From front-line newsdesk to skipper of her own team, it’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Despina Sammoutis, internal communications manager at Chelsea Football Club. Despo chats to our senior writer Elle Bradley-Cox about how her journalism background is strengthening her IC role.
Sure. My background is in journalism, in-house for John Lewis. I started at the helm of a weekly local colleague publication. Over time that developed into daily online news stories and longer-lead magazine features read across the Partnership. Eventually, I was leading a team of journalists to do the same thing, creating up-to-the-minute colleague comms, with a lively news edge. It gave me a solid grounding in good writing practice.
Well, it was about having good journalistic habits and tapping up our sources. But as social media evolved, we moved with it. We’d find loads of great stories Partners were sharing on local Facebook groups that no one had even heard of centrally. We’d link up with these citizen journalists, do a bit of digging to make sure we’d got the whole story and elevate the cream of the crop to a national audience. It was fast-paced and important to check facts, but naturally, the content we found was incredibly authentic. And because we’d cherry picked the best, it cut through the noise and brought us all together.
Ok, so it’s not the footballers! But, my audience is every colleague in the club, from the international scouting team, and coaches at the training ground to the games stewards and groundkeepers to the office workers in sponsorship, HR, marketing and everything in between that make up our 2,500-strong team.
Very. But as soon as I started I found people wanted to be more informed about the Club and I had the chance to give them what they wanted straight away.
Everything! But I didn’t want to wait six months and launch something great, though we badly needed a new intranet. I got faster results by tidying up what we already had into a simple digest in the short term while I was working on bigger plans. We stopped the random all-company emails and made a weekly update – a head’s up on what they might have missed.
We launched a new set of club values recently, which brought a challenge within our colleague culture as, like in so many organisations, mission statements were the order of the day for so long, so encouraging colleagues across the entire club to live and breathe the new set of values was a significant challenge. I’m making sure that news and features link in with our values to ensure their constant presence.
And we’re doing lots of people stories, naturally. Our team can hear everything they want about the Club and the players in the media. But they don’t know much about each other, so it’s about inspiring everyone with that pride. We’ve just launched the Pride of Chelsea awards to celebrate just that.
It’s been so interesting coming from journalism into IC. When I’ve been internally communicated to in the past, you don’t hear the story at the beginning – it’s fluffed up a bit first. As a journalist you want to get to the point first then add the background.
A lot of IC is ‘tell’. I want to reflect people’s opinions on what we’re doing and create more dialogue. It’s not about going in with a blunt object; it can be as simple as putting a question to the people.
It’s good when it comes the other way, too, when stakeholders start to understand what I’m trying to do. For example, I was so pleased when our head of facilities came to me in the search for a more sustainable coffee machine, and asked me to put out a poll, asking people to vote on their preferred option.
It’s reassuring, yes. I approach everything with low expectations because people are busy. But they surprise me all the time. I was doing a story on Rainbow Laces, a scheme in which football clubs dedicate a game to recognising and celebrating LGBT+ supporters. I randomly asked 10 colleagues their opinion on the story, fully expecting to end up with three replies. But I got 10 back – each person was so grateful and appreciative I’d asked their opinion. That makes me so happy and want to do more of that – because it makes them happy too.
We’re massive targets for back page fodder. The fear of being taken out of context can limit good content, so people feel they need to run things by me before they post. Striking the right balance between sharing snippets of life at Chelsea and not using social to sound off will take a while. We’re slowly getting there and seeing people’s confidence grow is a good feeling.
This interview was inspired by our look at 'The Rise of The Citizen Journalist', one of ten trends covered in our 2020 World Changers report