Chris Wynn is the Director of Communications at one of the UK’s most significant retail brands - the John Lewis Partnership. He leads corporate and public affairs, brand communications, internal communications and the Gazette, the Partnership’s in-house magazine.
He was previously the Director of Communications for Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator.
He spoke to PressChoice about his view from the press office.
PressChoice: What interests you most outside of work?
Chris: One thing that really interests me is a few years ago; I qualified as a coach.
I think coaching is an incredibly powerful tool to help unlock people's thinking. The strength of the approach lies in the belief that through the power of asking questions, you can help unlock people's potential and help them see their own way forward.
It's not about giving them answers from outside - it's about helping them see their own way forward.
I am now a mentor for the Social Mobility Foundation, which I think is an incredibly important charity which helps people from disadvantaged backgrounds to connect with people who can guide them, give them advice, and help steer them through the early stages of their career path.
That’s also an experience that has helped me at work, where I have managed to use those skills to help colleagues in their own careers.
I can think of examples of people who have come to me and feel a bit stuck in their career and through the coaching process, we have together seen a new way forward, taking them to the next stage in their career by finding out what motivates them, and then setting up some projects which are aligned with what they want to achieve and helping them remove the blocks to their progress.
PressChoice: You've clearly had a really interesting career, I wonder what job has brought you the most satisfaction or made the biggest difference to your life?
Chris: When I was starting out, I was trying to forge a career in journalism. Since I was ten years old, I have wanted to be a journalist. My first role was as a junior reporter for a trade magazine. That experience was pretty important in terms of helping me learn not just the craft of being a journalist but discovering the real important attributes that you need in order to succeed in the communications industry. That means understanding the importance of attention to detail, the power of curiosity and the all-important ability to form relationships. These are all things which are really transferable to all sorts of industries far beyond journalism.
PressChoice: Media and communications generally have undergone a huge change, not least since the pandemic. But there's clearly been changes even before then. How do you feel the role of comms people in large brands like yours has had to change in order to keep up with changes in technology, the way the media works and the way consumers get their information and news?
Chris: I think it just makes the job ever more challenging.
In previous times you had much more control because there were fewer channels to reach your audience. The rise of social media has meant that the landscape has got a lot more complex, but it also has provided us with a much greater sense of immediacy. It also means that it is not just the press who have the power to set the agenda; we too have more input.
That gives us more power in the sense that we can be originators of copy and content. But it also makes it more of a challenge to control the message which now sits on so many different platforms.
So it brings with it massive opportunities to reach and engage your audiences directly on these digital channels through storytelling - it's an amazing opportunity. And I think that the benefit outweighs the challenge.
It means that you are not entirely relying on the media to push your news and your profile and message through their lens. But I don't underestimate the challenges of that task for our colleagues or me.
PressChoice: How do you think the change in the media landscape has affected the skills that are necessary for people in the comms industry to now have?
Chris: It's a really interesting question because I think you are looking for more all-rounders. What I would say, though, is that the technology is so accessible and easy to use that many people feel much more able to become video editors by virtue of being Instagram users.
So, what we see in the Partnership, for example, is people who have a natural appetite to tell their own stories about their own roles. And we have had personal stylists who have become social media stars in their own right because of the content they produce. And so, it's amazing what can now be achieved in an engaging, informative and helpful way for customers and potential customers.
PressChoice: One of the other issues we had talked a lot about in the midst of the pandemic was the bigger pressure on companies to be socially responsible. There's clearly very relevant to a brand like John Lewis. What do you think of those changes, and have you had to change your messaging much?
Chris: That's a really good question. We're now in an era of really close scrutiny on brands, and what they stand for and whether they can live up to the new expectations in terms of their social impact, sustainability and environmental issues.
Actually, I think that it's not just customers; you've now got regulators looking at this as well. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority have a formal role in investigating companies if they think they might be greenwashing. And there are a lot of investigations into that at the moment.
If you think about younger generations of people, and there's plenty of data to support this, they want companies they do business with to stand for something. They don't want companies to have views on everything, but they do want them to have an outlook and to back it up with action.
I think there's a stat somewhere which says that young consumers wouldn't mind if something like 75% of the world's brands just disappeared overnight; they wouldn't be particularly bothered. No brand wants to be in that 75%.
Now for the Partnership, this is an issue close to home. I actually think we're in a strong position because the Partnership is the original purpose-led business. We were established as a partnership as a better way of doing business. It was founded by John Speeden Lewis and his intention was for the Partnership to make the world a bit happier. And he backed that up with actions. We had free health care for our partners before the NHS was created. And we used to give people accommodation to encourage women back to work after they'd been married and had families, which was unheard of in the middle of the last century. At our department store, we also used to have accommodation above them, so women didn't have to make lone trips back at night.
PressChoice: But is there not a sense in which that was you had that podium to yourself and now everyone is trying to crowd in your territory?
Chris: Actually, what you're seeing now is brands are really putting this centre stage in their marketing and advertising campaigns. And I think that we've probably not been bold enough about our credentials. We've got to make it as easy for the customer as possible to understand the genuine care we have for our values and how it runs through everything we do.
PressChoice: We’re running out of time, so I just would like to ask one last question. Looking back on your career so far, is there anything you would say to your younger self which you think would be useful career advice, that you would have liked to have heard or might have made a difference?
Chris: Yes, a couple of things. I think it's not just about my career, it's a more general piece of advice.
I'd say to myself - say ‘Yes’, as much as you can, because you don't want to look back and regret the things you didn't do or didn't try.
I think the second thing is to find someone whom you can build a really good relationship with to chat through the issues that you are facing. Someone who's been there and done that and from whom you can seek advice.
Many of the successful people I speak to, have had that kind of influence from people who they turn to for advice and counsel.
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