When I leave school I want to be a #CommsHero

Our next guest will also be appearing as part of our stellar #CommsHeroWeek line-up. Katrina Wilcox is Head of Marketing and Communications at Housing 21, a leading not-for-profit provider of housing and care for older people. Katrina’s extensive experience in marketing and communications has been gained through a 20+ year career working across the healthcare, housing, education, manufacturing and publishing sectors. Her passion lies in working for purpose-led, not-for-profit organisations and she specialises in strategic planning, integrated campaign management, internal communications and employee engagement.

A CIPR member for over 10 years, and NFP lead on the CIPR Midlands Committee, Katrina is also keen to raise awareness of how rewarding a career in non-profit communications can be and to explore how the profession can work to attract and retain the best talent.

Wouldn’t it be good to have young people aspiring to have a career in comms? Much in the same way they might aspire to be teachers, doctors or want to join the police or the military.

In this episode, we ask the question: what if we could inspire young people by sharing the multitude of options available in a comms career? With so many young people wanting a purpose driven career – one where they can really make a difference – working in not for profit, third sector or charity comms, or a career in comms in general, could be something to aspire to.

Katrina Wilcox

Head of Marketing and Communications at Housing 21

Key topics

Katrina started out in seafood. Yes you heard us correctly! She says: “I was an account manager for a publication called Seafood International, a B2B magazine covering everything to do with seafood.

“I’ve always loved language and storytelling.

“You soon find out everyone has a story to tell, so for me learning how to do it properly seemed like a sensible thing to do, although I didn’t ever imagine I could make a career out of it. Having grown up in quite a traditional family, a career always seemed like a kind of proper job: becoming a teacher, or a doctor, a solicitor, a lawyer; something that was a respected profession, something your parents would be proud of you doing and you could share with your family.

“I didn’t really know what the opportunities would be so ended up going to university like many of us do and followed my love of language but wanted to do something practical with it.”

Katrina’s degree at Salford allowed her to develop lots of different skills. She says: “We got to create sound and video content in our chosen language, and one of my highlights was interviewing a German professional speed skater for a radio programme.

“My lecturer was really good friends with the marketing director of Guinness Germany and I managed to get a placement out there for a year which was great fun.”

“There’s so much we could all be doing, but we’re all really busy with our day jobs.

“Make some time to start thinking about it, looking ahead and thinking about where our workforce of the future is coming from. We know we need to attract new, diverse talent. We need to find new ways of doing it. We’ve got a responsibility to do more.

“Provide the opportunities to get people in and promote them. Particularly for in-house roles, having a strong employer brand – showcasing why people should work for you, pay benefits, progression opportunities, really creating an excellent employee experience – can help you.

“I think also removing barriers to get into the profession. PR, communications and marketing has traditionally been seen as dominated by the white middle class. How can we consider non-traditional routes to attract new and diverse talent into the profession?

“Start hiring into apprenticeships or other schemes that are moving away from more traditional routes to get people in that might not have otherwise thought about it and who might not want to go to university.

“Flexibility is really important, both with working hours and location, and I think sometimes people can be put off by the thought of working a nine to five in an office, but we know it’s not like that anymore.

“I think we need to move with the times and with our people.”

“The pandemic has changed the way that all of us work and I think organisations do need to focus more on how they can make work better for people and make work more of an enjoyable experience.

“It needs to be a long term change in the sector, and I think really organisations do need to embed health and wellbeing for their employees.. We all know our people are the most valuable asset that we’ve got. We need to make sure we look after them..

“Fortunately I think we’re just out the other side of our biggest challenge and the comms profession is in a really positive place.

“Like they say, out of most challenges, you can get opportunities. The last two years have proved the value that we bring to organisations. More organisations are investing in comms talent. Salaries are starting to increase; the investment in comms teams is increasing but we need to rise to that challenge and make sure that we can attract the right people. Recruitment is the biggest challenge and there’s so much competition.”

A final thought

“I think there are so many inspirational Comms Heroes out there.

I’m always inspired by the work being done and at all levels across the profession and I think.

for me, CommsHero week actually, is a really good time for us all to get together, celebrate, and inspire. It’s the best showcase for the impact that we’re all making across our sectors and to inspire others to start a career in comms.”

“And I think, especially with the pandemic as well, being able to engage with people and have open conversations about things – challenging things – what the expectation is and what should that look like in our industry.”

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.

Fancy getting in the hot seat and sharing your CommsHero wisdom? Contact Asif Choudry

Tickets are now available for #CommsHero week, 19-23 September. The week-long virtual event with over 35 sessions live streamed and available on demand for a year. Great value at £180 and you can find out more at www.commshero.com


This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.