good luck with the new arrival and commending her and her team on the great work at NICFC. I have no doubt they’ll do well at this year’s Awards next month.

You can follow both Rachel (@Comms_Manager) and the charity (@NICancerFund) on Twitter.

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