Vic Barlow and Becky Slack catching up in Brussels, Belgium
Baiba Debele, Project Coordinator, uncovers the future of Slack Communications.
It’s an exciting time for Slack Communications. There are new services, new clients and new international opportunities on the horizon. It’s also an exciting time for founder, Becky Slack, as her ‘happy accident’ approaches its 10th year and she welcomes a new director – and co-owner – to the company.
Chatting over Zoom from her flat in Ghent, Becky reveals her plans for Slack Communication’s expansion: “Over the past nine years, I’ve taken the business as far as I can on my own. My ‘happy accident’ started when I was made redundant and freelanced while I looked for a ‘proper job’ and the work just kept coming in.”
“Since then, I’ve worked as the only employee and I’ve had teams, I’ve evolved from focusing on press and PR to broader comms and beyond – and recently I’ve completed a Masters in Political Strategy and Communications at the Brussels School of International Studies. This has inspired me to create a new ‘Comms Lab’ offer for our clients.”
“I’d been mulling over how to manage these new opportunities for a while- so now I’m delighted that Vic Barlow has merged her freelance business into Slack Communications to take the role as director and – very importantly – as co-owner.”
Joining the call from her office in south London, Vic shares her excitement at bringing more than 20 years experience to Slack Communications: “My career has been mainly leading marketing, comms and membership teams in complex organisations, particularly trade unions and charities.”
“I’d worked in-house my entire career until I also took redundancy, then tried freelance work, which is when I met Becky. I too had started thinking ‘what next?’ so when Becky raised the idea of combining our businesses, I thought: ‘this is very interesting’, and it wasn’t long before I thought: ‘yes this is right’.”
While Becky and Vic enthuse about their new venture, they’re also mindful that such a big change will bring challenges. Says Vic: “We know from working so closely with clients that energy for a new idea can quickly wane when the hard work starts, detail clouds the vision and relationships get strained. So we purposefully took a step back to think about what we want as individuals and as a team.”
“I talked to myself quite a lot, which makes me sound a bit strange,” Becky laughs. “I paced around, mulling it over and asking myself questions: ‘and what if this happens and what if that happens?’”
Vic agrees: “I talked to my friends in similar industries, in job shares, and to my partner who gave me the headlines we need to tick off as we go through our process.”
“In the end,” says Becky, “regardless of how much thinking and talking you do with yourself or others, we realised we needed to talk to each other and we sought the advice of a coach.”
Vic concurs: “I was keen to get expert help because, although we’re often the ones coaching other people through change, we really wanted someone else to help us make a plan, challenge our thinking and navigate any difficult conversations.
“As we talked, we discovered that although Becky and I both started in journalism then PR before Becky went to fundraising and campaigns and I went to marketing and comms, we have the same aspiration for a business which weaves our disciplines together.”
Becky agrees: “I’m a great believer that you can achieve more when you work in partnership. In our business, we’ll put together teams to meet clients’ needs, bringing in experts who all contribute to the planning and delivery. Our partnership approach will be the same when we work with our clients. It’s not us parachuting in, bossing everybody around.” Both laugh: “Maybe occasionally!”
While excited for the future, there were understandable nerves around getting to know each other’s ways of working. Becky explains: “Having worked with Vic over two-and-a-half-years, she was the first and only person that I wanted to get on board. I really admire her standard of work. She’s trustworthy and has a high level of skill, understanding and respect for the sectors we work in which is really important. I knew the business and our clients would be in excellent hands with her. But I was worried that Vic would take one look at how much additional work is involved in maintaining, let alone growing, our business and decline my offer.”
In turn Vic says: “I’d seen first-hand Becky’s impressive way of working: as well as running the business, she manages a breadth of organisations covering rare disease to international development, environmental issues to human rights. When Becky works with a client, she cuts right to the heart of what they need – whether that be conducting in-depth research into positioning; creating and delivering strategic plans; pivoting to crisis comms. She even finds time to vice-chair Brussels Labour!”
“So I was worried about bringing my own style of working into the business, thinking ‘how do I take a lead role in a way that isn’t going to upset Becky’s careful balance or tread on her toes?’
“Becky has been very generous in adapting her approach. I think this comes from her desire to learn and grow, as evidenced by her Masters degree. She finds something new, interesting and useful in each project which we share with the Slack Communications team and, of course, with our clients.”
As well as agreeing that their business will build expert teams around clients’ needs, and partnership working, sharing and learning will underpin their approach, Vic and Becky also agree that working in different countries gives them an opportunity to extend their reach and enhance their expertise, with Becky on the lookout for Europe-based clients.
While the future is bright, there’s plenty of current work to manage, as Vic says: “It’s business as usual and then some!” While Vic’s busy with clients such as Innovation Unit, Gesher School and MPS Society to name a few, Becky is working with The Menopause Charity, Care4Calais and Peace Direct – and with the Social Mobility Foundation on the first Comms Lab project.
Becky explains: “I’ve been developing a new initiative called the Comms Lab which is an evidence-based way of writing communications strategies to help organisations frame their narratives around what their target audiences actually think, feel and do.”
This blog is the first in a series looking at how Vic and Becky work through the stages of creating a new business.
As Vic summarises: “Our future is bright and exciting. We’re bringing together everything we know about running two businesses, everything we know about creating and delivering excellent comms. Our experience of strategic change is one many of our clients can relate to – and we’ll be sharing and learning all the way.”
If you would like to work with us, please contact us here.
Becky and Vic were coached by Helen Campbell.