Covid=Confidence=Change=CommsHero by Leanne Hughes

Once I was over the initial sucker punch of Covid lockdown, homeschooling uncooperative pupils and desperately trying to not lose the heid, I decided it was time to make some changes in my professional life.

I work for NHS, as part of a multidisciplinary team and cover the communication functions for the work. Whilst this means I am able to make a lot of decisions around the work, it also means I can be pretty isolated within my role. So, my professional development has been a wee bit neglected over the last (ahem) 16 years…..

Our team were quickly redeployed to Covid related duties at the beginning of lockdown. I was asked to help improve internal communications from our Public Health SMT to the directorate. “You’re good at the wellbeing and yoga stuff Leanne, will you come and soften some of the messages….”

Well, maybe it wasn’t phrased quite like that, but off I went to break down another layer of my imposter syndrome and help with the tone, design and delivery of internal communications in the early days of lockdown.

I have been to a few events over the last few years, building up my confidence to find my voice and offer what I know. A speaker at this years CommsHero, the wonderful Josephine Graham, encouraged me to lead a session at an event last year and that started me on a journey of pushing through the blocks of what people may think of me. Instead, I decided it was time to really learn and improve my practice, finally join CIPR (what was I actually waiting for?!) and begin to look at how really using the theory of behavioral change/science in my work could get meaningful engagement..not just numbers.

I specialise in health, with young people as my target group. It can be a tough nut to crack. CommsHero popped up on my socials, I took a peak at the sessions and was sold.

2020 has been the year of behavioral change for me personally and professionally and I can’t wait to learn more from the professional peers speaking at the event, so thank you for having me along.

Leanne Hughes

Communication and Engagement Specialist, NHS


Back in the workplace breeds energy, engagement and accelerates learning – 10 thoughts to make being back in the office brilliant by Rachel Roberts

Eight weeks ago the spottydog team took our first steps to get back into our workplace, working on a rota so everyone could safely be in the office for at least two days each week.

We made this move not because we didn’t trust the team to work remotely, but because we’re a team that works best when we collaborate and our culture is one of the strongest reasons why people are attracted being part of the spottydog team.

Concerns around mental health and wellbeing were also high on our agenda. Overnight we went from working together to working apart – new habits had begun to be formed and we needed to evolve the process with care to help take the team on the journey back to the workplace.

It’s been a hugely successful decision and we’ve harnessed the flexibility that working remotely can bring whilst keeping the team engaged. In the last six weeks we’ve welcomed two new clients and two team members, and we’re just to start recruiting for a third new pup.

It’s given us the chance to build confidence, test the safety and social distancing steps we’ve put in place, and get used to being back in the office. We’ve encouraged our team to adapt their commute to minimise public transport use and vary their start and finish patterns to avoid busy times. We’ve committed to maintaining Wednesday as a work from home day forever, so we’ll always spend a little less time commuting than we’ve experienced in the past and can organise our work accordingly.

As organisations now consider how they can operate COVID safe spaces we wanted to share how we have successfully re-engaged our team. There won’t be a textbook solution to this challenge – every organisation is different and whilst there is lots to be gained from working flexibly, there is an awful lot that will be lost if businesses can’t bring their people back to the workplace willingly.

I can understand the reticence – people say they are happier not commuting, work still gets done and short-term, businesses can count the cash associated with reduced operating costs. For some industries, a switch to remote working forever might make sense, but I’m passionate that for us it has been essential to safely get back in the workplace before we start counting the cost of what is lost.

Here’s ten thoughts to ensure a return to the office can give your business a boost:

#1 Take little safe steps to transition, or businesses will be in for a shock
The longer businesses continue with remote operations the bigger the challenge to readjust to full-time operations overnight. So for mental health and wellbeing it’s really important to start a slow transition – get a return to the office back on the radar in some form and slowly give your people the chance to reacclimatise and not have a shock return factor in the Autumn, or worst still in 2021.

#2 Consider a hybrid solution – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Make the workplace work for your organisation and your needs. Benefit from the advantages of remote working, but not at the expensive of having a central space to drive culture, learning and creativity. Organise your operations to maximise efficiency, but consider how combining remote working can be built into your operational routine in an organised way, built around the needs of a team and not varying individual preferences.

