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60 Second Interview with Fiona Smith, Head of Communications for Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband

Monday, 18 April 2016

What kind of work did you do before taking on this role, Fiona?

I have many years experience as a journalist, working on Scottish nationals, such as the Sunday Post and the Glasgow Evening Times. So I have a good insight into the way the media like information to be presented and the kind of stories that capture the imagination of the general public. I have also worked in a communications management role for the NHS and various councils.

What does your current job involve?

I carry out the strategic planning for all the programme communications, which demands an increasingly wide ranging approach. For example, even over the two years I have worked on the programme so far, social media has become a more and more important form of communication, so I have to make sure our strategy is constantly evolving. Along with my team, I write Press Releases and articles to keep people abreast of all the latest developments as well as help write speeches and prepare communication materials for events. I also work closely with the Community Support Officers across the country, helping them to publicise the many events that they are involved in.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

Being Head of Communications for this fast moving programme is incredibly varied. No two days are the same. On any one day, I could be organising a photo call with a Minister, planning an event or writing up a story to meet a tight deadline. I thrive on the variety and the pressure. I also get a real buzz from carrying out work that is so incredibly positive. This programme is making a huge difference to people’s lives and it is inspiring to be part of it.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you face?

The biggest challenge is quite simply finding enough hours in the day to get all the work done. I am an early riser and I often get things done first thing, before coming into the office. That helps me stay on top.

So you work from home too sometimes?

Yes. Sometimes it is more productive to work from home when I need peace and quiet to really concentrate on planning or writing. We have recently got a superfast broadband connection at our home in Glasgow’s west end, so it is fast and simple to connect in to the office systems. My husband is a professional photographer, so having superfast at home is making life considerably easier for him too, as he has such large photo files to email to clients. And now, we can both work online at the same time without having to compromise on the speed of our connection.

In terms of the communications for the programme, what are the guiding principles you follow?

As a technology project, the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme is highly complex and technical. The challenge is to communicate what is happening in language that is easy for everyone to understand. I am myself a non-techie which helps! I try to make sure all our communications are clear, concise and can be easily understood. We are also using some exciting new ways of communicating with people so as to help achieve this, such as animation and graphics on social media.

Does everything always go according to plan?

Certainly not! In this role, you always need you to be able to respond and adapt to changing circumstances. I can think of one amusing example of this. We had arrived in a town to carry out a photo shoot at a green cabinet that had just been enabled for fibre broadband. However, when we got there, we discovered it had been adorned with some artful graffiti of a certain part of the male anatomy! We quickly decide to relocate the photo shoot!

What do you see as the key issues you face over the next phase of the programme?

We will increasingly be communicating with people who may be disgruntled because they have not been able to get a fibre connection yet and people based in premises where it is especially hard to connect to fibre, perhaps because of distance from the nearest cabinet or because they have an ‘Exchange Only’ line   We understand the concerns and frustrations of these people and the programme is doing everything possible to bring faster broadband to as many people as possible. It is really important that our communications are as strong as they can be in helping keep people in this situation in the loop.

And what is the most enjoyable aspect of your job on a day to day level?

It’s the joy of working with such a great team of people. There is a terrific sense of camaraderie and everyone is so passionate about working on a programme that is creating such a transformation across Scotland. There is a strong sense of purpose and an enthusiasm that is infectious. It means that every day is a real pleasure and I’m proud to work on this flagship programme.