At first glance there might not seem an immediate connection between my previous career as a BBC journalist, my life now as the founder of Thomson & Scott – the Champagne and sparkling wine company with a passion to produce top quality wine produced with as few chemicals, processed sugar and weird ingredients as possible – and employee communications.
But, of course, there is, and it’s all about being able to communicate clearly and relate to your target audience with integrity, authenticity and transparency.
Of course, I know that journalists and internal communicators happen to share a love of fine bubbly too, but that’s another story!
As a journalist, I was always highly attuned to the fact that trust and integrity were the very cornerstones of my professional life and they in turn were dependent on me being honest, open and transparent with my sources, my editorial managers and most importantly, my viewers and listeners.
Increasingly, these attributes are critical for businesses today, for internal communicators and the organizations for whom they work.
Companies and their communication professionals, internal and external, who fail to understand the need for honesty and transparency with their employees, are sooner or later going to find themselves in trouble.
Smart, connected employees today simply won’t accept old-school style of mushroom management (keep them in the dark and feed them you-know-what!).
And, coincidentally enough, it was being shocked by a lack of honesty and transparency in the wine industry that propelled me from being a journalist with a passion for communication to becoming an entrepreneur with a passion for revolutionizing the creation of fine bubbly.
And, unlike lots of producers, fine bubbly with no hidden nasties.
Two years ago, Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco, which is organic and vegan, sold out three times during its launch at Selfridges. It’s still the store’s most searched-for online wine brand.
My Champagnes are Grand Cru and prized by sommeliers around the world.
Bragging? I prefer to call it being transparent because there’s surprisingly little of this quality in the wine industry.
But before taking the leap into creating my own business, my days (and nights) on TV were spent interviewing artists, filmmakers and actors while traveling around the world, fueled by canapés and Champagne.
It was a heady time, but my love for wine became more of a focus and started to nudge out snaring celebrities.
My family and I decided to move to Paris, so I could enroll at Le Cordon Bleu school, one of the first students to take their Wine Diploma course.
At a wine tasting, I met Champagne producer Alexandre Penet who explained that his delicious champagnes were created zero dosage – without the extra processed sugar commonly added to sparkling wine to create the characteristic sweet taste and hide imperfections.
It was a wine eureka moment, and I was shocked that I hadn’t known much about the term zero dosage before that night. It was only the first revelation of many.
Before my diploma (and despite being a lifelong vegetarian) I hadn’t realized some sparkling wines contain animal by-products used as filtration agents. Chemicals are also routinely used.
However, unlike with processed food, there is no legal obligation to list the ingredients on wine bottles in Europe and indeed much of the rest of the world.
This omission still takes my breath away. See what I mean about a lack of transparency?
With the diabetes epidemic growing ever more dangerous and the fact that few of us would eat a meal without knowing exactly what’s on our plate, the wine industry’s stance feels wrong.
I’ve become as passionate and vocal about my transparency in wine messaging as about crafting the most delicious bottles of sparkling wine possible.
Which brings me to some other similarities between my past and current lives, and with the role of a professional internal communicator.
Being a journalist is all about communication. Being clear, concise, and choosing your words carefully pretty much sums up the job.
This is in tandem with being persuasive enough to get answers from interviewees who might be shy, bored, tired or know their film is a howler and just want to get out of there.
If you can’t talk the talk, it’s the journalist who ends up doing the walk.
It’s the same when you’re an internal communicator, or as I am now, an entrepreneur, because you’ve got to ask the right questions.
You’ve got to seek out the most interesting information, be able to tell a great story (your colleague’s great project success or your exciting new brand)- and, of course, gain the trust of many stakeholders.
You’ve got to identify key relationships and be able to build on them; sometimes cajoling, convincing, persisting, and yes, of course, schmoozing!
In the early stages of setting up Thomson & Scott I had a hell of a lot to learn. I’d never written a business plan, raised capital (signing the dotted line on a mortgage application doesn’t count) or designed a logo.
I had a clear vision of what I wanted to create, but I’d have got nowhere if I hadn’t been able to describe this dream in practical terms and communicate it clearly.
If I have any advice for anybody working in internal communications or an entrepreneur in early startup stages, it’s to keep the conversation going.
I’m a huge fan of the LinkedIn nudge, the Instagram sly stalk, the Twitter chat.
But these platforms only provide a virtual knock on the door and it’s up to your powers of persuasion if you manage to get a foot inside wherever you need to be, whether that’s an internal or external customer.
Whether you’re talking to an internal audience or a CEO who divides her or his time between business outposts around the world, or a graphic design genius who you just know will get your vision, you’ve got to be able to explain exactly what you’re about and what you want to achieve from the meeting.
Not every conversation will lead to something concrete. That’s not always because you haven’t got the right words but because the synergy isn’t right. So, move on.
But the difference between a face to face meeting and a virtual one is being able to create rapport. If someone likes you, they are more likely to believe in and want to help you.
Sometimes the most cynical people become your biggest supporter once you’ve had 15 minutes in front of them.
You’ve got to know how to read people. I assess how big their ego is and park my own at the door. Be humble and engaged and importantly, be open.
If someone is doing something interesting and exciting, tell them – it’ll make both them and you feel good.
It’s called a win-win. And I’ll raise a glass of Skinny to that!