Make sure your work makes a difference says Elayne Phillips, Defra

If you think government comms is at the dull end of PR, then meeting Elayne Phillips will change your mind. She is lively, buzzing with ideas, and makes working in the civil service appear positively exciting.

One of the reasons she is so enthusiastic is that she loves her job. She says that growing up, her ambition was to be a weather girl because she has always been interested in meteorology, forecasting and maps. Passions she can, surprisingly, indulge in in her job: “Unlikely as it sounds, I do those things to a limited extent in my current role as the head of strategy, performance and evaluation at Defra. I map data, gather insights and produce intel that enables prediction and informs what we do next in comms. And of course I display graphics that tell at a glance what’s going on. I don’t have a clicker but there’s still time.”

Phillips first government role was leading the press office team at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). As soon as she started working in communications, she felt she had found her calling, and her passion for her work has never waned: “I loved the fast pace of the press office, the co-ordination with Whitehall departments and reporting to Downing Street. I had the pleasure of managing a press office, internal communications, horizon scanning, social analytics, planning and now analytics and evaluation. And I can’t say there was a single role I didn’t learn from and enjoy immensely.”

Discussing how she found her way to Defra, Phillips explains that she was initially attracted to one of Defra’s Agencies – the Rural Payments Agency (RPA). “There is a great satisfaction to be had in knowing that what we do makes a difference in the real world. In RPA, for example, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) made to farmers impacts the UK economy, keeps our agricultural industry alive and generates jobs for our future farmers. I joined RPA at a time of great change, with the appointment of a new chief executive who turned the agency into the enormous success it has become today. And for me it was onwards and upwards from there as I joined RPA’s parent department – Defra.”

Phillips credit’s a large part of her success to having good mentors: “At both the DVLA and RPA I had the good fortune to have excellent, inspiring and motivating managers who took the time to teach me what they knew, how they worked and most importantly they helped me to recognise where I needed to develop to progress my career. That learning curve was an incredible and challenging journey that I relished and I look back on it now with very fond memories. You know who you are (Byron and Jayne)!”

“Since then, I have worked in Defra where directors of communication (past and present) and my current manager, fully support and push my team and I to advance what we do in social analytics, horizon scanning and social media evaluation so that it contributes to business objectives and the wider Government. This means, I’m again in a great position to make a difference. Defra now leads the way across Whitehall in Social Analytics and Horizon Scanning and won the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) awards two years running, so we must be doing something right.”

Before we end the interview, Phillips offers three pieces to others working in PR today: “First, ensure your work makes a difference in your organisation by sharing it, pushing for insights to be acted upon and by staying focused on your organisation’s objectives. Second, stay on top of the latest industry thinking, academic research and survey findings from the public and private sector. For example follow @CIPRsm and @AMECOrg on Twitter for social media and evaluation updates. And third, build a strong team and invest in them so that they build skills, gain experience in all aspects of communications and importantly let them learn from you.”

Elayne Phillips, head of strategy, performance and evaluation at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

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