#3 Trust me… it’s not about mistrust of what people are up to
My conviction of getting people back into the workplace is not due to the issue of mistrusting what people are up to when they’re working at home. We’re an industry that spends a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram and ‘online research’, so even if people are in the office its easy to get distracted. It’s not about where people get a job done – if you create a culture of trust and engagement people could work on the moon and they would deliver. But how would someone working in a galaxy far away inspire and teach a junior team member entering the profession? How does the new team member learn from their peers and by example?

#4 Young talent loses out learning on the job
Skills development in the PR industry is still heavily driven through on the job training and so much of our informal training happens by working alongside each other and on the job coaching. This valuable aspect is lost when we work in a fragmented way and I do worry how we breed the next generation of talent if they don’t get the same learning experience that practitioners have benefited from. As a junior learnt how a workplace worked from Sara Tye, how to prepare for client meetings by seeing Ginny Paton in action, awesome new business pitches from Loretta Ahmed, strategy from Alison Clarke, the creativity of Daniel Cohen and Jackie Cooper and pretty straight up feedback from Robert Philips! I’m indebted to learning our trade by seeing how experienced practitioners tackle the everyday challenges of PR, everyday.

#5 Managing people takes more time
Working remotely is awesome when you’re working on a task – you have no interruptions and you’re 100% focused on your task. That’s fine when you only have your work to think about, but when you have the responsibility of managing a team – task setting, checking in and coaching – managing remotely can eat into your day which means managers can be left burning the midnight oil still with their own personal tasks to finish. Need to pick a moment to have a quiet word? That’s tricky on Zoom when you don’t know what’s going on in the background or can get a sense of how a team member is feeling.

#6 Being in the same room to collaborate
PR is an industry of collaboration and creativity is a team process – who brainstorms on their own? The best ideas come out of a shared discussion – of course this can happen online, but its not just ‘set piece brainstorms’ that need a creative process. Everyday in PR we must find solutions to problems – issues that need to be managed, help to make a breakthrough on a project or a solve a technical problem. In the office you can scramble 20 people to help and solve a problem in seconds, but remotely it’s hard to know if people have time to help or they even know the answer in the first place.

#7 Workplace culture is the rocket fuel that gets you through tough times
Significant data demonstrates that workplaces with a strong culture outperform those that are vanilla. Creating shared moments is really hard when a people working in silo. At spottydog we worked really hard to combat this and as a team we came together during lockdown not just once a week, but every single day at 3pm. Our ‘Long Time No Tea’ 30 minute slot got everyone together for a non-work related social, with a random task, quiz or activity which has helped us create a strong sense of team. Positive workplace culture is the rocket fuel that gets you through tough times, so it’s been our number one focus as we have worked through lockdown. There’s no ‘i’ in team at spottydog, but we’d like to think there was always a ‘mate’.

#8 Being best placed to support positive mental health and wellbeing
Mental health was already an increasing concern prior to lockdown, but a growing number of people working in isolation could act as an even bigger catalyst to drive feelings of loneliness, despair and worry. We’re an industry that asks people to find solutions to challenges, overcome problems and is competitive. We all have good and bad days, but being in the workplace means its easier to share the highs and lows, and more easily spot if someone needs help. Asking for help is one of the biggest barriers to getting support to tackle a mental health concerns, asking for help remotely maybe dangerously difficult.

#9 Do our bit to boost business
We all want the economy to get moving, and it seems one of the easiest ways we can play our part is by returning back to the businesses that serve the office communities we work from. Restarting our offices means we can welcome back our cleaners, pop out for lunch and coffees, and shop for new workwear. These businesses have worked hard to ensure they are COVID safe, they need us, and we need them to be successful. We’re happy to eat out to help out, or take a taxi, or buy a frock, as long as it’s all done safely.

#10 Our energy, engagement, efficiency is at an all-time high
I hope reflecting on these considerations might give other businesses the confidence to get people back into the workplace, as long as it’s safe to do so – but our tenth reason – that the energy, engagement and productivity of the spottydog team is at an all time high. So much so we’re growing our client activity and recruiting new pups, and on a Wednesday we still all get to wear our PJs!

