A day in the life of... Head of Editorial at Government Digital Service
Published: 24 Feb 2016 By Ben Davis
Our 'day in the life' feature returned triumphantly last week with Sophie Moule from Clarks.
This week it's another coup, we've convinced one of the Government Digital Service team to give us a walkthrough of their typical day.
Carrie Barclay is Head of Editorial at GDS. Here's what she does with her time.
Please describe your job! What does a Head of Editorial in UK Government do?
I’m responsible for the overarching editorial strategy for our blogs platform - which is home to over 80 government blogs.
I work with colleagues across government to encourage and support blogging as an important communication tool.
I’m also responsible for the content on the Government Digital Service (GDS) blog - my role is similar to an Editor-in-Chief; I plan and commission content, edit posts, as well as working with other GDS teams to make sure their content is reaching the right audiences, and that they’re receiving the right level of support.
Whereabouts do you sit within the… government? Who do you report to?
GDS is technically part of Cabinet Office, and day to day my work feeds into the strategy and development of the Head of Digital Engagement and Design.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
You need to be really organised, and pretty ballsy; but you also need to balance that with a patient, supportive nature.
You need to have a deep understanding of the workings of central government, and be confident enough to be a leading advocate for the platform and its processes.
It’s my responsibility to make sure that teams and individuals across government have the skills and support they need to blog successfully, and autonomously.
You need to be a strong communicator, and have a really strong, developed editorial approach.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I check emails first thing and deal with anything urgent. I’m a parent, so I make sure my daughter gets off to school before either heading into Holborn or to my home office if I’m working remotely.
Before anything else I’ll have a coffee and a catch up with my Assistant Editor - she’ll fill me in on anything that I’ve missed, and we’ll go through my diary to see what the day holds.
During the day it’s usually a mixture of meetings and planning, commissioning, and publishing posts.
I also spend quite a lot of time away from the office around government working with colleagues either to talk about prospective blogs, working through issues, or just catching up and offering support.
My role is very autonomous so I’m free to plan my days the best way I see fit. Some days are very admin-heavy, others are dedicated to strategy and planning.
Whether I’m working in the office or remotely, I’m in constant contact with my team online or on the phone to make sure we’re all up to speed with each others workloads and priorities.
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
I love the autonomy and flexibility; I’m able to work from home when I need to, and go where I’m needed across government.
Fundamentally, I love being part of such a high-profile project that directly affect citizens around the country.
What sucks? Sign off process. Government is a very busy and complex place to work, so sometimes getting a post signed off by all the interested parties can mean delays and missed deadlines.
But, it’s a completely necessary evil. When you’re working with words that represent the UK government, you can’t afford to cut corners when it comes to sign off.
It can be frustrating, but the reality of publishing misleading or false information is much worse.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
We use a blend of analytics and social media monitoring to keep an eye on things.
I’m not massively interested in high numbers of visitors - some of our blogs are quite niche - I’m more concerned with consistency and engagement.
Our comments facility is important, but these days many more conversations happen on social platforms, so that’s where we focus our attention.
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
Well, the platform itself is pretty important - we use Wordpress. For my work day to day I use Slack and Google Hangouts to engage with colleagues and Google Drive for reports, presentations, documents, and images.
I also use Hemingwayapp (to check readability); Flickr (for creative commons images); Basecamp (to organise our communities); Brandwatch (social media management); and Trello (to manage workflow).
How did you get started in the digital industry, and where might you go from here?
I started out as a digital journalist about 12 years ago, and ended up as a spa reviewer and beauty journalist. I began blogging alongside my job in 2010, running three blogs: one lifestyle, one food, and one interiors.
By 2012 I’d quit my day job and was blogging, writing, and consulting through my editorial agency, Digital Bungalow, full-time. I joined GDS in 2013.
Although I have no plans to move on at the moment, I imagine that my next steps could be taking my central government blogging expertise to another part of government, or another public sector or charity organisation.
That said, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider a step back into the private sector, or even back into digital journalism again, if the right opportunity presented itself.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
My favourites at the moment are:
- ASOS: they’re really committed to content across blogging, social, and apps and understand their audience incredibly well.
- Toblerone: these guys are the kings of strong real-time marketing.
- Nike: now one of the best brands on Instagram - they’re always creating communication from the perspective of the user.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the digital industry?
You have to have curiosity; things change so quickly that you have to have a curious spirit to maintain the energy needed to stay on top of everything.
You need to be confident and friendly, but also be willing to stick your head above the parapet and fight for what you believe in. Oh, and don’t be a dick.
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