Comms profile: Shak Rafiq

Shak Rafiq

Shak Rafiq, the communications lead at NHS Leeds Clinical Commissioning Groups Partnership has spent almost ten years in the NHS. He talks us through his role, his inspirations and why he feels a Coca-Cola campaign got it right. 

How long have you worked in the NHS/ health and care?

I’ve chalked up nine years’ experience and I'm looking forward to the tenth anniversary, but when I joined I only thought I’d be here for two to three years maximum. The NHS is an amazing and much treasured institution and I genuinely feel lucky to be part of it. Having access to so many knowledgeable peers locally and nationally is hugely beneficial.

What’s top of your to-do list today?

Top of my list is to write a paper for the systems resilience assurance board on a communications approach to get ready for winter and all that it brings.

Sum up your approach to comms in 140 characters or less.

Use common sense and insight to deliver effective yet simple messages. Also don’t reinvent the wheel, there’s some fantastic work out there.

Which campaign – inside or outside of the NHS – has most inspired you, and why?

Inside the NHS it has to be Missing Type. A simple campaign idea that made it easy for anyone to join in. I just wish I was part of it!

I’d like to apologise to public health colleagues but the campaign that has most inspired me outside the NHS was Share a Coke. It's a great example of using the full marketing mix, from social and digital to out of home experiences, while using personalisation to bring a brand quite literally to the palm of your hands.

Social media at work – best thing since sliced bread or one more thing to worry about?

Social media is a great leveller and gives us a chance to engage with people and organisations we might not normally have access to. It also gives us a chance to be human and have fun as well as to get involved in challenging conversations online. We run social media training sessions for our patients so we’re big advocates for all things social. Having said that, as a Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) it can be difficult to get the same traction as our provider colleagues – people know what a hospital is but a CCG is not as easy to understand.

What one thing would make your job easier?

A better understanding of what communications can and can’t do strategically – we’re not the panacea for all problems. I really like Helen Reynolds' comms facepalm bingo illustrations as they perfectly summarise our challenges. Take a look – they’ll help you next time someone wants you to make a video go viral.

Where/ when do you have your best ideas?

Usually when I’m walking home from work, or at 3am, which is when I then usually text myself random thoughts and ideas. LinkedIn is a great place for inspiration too, especially for looking at what the commercial world is up to.

Your work – what’s coming up next?

As part of my own development I’m working on the accommodation review for the Leeds CCGs, which is taking me outside of my communications comfort zone. We’ll be working on the next phase of our Seriously Resistant antibiotics awareness campaign and on our Forgotten Something campaign in an effort to reduce missed appointments (if anyone likes the resources from either campaign we’re happy to share them).

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Never be afraid to ask for help.

From WhatsApp to augmented reality - what’s the next big thing in comms?

It's a tricky one this, as technology is moving so fast. It’s clear that video, including live video (such as Facebook Live), will have a big part to play in future media consumption. Artificial intelligence (AI) is something which I think will become more refined which hopefully means Amazon will actually alert me to products I do want. AI is giving rise to chatbots and I wonder if there’s a way they could be used to support patient relations in the future? For us at the CCG we’re looking to set up Workplace by Facebook as an internal crowdsourcing and engagement resource.

Follow NHS Leeds West CCG on Twitter and connect with Shak on LinkedIn.

Do you know another NHS comms professional who deserves to be in the spotlight to share their comms work? Nominate them by emailing

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