Rachel Roberts

Founder & CEO Spottydog Communications


You're my CommsHero EP1 - Elaine Needham, Director of Marketing at Aspire Housing

Asif Choudry

Sales & Marketing Director with resource, Founder of #CommsHero


Staying #FutureProof: Lessons from the community at a time of change by Sarah Waddington

Sarah Waddington

Chart.PR FCIPR FPRCA MIOD | Managing Director Astute.Work | Founder #FuturePRoof


Why internal communication is the most important thing you will ever do by Steve Hayes

Internal communication is usually done badly – a sweeping statement, but in my experience one that rings true.

For one reason or another many organisations put talking to colleagues low down on a list of priorities that includes customer communication, trade press coverage, social media, marketing and a raft of other sexier communication activities which sound much better in reports to boards.

In reality, communicating well with your colleagues is the most important thing that you will ever do and the lack of investment in this area ignores a very simply truth – the service that you provide is fundamentally a reflection of how informed, engaged and motivated your colleagues are.

You can have the best approach to customer communication, the most innovative marketing techniques available and be the most high-profile, respected organisation in your sector – but you’ll never fulfil your objectives or reach your potential if your staff are not bought into what you are doing.

This is easier in some sectors than others. I am lucky to work in social housing, where a clear social purpose and the people-centred nature of the service we provide makes buying colleagues into a vision and mission that bit easier.

But by following some simple rules and taking the time to invest, any organisation can benefit hugely from a strong internal communication function.

Our experience at Citizen has shown just how much this matters. In 2018 we embarked on a major transformation programme which has seen us amalgamate our group, rebrand from WM Housing and launch a series of major projects to transform the way that we provide services.

Positive as this change has been, when so much is happening at the same time a lot is asked of our colleagues. More training, more briefings, more information to take in – it’s hard enough for us communications professionals to take in even with oversight of it all, so what chance do our colleagues have?

Without a clear narrative to understand why this change is happening, how it is progressing, what the results are and perhaps most importantly of all, how it fits into a bigger picture – it’s so easy for staff to become disenchanted and demotivated.

When I say internal communication is the most important thing you can do, this is what I mean. Not that it is a nice thing to do to make everyone love you and sing songs about your organisation, but because there is a very real danger if you don’t do it well that you will derail any change you are trying to make and fail to meet your strategic objectives.

All good communications activity should support an organisation’s objectives and internal communication is the only discipline that can support all of them. If your staff understand your objectives and what you are trying to achieve, you can start to communicate everything through this lens.

So, when you talk about a major project, you’re not just talking about that project; you’re talking about its place in something much bigger. This is extremely powerful and it’s how we all make sense of the world around us.
Of course, there’s more to internal communication than just informing people about progress. In my experience there are four elements to successful communication with colleagues:

• Informing
• Engaging
• Motivating
• Inspiring.

A range of tools are needed to do this and at Citizen we’ve done a huge amount of work to look at how we can best achieve this.

Most tools are simple and don’t rely on major investment: ramping up the amount of content on your intranet, telling positive people stories from around your organisation, profiling individuals, teams and major projects, introducing new bulletins and newsletters, using leadership briefings, utilising video and other technology and so on.

Get these tools in place, give some focus to your messages and the rest will start to follow.
People will start to come to you to profile things and they’ll know the communications team is the team to come to. This will in turn create a new network for you of go-to people that you can rely on again and again. It will contribute to a positive culture of sharing, a sense of collective buy-in to your work and real sense of engagement.

With some focused effort at Citizen we have gone from an unloved internal communications function; with sporadic updates which gave an incoherent picture of our transformation, to a thriving function which gives colleagues a narrative in which they understand the mission of our organisation and how what they do is fundamental to our success.

It’s crucial that we share these lessons so that as communications professionals we can exert a collective influence about the power of our work and make the case for investment in it.

I look forward to talking about this in more detail in my session during Comms Hero Week – Informing, engaging and motivating: how to master internal communication and why it matters.

