Rebel with a cause: Advita Patel on going solo

IC Space Editor Clare Murray talks to Advita Patel about starting up a comms consultancy, navigating the new normal and top tips for recalibrating your comms after COVID.

It’s been just over a year since Advita Patel set up internal comms consultancy Comms Rebel – just weeks before the COVID crisis hit.

Advita has worked in internal communications in both public and private sector organisations for over fifteen years but admits that setting up on her own had always been her goal.

“I went through a period a couple of years ago of finding work quite frustrating” says Advita. “It felt like after fifteen years in the profession, nothing had really shifted in the way we work as communicators, in fact we just get busier with more channels to manage, I wanted to change this – to encourage people to revolutionise the way they communicate through better measurement and more creative ways of problem solving”

Despite such a compelling reason, Advita found making the break incredibly difficult, feeling there was always just one more course to go on or one more qualification to get under her belt.

“When I finally took the plunge, I had only been up and running a few weeks when lockdown happened, and I did feel quite anxious for a while. Luckily, A Leader Like Me [a programme created with co-founder Priya Bates to help career ambitious women of colour to progress further in their career] helped me channel that nervous energy into something positive”

After the immediate crisis calmed down, Advita started getting calls from comms teams who realised very quickly that things were never going to be the same.

“They were starting to ask questions, not only about how they could support their organisation to navigate the crisis but also how they needed to reassess their communication strategy to reflect the changed way of working.

“The shift in behaviour of their workforce is something organisations are just starting to get to grips with, it’s happened very quickly and during a time where we were firefighting a crisis”

Advita’s advice was simple; go back to the basics, ask your audience, and evaluate, evaluate evaluate!

Here are her top tips for navigating the new normal…

Understand what the new objectives and priorities are for your organisation.

Priorities will be changing as a result of COVID. Get access to those conversations, understand them and make sure they are reflected in your comms planning and strategy.

Recognise that the behaviour of your audience will have changed

Colleagues working at home will have many more distractions and maybe feel less motivated to engage with comms. Be conscious of this and try not to overwhelm colleagues with information – sometimes ‘needs to know’ basis is ok.

Ask your audience

Do a pulse check. Use this information to make sure you have the right messages and channels in place, and that people know what they have to do. Consider audience segmentation and adjust your channels and messages based on the information you’re gathering

Consider retiring channels that don’t work

This is where evaluation pays dividends! Just because a channel worked pre-COVID it might not work now – if it isn’t working anymore then close it down and talk to colleagues about what might work better for them. For example print might be better for long reads and culture comms particularly considering the time many of us spend looking at a screen.