Paul Osgood is a senior communications professional with a wide range of international experience in corporate communications. He has worked for companies and consultancies and has specialised in M&A, post-merger integration, crisis and leadership communication, transformation and change management, digital communications and corporate restructuring.
What attracted you to a career in Communications?
The people who worked in communications always seemed to do more interesting work. I started my career in financial services and so the choice between a career working with people who were fascinated by balance sheets and a career where people and communications were the focus was an easy one.
Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?
I’ve been very lucky to work closely with a number of great business leaders in my career – Derek Wanless at NatWest, Alan Parker at Brunswick, Frans van Houten at Philips and Helge Lund at BG Group. It’s been both a privilege and an inspiration to learn from all these leaders. There’s nothing quite like watching business leaders address issues and challenges in real time.
If you could start all over again, what would you change?
I think that I would attempt to become a Renaissance communication person - immersing myself in as many different communication activities as possible. There’s no substitute for breadth of experience in your early years. Depth can and usually does follow.
What do you enjoy the most?
The things that I love the most about my work are:
- Building communication strategies that are relevant, aligned and create real value for a business.
- The opportunities to help colleagues to develop and grow their experience and skills – sometimes it only takes a nudge or a word of encouragement to give colleagues the confidence to move outside their comfort zone and try really exciting challenges.
- I also love the creative processes of developing content, writing, messaging, producing digital content and corporate events – these are often the lifeblood of our profession. When you’re in the thick of these activities, you can sink or swim regularly!
What is the biggest challenge Communicators currently face?
Businesses are embracing digital innovation through their strategies and business objectives. At the same time employees are increasing their digital IQ through their daily experience and through digital capabilities that are simply unrecognisable from even five years ago. So, without doubt, digital communications represent our biggest professional challenge. If we align ourselves with these business strategies and our people, we’ll create relevant and value-added communications.
What is your biggest achievement professionally?
The Philips rebrand. When I was Head of Internal Communications at Philips, we created an “inside out” approach to rebranding which involved building awareness and understanding of our brand promise across 115,000 employees before we shared our new branding with our customers and the media. This was a dream communication project and certainly was the most complex communication challenge that I have ever faced. The launch took place over 12 months and included a whole raft of communication strategies and channels – an all employee brand jam, #uncoverphilips (using global social media to reveal the new Philips logotype), new video making apps, YouTube live broadcasts, gamification of social media guidelines and 62 simultaneous employee events on the day of the launch, to name but a few.
How have you ensured you keep developing and stay current with the ever-changing communications landscape?
- For digital, I make a point of befriending millennials and digital natives.
- Upward mentoring is also one of the most successful ways of achieving insight and engagement with new approaches and techniques.
- I also make a point of taking on regular “soup to nuts” projects where I involve myself in every aspect of the work. This keeps me fresh and confident when briefing executive leaders that I really do know what I’m talking about!
The communications landscape has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your industry?
The trends are fascinating:
- Digital communications and especially enterprise wide social media are changing the face of our industry. I’m amazed that organizations are so passive in their approach to adoption of digital communications. My experience tells me that pro-active management and engagement with digital communications really does deliver arbitrage for those who are brave enough to take on the challenge.
- The integration of internal and external communications teams and activity has been a slow burn, but at last I’m pleased to see many organisations recognising the value of integrated working across these disciplines
How is the economy affecting this?
There’s nothing like an economic cycle to challenge thinking and approaches. I think that communications will always be seeking to demonstrate its value to organisations and this is a force for good. Corporate complacency should be avoided at all costs and we have the opportunity in almost every piece of work we do to remind our colleagues why communications matter.
Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?
I think that we’ll see greater integration of communication teams and activity. Also, in five years’ time, we will have forgotten many of the digital communication challenges that we faced and will have entered a new digital communication paradigm.
Who are the most important people in the industry today?
Leaders – these men and women are faced with strategic communication challenges that we can support. Which strategy? What message? Which audience? Which channel? How to remain authentic? What’s my digital presence? How do I monitor and respond to feedback? How do I use my time best to engage with stakeholders? As professionals, we need to be ready and capable to answer these and many other questions with leaders.
What skills or personal characteristics do you feel contribute most to a successful career in communications?
It may sound glib but I really do believe that relationships are key to successful communications careers – relationships on a day to day basis contribute to organisational success and longer term relationships are usually responsible for career development and enhancement. I can see that learning how to build strong relationships with a wide range of stakeholders is the single most differentiating factor in our profession. Successful communication professionals who are not well connected are a very rare breed.
Where do you think the talent gaps are in the communications community?
The major talent gap that I see is the senior communications professionals who have limited experience of digital communications and yet who are charged with developing and delivering digital communications strategies. This is a potentially high risk area due to the level of investment associated and the urgent requirement for these digital strategies to support critical business needs.
What advice would you offer to a junior communications professional?
Go with your heart and not your head! Always look for the challenge in your work and never settle for the mundane or mediocrity. Do the interesting projects that offer you the opportunity to learn from new experiences and develop your skills.