Steve Hayes

Head of Communications at Citizen


Time to be a comms hero and cease being a comms lurker! by Claire Knight

I’ve been a CommsHero ‘lurker’ for some time, following their journey from a distance on socials, commenting on posts, but never being able to attend any of the events in person, though desperately wanting to. The FOMO was real!

With a young family in tow, a relatively newbie to freelancing and Mr K working all hours in his new job now that we were back in the ‘shire, finding time to get myself out there again after quite some time out of the ‘business world loop’, seemed a distant hope. There were only so many babysitting vouchers in the bank of Grandparents.

However, I was determined that 2020 was going to be the year for me to get myself and my business out there and be more present. Little lady K would be starting school with her big brother and I’d finally have the time to take the next step with Knight & Day – starting to attend bigger networking events again, reconnecting with my old business contacts, as well as many new ones. The CommsHero conference was in my plan, as it was THE conference to attend if you were in the mar comms industry, along with a few other smaller social media related conferences and events throughout the year.

The start of 2020 didn’t quite pan out the way I, or indeed anyone, had hoped for. We very quickly had to learn a new ‘norm’ for working, alongside home-schooling, sharing home workspaces, ensuring the kids were occupied whist on what seemed like the zillionth Zoom call and staying sane with the limited time outside we were given.

I attended a few online events during this time, short webinars to keep my skills up-to-date and networking sessions, which helped keep my business and adult conversation skills updated too.

But I longed for a decent sized conference to attend to really be able to focus on my business and helping to take it to the next level.

After what seemed like an age, we were finally able to return to some sort of normality. The kids were going back to school, albeit in ‘bubbles’, so now was the time to get back to MY PLAN!

My place at the CommsHero virtual conference was quickly booked, along with the plan of which brilliant speakers to schedule time out for.

With over 35 sessions, it was going to be hard to choose between them all, but I love the fact that I can dip in and out of the sessions and the days without needing to commit to the whole day or even week, unlike traditional in-person conferences.

It’s the best of both worlds and one that I believe has a place in the business event world going forward. It’s perfect for a freelancer like myself with a young family, that doesn’t necessarily live that close to many of the main conference venues in the country.

So, 2020 isn’t going to be so bad after all. I’m now able to fulfil my dream of being a CommsHero, albeit virtually this year, instead of just being a CommsHero lurker!

Claire Knight

Freelance Social Media Manager | Chartered Marketer | MCIM | Award Winner


How do we talk to Generation Covid now? by Rebecca Roberts

The pandemic has impacted all of us but have children and young people born the brunt of it and how do we approach engaging with ‘Generation Covid’?

One of the biggest factors around effective youth engagement is actually valuing young people’s voice. Put simply, tokenism won’t cut it. Just plastering a young person on a campaign, or using an edgy graffiti graphic will be deemed as credible as Gavin Williamson’s sincere comments about wanting the best for young people. I digress!

Having grown up in a time of austerity and somewhat of a single-issue political focus (Brexit) in the UK, youth audiences have a very different context to previous generations and like youth audiences around the world, have grown up amid a far different technological ecosystem which has impacted all aspects of their lives.

The data surrounding physical and mental wellbeing, educational gaps, social inequalities, youth violence and life prospects as well as preferred content channels, trends and innovations can be overwhelming when wanting to ‘get it right’ with a youth audience.

After sharing my Engaging Youth report in May, I’ve been working on a paper to summarise what we know from the data surrounding young people during the pandemic to inform how we may need to consider communicating with them as we progress into the next 6-months… in which, let’s face it, anything could happen.

I’ll be sharing the key themes and things to consider in my Comms Hero week talk on the 30th September, but the starting point remains the same – valuing young people and taking consideration of factors impacting their lives is the surest starting point to making a difference when it comes to engaging them.

Rebecca Roberts

Marketing & Comms Pro, MCIM MPRCA


Cat's Pajamas Convos with Asif Choudry

Listen to Carrie-Ann in conversation with Asif Choudry, founder of #CommsHero. Asif tells us about the #CommsHero journey and how you can get involved.

Cat’s Pajamas

Communications strategy. Tells your story with passion.
Champions collaboration Founded. by Carrie-Ann Wade.