Spotlight on - Amanda Coleman
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Amanda Coleman, Director and Crisis Communication Specialist at Amanda Coleman Communications Ltd.
I am Amanda Coleman. I started my working life as a journalist before moving into public relations. For the past 20 years, I worked in police communication and until the start of this year was the Head of Corporate Communications for Greater Manchester Police. I decided to set up my own crisis communication consultancy and my first day of the business happened to be lockdown day in the UK.
I love words. It is why I wanted to be a journalist and why I worked on local newspapers. But I also have seen the way that communication and PR can help and support people when they are at the worst point in their lives. I enjoyed that aspect of working in police communication. Now I want to share that knowledge and experience.
I am focusing on crisis communication because it is what I am passionate about and after two decades dealing with some of the most challenging situations feel it is something I am best at. I have also just had my first book published Crisis Communication Strategies by Kogan Page. I started writing it to change how people think about crisis communication. Dealing with a crisis is not just about having the right processes and policies as these will never succeed if you are not focusing on the people affected. It was responding to the Manchester Arena terrorist attack in 2017 that gave me the push to write the book. I want to improve the way those most severely affected by a crisis are helped and supported.
There have been so many. When I look back this has been a winding road with lots of blocks that have been in my way. The key for me has been ‘bounce back ability’ as it has been called. I get knocked and then I pick myself up, dust myself off and come back stronger and more focused.
The biggest challenge has been in my own head. Carrying the details of difficult issues and situations with me can take its toll. This has been particularly noticeable in the aftermath of dealing with the Arena attack. I didn’t realise how much it had affected me until more than two years later. I think our biggest issues, challenges and problems always come from within. I am lucky to have an amazing support network of family, friends and other PR and communication professionals. They help pick me up when I am down.
You have to remember to believe in yourself. It might sound a bit trite and cheesy but it really is true. If you haven’t got a belief in yourself and what you are doing then how will you get anyone else too?
I am passionate about getting businesses and organisations to focus on doing the right thing and helping those who are most affected by any kind of crisis. It is not enough to look at responding to the crisis, you have to make sure you are looking at who has been impacted and what has happened to them. It is why I devote chapters in the book to supporting affected people, wellbeing, leadership and managing the consequences of a crisis. This is what makes me energised and determined.
When businesses get it wrong we see decisions made purely on protecting themselves and their reputation. I hope by explaining how things can be done better by looking at the crisis from the outside of the organisation, that I will make a difference.
My parents really gave me the drive and determination to succeed. They have been my biggest supporters throughout the years. But they have also been there to give me a kick when I need it. I was quite a lazy child at primary school and was given harsh warnings about my future by them. It worked. It gave me the focus as I wanted to succeed.
To anyone just starting out in their career I would say:
Be open to new experiences, new challenges and adapt to changes that happen. This is more important now than ever.
Enjoy the journey – every day is important and when things go well really enjoy them, celebrate your successes
Build your resilience – the world of work is tough and there will be lots of things to knock you down or hold you back. Make sure you have a support network and know how you can rebuild your strength.
Be clear what you are getting into before you set out and have something you are passionate about to be your focus. Your business becomes a huge part of your life and you really need to enjoy spending time with it. If you have a passion it comes through and that will be something people connect with. And get good with figures, it is something I am doing but it is a steep learning curve. I would add that it is important to be yourself. Authenticity is vital among leaders as it is the way that you build trust and confidence. Look after yourself but also make sure you are in touch with people across the organisation and particularly those on the frontline.
The best advice I have been given is everything happens for a reason. When you have a setback or a challenge it is an opportunity to learn and develop. If you can view things from a different perspective it will help you keep focused, be able to rebuild and move forwards.
Highs and lows
I am happiest when I have helped a team or a business deal with the most challenging time in their lives. However, there is a lot of uncertainty and setting up a business at the time of a pandemic has made this worse. You have to remember to trust your team, support them and make sure they have the right training to do what they need to do. Empowering people is a vital part of any leadership or management role. And if possible get to know the team, people are all different and we need to understand and be able to support that.
It is important to be flexible as well as resilient. You will be on a rollercoaster. Some days are great but that can be quickly followed by setbacks. Keep focused on what you are doing, and be ready to ride the rollercoaster.
Business during a pandemic
This has been interesting because my first day was the day of lockdown in the UK. All the plans and work that had been due to start was then put on hold or disappeared. So I have had to start from nothing. The good thing is that as it was the start of the business I was quickly able to adapt and refocus.
Remote working is more challenging for some businesses and for some people. It is important to understand who thrives in those conditions and who may be struggling. Flexibility is always going to be beneficial because people have not only been dealing with remote working but in many places have been homeschooling and this adds to the pressure.
It is important to keep in touch with employees and ensure they are still connected to the business. This doesn’t always mean endless Zoom or Team calls sometimes a telephone call is best and more personal. Adapt your systems and processes so that they work well and support remote working. Don’t just expect everything to be the same as it was in the office.
It is about being flexible and adaptable. You have to be able to move quickly and see the opportunities as well as recognise when something you do is no longer required. This is a time when you need to be really focused on what you do but really flexible about how you achieve it.