A View From The Comms Team
This regular feature looks at the views of leading corporate communication professionals about the latest trends and insight into the industry. This month we feature Jon Sellors who is Head of Corporate Affairs at LV=
Jon Sellors is head of Corporate Affairs at LV= and is responsible for all of the company’s employee communication activity, interaction with the media, investor relations and public affairs. He has previously worked in senior roles at RSA and More Th>n.
PressChoice: Tell us a bit about how you started out in Comms and PR. Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you just sort of fall into it?
Jon: No, it wasn't necessarily something I always wanted to do. I've always worked within an insurance business. I started with frontline roles, such as claims handling. But I had an interest in writing and communication. So, I moved to initially an internal communications role and then into the press office.
Having spent time working in the operation was invaluable because it meant that I understood the products and services and also it gave a degree of credibility with journalists, because I could walk the walk as well as talk and talk.
I also had interest in communications work, my dad worked in the media, so I would have been around that type of environment and I had contemplated journalism as a career as well.
But I think once I got a few years of commercial experience under my belt, I could see the pull, the interest and the importance of both internal and external communications – it felt like a natural home.
PressChoice: How do you cope with the challenge of a technical subject matter that is often difficult to communicate?
Jon: I tackle that in two different ways. I think one of the beauties of it, is that it touches absolutely everybody's day to day life. If you pick up a newspaper or watch the news, there isn't really any story that doesn't have some sort of insurance or financial element within it. So, the trick, is to find an approach of asking yourself ‘How would I explain this to my Mum or Dad and how would I explain it to a mate in the pub?’ So, like all industries we have our own internal jargon and it's important to put that to one side and bring it back to the day to day language.
PressChoice: When I was younger, I was told to write an article as if I was writing a letter to somebody. It seems that you have that similar kind of approach.
Jon: It's a really nice idea, I think I'll steal that line!
PressChoice: I know COVID has taken over a lot of our lives at the moment. How do you cope with the crisis that affected the way comms is done?
Jon: I think in some ways we were reasonably well prepared for it. I say that because my team was split between two locations anyway, and we had a reasonably flexible approach to work. So, anybody in my team could work one or two days a week from home pre-pandemic anyway. In that respect, it's been a reasonably easy transition.
I think it would be a lot more difficult if somebody was just starting a new role. Maintaining relationships remotely is easier, but building them is really hard.
PressChoice: How has your interaction within your team changed since COVID and more remote working?
Jon: I think the nature of the interactions we have, have changed. I don't think the frequency has changed. But I believe that you lose the spontaneity and the ad hoc nature of chance encounters and conversations. You miss the chatter over the kettle or the bumping into people in the corridors. That's the biggest loss. But we still have our kick-off meetings at the beginning of the week and wrap up meetings at the end of the week so the formal part of our interactions remain the same.
PressChoice: Do you think there's a call for the financial industry to behave differently because of COVID. Do you think that's the case for LV?
Jon: Yes I think it is. And I think it is both from an internal and an external perspective.
So, if you're thinking about the support that's provided to customers, then I think that there's a greater focus on the ancillary support that is provided. Things like payment breaks and more emotional support. On our life and pension side, we've introduced a lot more mental health support and access to virtual doctor services.
It's not necessarily just the core product that the person would be buying from us, but perhaps some more softer support that wraps around that product. And I think that will stay post the pandemic – which will be a good thing.
Internally there has equally been a huge increase in the amount of support provided to employees’ mental health, on which there is now a lot of focus. There is also a focus on the health of their family as a lot of our employees have children. So how they balance home schooling with work, has been a real focus throughout last year and into this year as well. A lot of thought has been given to how we can offer support to help them juggle those two competing pressures on their time.
The other element I’d emphasis is the classic cliche that most businesses have done seven or eight years of innovation within six months. It has forced businesses to change and adapt and it’s important that all of our businesses shouldn't lose those benefits when we come out of the other side of this.
I can't see a situation where people will be back in back in an office five days a week. I think that that genie is out of the bottle now. The idea that so many roles have to be office based, has been busted. When I think back to my call centre time for instance, I couldn't have envisaged a situation where call centres would have been migrated to home working and yet we managed to achieve that huge shift in work practices in a couple of weeks.
PressChoice: What advice would you give your younger self about running a comms team and working in this industry?
Jon: I think it is it's not rocket science, it's about the power of relationships. I am a firm believer that in building strong team relationships you can direct your efforts to help the business achieve its commercial goals, and to build and protect its overall reputation.
So, if I was still talking to my younger self, I would encourage myself to invest more time and effort in building those relationships.
I think you'll also find from a media perspective, you'll also see the companies that have spent the time investing in relationships with journalists, will have found it much easier to navigate through the reputational challenges of the pandemic because they've got that they've got those very strong relationships to fall back on.
Jon Sellors was talking to Samantha Davidson. For more interview click here
Jon can be found Tweeting @jonsellors
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