Internal Communications Introductions: Meet Cheryl Magat
Director, Internal Communications - The Trust for Public Land
I enjoyed talking with Cheryl Magat to learn about her career path. This is her internal communications story.
Cheryl Magat is the internal communications director at The Trust for Public Land, where she's worked since 2019. Her internal communications practice spans over two decades across various industries. Cheryl holds an undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature and Italian Studies from the University of California at Berkeley, and a master's degree in public relations from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. A Bay Area California native, in her spare time she enjoys riding her bike and working on mastering the art of pottery.
What sparked your professional path into Internal Communications?
I worked as a bank teller as an undergrad. After graduation, I joined the headquarters as an administrative assistant on the California retail communications team to “get my foot in the door”. They published a weekly newsletter communicating operational news to employees who worked in their retail branches. And after having worked in a branch for five years (and a writing degree), I knew and understood the work and day-to-day challenges. I didn't know that this kind of job even existed. It was a great fit. I began by helping to copy edit the newsletter.
Eventually, I began writing articles, and I was able to use my experience in a way that would help people do their jobs better. I also learned to ask the kinds of questions that communicators need to ask to get to the heart of what they strive to accomplish.
Then, a new role opened up on the team as a consultant, and I took on additional responsibilities managing two newsletters. It felt really really good as a young person to manage this process. I realized that I had found a field that felt like a great combination of my limited work experience, my strengths, and my educational background.
How do you describe internal communications to others?
I'm always happy to talk to people about the practice of internal communications, because it's a function that I feel doesn't get a lot of love all the time. But it's an important business function that helps to humanize an organization and keeps the people who work there engaged and connected. The work that I do helps create a better work environment for my colleagues and for myself.
I see our role as the bridge between staff and senior leadership. As a former boss says, we exist to create clarity, confidence, and connection between employees, leadership, and organizational and strategic priorities. This resonates with me: I help translate the “why” behind the decisions that senior leadership makes so that people understand the role they play in that effort.
Because of the visibility and accessibility we often have across the organization and to its leaders, we see a lot. And in the process of creating clarity, confidence, and connection, we often have to ask tough questions so that we can connect the dots for people in a real way. To do this effectively, we have to build trust with leadership and staff. We build this trust by being great listeners, which can reveal insights into what’s on people’s minds, how they’re feeling, what they’re concerned about, and the conversations that happen on the periphery. This might sound weird, but it’s this omniscience that gives our work the dimension and texture necessary to create that connection.
What is one project you are particularly proud to have accomplished?
I did a lot of video storytelling work at 24 Hour Fitness that showcased member success stories. I met members from across the country; people who were battling hardships who showed their resilience and determination in incredible ways. These felt personally inspiring and connected me to the company. These videos were created for staff to be shown at our club manager summits. I’m sure I heard a lot of sniffles during the videos, which tells me that the story we told was meaningful and touched them in a personal way. I love video. It really speaks to my creative side, and I wish I could do more of it.
Currently, I work at a nonprofit where we're trying to create parks and protect land to ensure healthy, livable communities for generations to come. I have so many intelligent, hard-working, innovative colleagues who share their expertise and thought leadership at conferences across the country. I wanted to bring that expertise and thought leadership within, so in January 2021, I piloted a program called the Thought Leadership Forum.
Through the Forum, I bring in colleagues to share the best thinking in their work to help our colleagues advance their own work in new or different ways. I gather people together from across the organization from different disciplines to connect people and inspire collaboration. I've hosted four so far, and I've gotten really great feedback, which is encouraging.
What are the skills that are most important for someone to succeed in Internal Communications?
Communications can get very personal, so it’s important to approach this work with empathy. When communicating something, it’s important to come from a place that reflects your audience’s perspective and what they want to know. A strong sense of creativity is important as well; it’s not always easy to reach people, and in our current world where we’re bombarded with messages from all angles, we always need to think about how to engage with people in a way that makes them stop and take notice. Alongside this creativity is the willingness to take calculated risks.
For example, the idea for the Thought Leadership Forum came to me, and for a while I sat on it, afraid it would be a bust. As part of my own personal growth, I’m working on doing the things that scare me, not letting the fear of failure get in the way. So I decided 2021 was the year to just do it already. Now, my colleagues are slowly surfacing their own ideas for future Forums, which feels great and lets me know there’s some value to this. Not all of your ideas are going to hit, so a continuous-learning mindset helps you think of “failure” as a data point and not a judgement on your worth as a practitioner.
How do you continue learning about the field of Internal Communications?
Back when travel was a thing, I loved attending conferences because a gathering of practitioners is really energizing, and I love hearing what other folks are doing to get ideas. A lot of the work I do is around staff engagement, so I try to read articles, in particular from Harvard Business Review, Strategy + Business, to name a few. Whenever I have access, I also look at Marketing and Design publications to inspire creativity and a different perspective.