Welcome to 'who's who in internal comms'. This week I talk to Virginia Hicks.

Virginia Hicks (002)


Virginia Hicks


Comma Partners

Job Title

Owner and Consultant

Time with company

12 years
(independent for eight)

Take five

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

History was my favourite subject and I loved antiques, old buildings and art museums. I toyed with working in that world but fortunately realised it would have been so wrong for me.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

Florence because it is in Italy; the language is wonderful to listen to, the art is out of this world, the buildings are stunning.

If you could have one wish, what would it be?

I would love to live by the sea again as I did until I was 18. We will most likely move back to the south coast in the next five years.

What’s the secret to a good life?

A good work/life balance has to be perfect. I love my job as I can work when I like and always prioritise family needs.

Who would play you in a movie?

Not sure but favourite film is The Sound of Music. I have seen it many times at the cinema, and at the theatre, and went to a singalong with my sister! For our 20-year wedding anniversary my husband surprised me with a trip to Salzburg where some scenes were filmed.

Tell us a bit about your role:

I own and run Comma Partners, a specialist agency in placing interims into internal, change communications and change management roles. I've run Comma since it was set up in 2007, as part of Comma Consulting. Before this, I was an interim with Unilever and Network Rail. My early career was in sponsorship, PR and marketing until I moved into internal communications with Thorn (owner of former high street retailer, Radio Rentals), then with GSK’s manufacturing division, before moving to Marks & Spencer as the company’s first head of internal communication.

A typical week with Comma Partners involves building the candidate network and keeping-up with the existing members. With roles, I will identify and search for the best candidates to offer to a client. I work quickly and keep in touch with clients and candidates on a daily basis until a placement is made. According to my daughter I am on the phone all the time. I also keep a close eye on the finances of course and spend some time on marketing the business, which includes a couple of networking events each year.

What’s on your internal comms agenda right now?

The last year has been an exciting one for Comma. Following the 10-year anniversary, I decided to diversify and have now added change management to our offer. There was certainly an increasing demand for this expertise, and a number of our interims are already in change roles or working across both change and change communications. In November 2018, I added executive coaches to our offer. This has been rather different as I scoped our approach and on-boarded several experienced coaches from within the Comma network who are now featured on our website. This is a development area for the business. We are also thinking about the next five years, but more about that another time!

What has had the biggest impact on internal comms in your organisation in the past year?

On the negative side, GDPR was a time-consuming (and dull) exercise for a boutique business like ours, but we took the opportunity to clean-up the database and this was very satisfying.

It is clear there is a lot of change and transformation underway across many sectors and this has a positive impact for Comma as we source more candidates for clients, both new and repeat ones.

What’s your proudest achievement or best day in your current role?

The best days are when we complete a placement, particularly if there have been some complications along the way. Great client feedback is always pleasing or when a candidate says "this is the best role I have ever done".

Reaching the 10-year anniversary in the summer of 2017 was fabulous and I really enjoyed celebrating with clients, candidates and friends of Comma, including Tim Johns, a former colleague from Unilever, and Colette Dorward, the original founder of Comma, who both said some lovely words.

How would you advise someone considering a career in internal comms?

This work suits many people - some are naturally outgoing and others more reflective, but either way you do need to understand what makes people tick and empathise with their concerns even when you think they are unreasonable or even silly.

I always say that writing is a key skill at any level in communications, so you would need to like doing it. You need to be good at constructing messages, editing and working accurately at speed.

What do you think the top three trends in internal communication will be in the next year?

IC practitioners will need to make their budgets work harder. I would focus on empowering and enabling line managers to share key messages and ensure their teams are regularly and genuinely engaged. There is also value in re-using content across different mediums for example a video script could be used as an infographic; a news article can work well in a podcast. And as always, for impact, I recommend making the maximum use of a leader who is truly authentic.

It will be important to increasingly tune into the needs of the youngest and oldest audiences inside businesses. Offering digital channels can be on trend and fast, but the emphasis should always be on well managed face-to-face and virtual events and open conversations.

In a time of constant transformation and continuous business improvement in so many sectors, the voice of IC team must be heard and valued as the trusted advisory service to leaders.

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