What do Communications Directors do next?

As part of our series of seminars for senior communications professionals, Ellwood Atfield recently hosted a breakfast to discuss ‘What do Communications Directors do next?’


For many high flyers there is a clear career path within their company; but once a communication professional has reached the top comms role, reports into the CEO and probably sits on the Executive Committee, it is less clear what their next career move will be. Without previous P&L responsibility, is it realistic to expect to be considered for Non Executive directorships of major FTSE companies?

The careers of Comms Directors can take very different paths and to illustrate this, Catharine French, Chief Administration Officer, Barclays UK, and Simon Lewis, Chief Executive of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe, shared their thoughts on life after comms and led a wide-ranging discussion among 20 senior communication directors.

the broad points arising from the discussion were

  • Having reached the top communication role in their company, Communication Directors should be prepared to think laterally and creatively about their next move: it’s unlikely to be into another similar top communication role.
  • But the Communication Director role does provide transferable skills in business strategy, board management, line management, sustainability, and the business critical impact of managing reputation.
  • Public Affairs in its broadest sense, covering sustainability and engagement, was seen by some companies to be as or more important than effective media relations, particularly given disintermediation by social media.
  • Internal communications, again driven by the empowering effect of social media, is fast gaining priority and is no longer viewed as the ‘poor relation’


Catharine French was formerly the Group Corporate Relations Director at Barclays and Chief of Staff to the Group Chief Executive. Since the beginning of the year she has moved to become Chief Administration Officer, Barclays UK, holding a seat on its ExCo and a mandate to drive its strategic priorities and particularly to build the brand of the ring fenced bank as the face of Barclays in the UK. She initially trained as an investment analyst before moving to the House of Commons to work for the Treasury Select Committee. She then worked at the Bank of England and Financial Services Authority leading the supervision of major UK and European financial services groups. She currently serves on the board of the Institute of Financial Services.

Simon Lewis held the top communications roles at NatWest, Centrica, Buckingham Palace, Vodafone and Downing Street, before becoming Chief Executive of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME) in 2010. In addition, he is a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University; Visiting Professor at the Cardiff School of Journalism; a member of the Chatham House North American Advisory Council; and a member of the Council of University College School. He is a Patron and former Chairman of the Fulbright Commission and was appointed an OBE in the 2014 New Year Honours List for public service and services to international education through the Fulbright Commission.

We will keep you posted here about the next breakfast meeting in this series of seminars for senior communication professionals.


If you would like to discuss how Ellwood Atfield can help you, contact Tom Ewen, Director of PR & Corporate Communications.

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