By Gloria Lombardi

A global recruitment and professional development company known for its expertise in internal communications, VMA Group has run the successful Rising Stars programme since 2011. After its initial launch, Rising Stars has developed significantly but its core aim remains to support and encourage the development of talented young internal communicators.

VMA Group’s Michelle Morgan, creator of the initiative, shares the nature of programme as well as how Generation Y can be nurtured to ‘shine’ in this industry. 

Gloria Lombardi: Explain the concept of Rising Stars.

Michelle Morgan: When I joined VMA Group’s Internal Communication Practice in February 2011, I was responsible for resourcing Internal Communication Specialists from entry level through to Manager/Business Partner.

I needed to raise my profile as a Specialist IC Recruiter and was keen to develop a community of candidates, at this level, giving them the opportunity to get to know VMA Group, through myself as their first point of contact, and each other.

Rising Stars came about from my love of breakfast – it is the most important meal of the day – and the simple saying ‘Rise & Shine’ – which I find a great morning motivator.

And VMA Group’s London HQ, in Bedford Square, is a beautiful Grade One listed building and a fabulous place to host events, and so, a select number (usually 6-10) of ‘Rising Stars’ – those IC practitioners just embarking on or in the early stages of their IC careers, who we have been introduced to and believe have great potential to progress and positively influence the discipline – are invited to breakfast, held quarterly, to discuss a range of internal communications concepts, issues faced, strategies and tactics.

GL: Why did you feel the need to create this particular type of event?

MM: Having come from an internal communications background myself, starting out in an administration/business improvement role, I joked that I was doing internal communications before I knew what it was – which I think is true for a lot of IC practitioners. I knew, from personal experience, that there are few traditional training routes and less networking opportunities for IC people operating in these roles (they are unlikely to have budget and so are rarely invited out!) and understanding the importance, from a both a personal and professional development perspective, of meeting your peers, sharing best practice, raising your head above the parapet and taking an external view – it is vital to any budding internal communications career – I was keen to put in place targeted, networking opportunities.

GL: What are the goals Rising Stars wishes to achieve? How can the young generation who want to develop a career in IC benefit from this type of programme?

MM: I hoped that ‘Rising Stars’ would give aspiring candidates a great introduction to VMA Group – one that they would remember as setting them in really good stead for their ongoing career, and believed that it would enable them to:

  • Make contacts within their peer group
  • Share best practice and broaden their knowledge – learning more about their specialism and how it is approached by other practitioners across different industries
  • Explore new concepts and ideas in a professional and safe environment
  • Accelerate their professional development.

We know that Internal Communication is all about making connections and building relationships; the VMA Group ‘Rising Stars’ breakfast is all about forging new networks and nurturing existing relationships, finding ways of working better together.

GL: What are the skills that young IC professionals are required to have in today’s industry?

MM: Technical skills / competencies:

  • Business acumen/savvy
  • Organised, able to prioritise/project manage
  • Strong writing/storytelling skills with the ability to develop internal messaging
  • Effective relationship building, stakeholder identification and engagement/management
  • Strong influencing, persuasion and coaching skills, able to effectively present themselves and their ideas and arguments
  • Sound knowledge of internal communication and employee engagement theory, tactics and tools
  • Broad understanding of the range of channels that can be employed and when best to utilise them – including social media.

GL: Are there any relevant qualifications or courses they should attend?

MM: A number of the industry bodies offer excellent training and development opportunities. The most popular/well received and recognised are:

The Internal Communication Management Postgraduate Diploma, run jointly by Kingston Business School, Capita Learning and Development, and the IOIC is really about academic rigour (and you do get to officially graduate with cap and gown) – over the course of a year you attend four three-day classroom sessions, producing a 5,000 word assignment (8,000 for the final piece) after each – it is intense, but very worthwhile.

The CIPR Internal Communication Diploma is more practical in nature with just one 6,000 word assignment to produce on completion of the individual learning modules. Those that I’ve spoken to who’ve been through it say it is very good. And the CIPR, with CIPR Inside, are focusing more of their attention on internal communications as a discipline.

And I, of course, have to mention VMA Group’s Professional Development offering – VMA Enhance. And whilst our courses are not yet accredited they are run by the most well known and respected industry experts. We put on public courses (usually one day) and also develop bespoke in-house training for communication teams and management communities.

GL: What kind of attitude/work ethic should Rising Stars bring to their organisations?

MM: They need to be:

  • Adaptable
  • Confident
  • Courageous
  • Empathetic/emotionally intelligent
  • Focussed
  • Positive
  • Self-aware
  • Resilient
  • Robust

GL: Are there any communications gaps they should be aware of and work on? Do you have statistics based on your research?

MM: Sound business acumen is the gap identified by most Directors of Communication that we speak to – today’s internal communication professionals need to have a good understanding of the language of business, the economic climate and environment they are operating in, and are able to link business and communication strategy.

Taking it to the top of the list, 63% of those surveyed for our 2012/13 Professional Development in Internal Communications Study said that Business Acumen was core to their daily role, but, interestingly it didn’t appear in the list of personal perceptions of skills development needs. 

GL: On the other hand, are there particular strengths you have seen in young IC professionals from which companies can benefit?

MM: Great insight – they have access to vast amounts of content/data and are really making use of this and the technologies that make it so accessible. I am also seeing a real desire to make a difference, and a belief that they can!

GL: Have you seen any differences in the way IC industry looks at hiring young professionals in recent times?

MM: The process is far more rigorous than it has ever been, with more interview stages (average three) and assessments (both skills based e.g. writing, verbal reasoning, numeracy and personality / psychometric testing).

A good recruitment consultant will be able to effectively guide candidates through this process.

GL: In short, what would be your best advice to young people interested in developing a career in IC?

MM: There are no clearly defined routes into the industry so I would suggest learning to write well is a great basis. Also read widely (current affairs, history, fiction) – broad knowledge and understanding is vital. And get involved! Take up internships, volunteer.

And more broadly, know yourself, your strengths and areas for development and keep your eyes and ears open – seek out opportunities and learn from every situation.

GL: Finally, how would you like to further develop the Rising Stars programme in the future?

MM: Well, I’m excited to say that ‘Rising Stars’ has been rolled out across all of our regional (London, Birmingham and Manchester) and International offices (including Brussels, Hong Kong and Singapore) and so our global network is growing rapidly. And our specialist areas have taken it and adapted it, with our Digital Practice recently introducing DigiStars.

This year VMA Group have taken the concept and are opening it up to our wider network, inviting them to nominate their own ‘Rising Stars’ across four areas Agency, Digital, Internal Communications and Marketing Communications – either a self nomination or nominating someone they believe to be a talented communications professional who is making a real impact and deserves recognition.

And very shortly, I will be launching our ‘Rising Stars’ LinkedIn group, allowing the conversations to continue online, long after we’ve all left the breakfast table.


This article originally appeared on simply-communicate