How to become an outstanding communications practitioner

Linda Andross

Linda Andross, ABC, is the recipient of the 2017 Master Communicator (MC) designation from the International Association of Business Communicators Canada Regions (IABC Canada). Laurie Dawkins, ABC of Vancouver, is also a recipient.

The IABC Master Communicator designation is the association’s highest honour in Canada. It recognizes outstanding Canadian communication professionals whose career achievements have raised the standards of organizational communication in Canada. Criteria include thought leadership, teaching and writing in communications, services, and leadership in IABC, and overall contributions to the profession.

Linda is Co-Managing Partner of APEX Public Relations and ruckus Digital, a mid-size partner-managed independent agency in Toronto.

If you want to know what it takes to become an outstanding communications or PR practitioner, or want to be one yourself one day, this interview is for you!

First, Linda, congratulations on your award! How did you feel when you heard you were a recipient?
Relieved! Now I didn’t have to go back to all the people who were kind enough to write reference letters for me and say hmmm…. maybe next year?

In all honesty, I was thrilled. It is a long but interesting process to go through and it makes you take a hard look at all the things you have done throughout your career. It made me proud for the work I have done and gave me a great opportunity to showcase successes which we don’t always get to do. Sometimes you should pat yourself on the back and say, “damn girl you did good.”

You’re very active in IABC Toronto and have contributed so much to the organization. What is it about IABC that drives this passion and your belief in the organization and your local chapter?
I have benefited in many ways from IABC and IABC/Toronto and all the people I have met through the organization. They are a giving group of people and generous with their time and knowledge and that made me want to give back in my own way. I’m passionate about what I do and if I can help someone then that makes it all the better.

Giving back key to creating next generation of communicators

Next to your passion about IABC, you’re dedicated to communications as a profession, seeing it evolve and advance, and also helping young professionals and comms professionals new to Toronto. It’s both generous and altruistic of you. But what’s the inspiration behind it? What drives you to give?
Karma. I have been on both ends of giving and receiving help. I love what I do, I’m fortunate to work with amazing people, both current and previously, and I want to spread that “wealth” around.

I was young once (it’s true!) and I remember all those individuals who helped me. Lending someone a hand or an ear really takes very little time and can produce a lifetime of success. The business of communications will only be as good as the people and I want to work with great people so in some ways it’s self serving.

Let’s talk about communicating. Did being a stellar communicator come naturally to you, or is it something that you have had to work at over the years? If it’s the latter, have you employed any tools or techniques to help hone your talents?
It. Never. Ends. I’m still working at it and I certainly don’t think I’m a natural. I’m an observer and I’ve watch people and styles that resonate with me and who I want to be and then developed my own communication style from there.

I read a lot about different communications tips/best practices, ask people what works for them (or not) and I have a great work partner who will try on a regular basis to put me through presentation training. This is a skill you need to constantly keep honing.

Authenticity comes when you talk from the heart

We all communicate all the time and, chances are, a lot of us think we’re better at it than we really are. As a Master Communicator, can you share with us some of the secrets about impactful and effective communications? And in your work and volunteer activities, how do you talk authentically, motivate people, and listen so people will open up?

Talk to people, engage with people, and be seen by people. If possible, face-to-face communication is ideal as then you can watch and see if your message is being heard/resonating in the way you want it to be. It also allows people to feel your passion, energy and emotion.

I think when you talk from your heart people know you are being authentic even if they don’t agree with what you are saying. You have to model that back to people. If you don’t actively listen ― be in the moment with people — they will not be open to anything you are saying.

What are some of the biggest challenges individuals within organizations face when it comes to communications? Are there similar kinds of issues you see over and over, and what are the solutions?
Some of the common issues that organizations face are A) lack of clarity and transparency – people are either not clear on their roles, who makes decisions and how it affects staff, why companies are implementing certain strategies, etc; B) lack of two-way communication (talking to people, not with them); and C) lack of engagement – we are reading about this every day now.

Employees are not engaged at work probably for all the reasons listed here. Solutions depend on the organization. I think over communicating can never hurt and thinking through who needs to know what, when and why to ensure that everyone is looped in and moving in the right business direction.

And when it comes to leadership, if there is one piece of advice on communicating that you’d impart, what would it be?
Be genuine and tell the truth. People know if you are BSing them. They might not like what you are saying but if they know you are being transparent they will respect you for being straight with them.

In this new age of social media and data, what kinds of communications practitioners do you seek out? Apart from being great communicators, what skills should they possess?
We can teach people a lot of the skills that can make them successful in communications. At APEX and ruckus Digital we are looking for attributes that will ensure the person will be successful here and in their career.

We look for people who are curious (ask a lot of questions), good listeners (really key!), good at building relationships, have a great sense of humour, enjoy a good challenge and be able to handle conflict.

Being entrepreneurial is also critical as in our business as an independent agency we need to always be looking/listening for new opportunities. Being good at ping pongs helps too.

Outstanding communicators are truthful, authentic, and own it

The business and political landscapes have changed a lot in the past 18 months. We’ve seen a focus on fake news, Brexit, and an internationally community in flux. More consumers want their favourite brands to be principled and speak out against discrimination or injustice. As an agency owner, what are your thoughts on this new age, and how do you advise clients when it comes to taking a stand or dealing with delicate issues?
You have to be truthful and own it. Consumers are very smart and a brand that tries to lie/hide something will get found out as we have all seen. It can take years to building your reputation, but it takes minutes to ruin it. This is obviously an over simplification but that’s it in a nut shell.

Looking to the future, what do you foresee as some of the biggest opportunities and challenges facing PR practitioners? Any thoughts on taking advantage of what lies ahead or how to prepare for challenges?

The future of communications is bright! There are so many exciting opportunities especially as we see the merging of PR/comms, marketing, social and advertising.

The challenges are for practitioners to be open to continuously learning new skills and never getting complaisant. You must be nimble, take risks, try new things and embrace where the industry is going.

Who have been the biggest influences on you, your thinking, and how you approach your work?
Ah where to begin! I have been so fortunate to work with so many amazing people. They have all influenced me in different respects.

I think the people that challenged me the most to really push myself, to take a leap (like purchasing APEX with my colleague Ken Evans), are the ones that stand out in my mind the most. They showed me that I could be true to who I was and what I wanted to do and be professionally fulfilled.

You can find Linda on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Sheelagh Caygill

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