CIM partner with Raconteur

Hi everyone. CIM were absolutely delighted to partner with Raconteur on their latest Future of Marketing and Customer Experience report, published in the last Sunday Times.

There is a plethora of insight on the latest marketing trends to be found in this report, but a real standout is the op-ed from our own marketing director, Gemma Butler, on page 11. We know that marketing can and should be a force for good in the boardroom, but the concept of ‘sustainable finance’ as a unifying force to bring together key decision makers around brand purpose is a change I am excited to see take hold. Unfortunately, marketing is still seen as a cost centre by too many organisations, and this is a rallying cry to focus on value delivered, rather than pounds spent.

You can read the report to enjoy the full range of features, including the op-ed below, here:

Raconteur Future of Marketing and CX report

COVID-19 boosts startups in the PR industry with more than 50 agency launches: Wadds Inc. Report

More than fifty new PR agencies have been founded in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic according to a report published today by Wadds Inc. It provides insights into the market and clear direction for anyone thinking of starting their own agency.

The COVID-19 PR Agency Startup report explores why such a large number of agencies have been started in such a relatively short period of time. It includes a list of startup agencies and characterises them by proposition location, funding and the date they were founded.

The lockdown created new routines and space for practitioners to think about their career and life. Alongside redundancy and furlough this is the primary driver for new agency startups. The report found that two-fifths of agency startups were founded during the first lockdown between February and July.

The UK agency market is saturated with more than 4,500 agencies according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). New agencies launching into such a crowded market need a strong proposition.

Startups recorded in the study are focused on one of three areas of innovation: services, business model or specialism. New agency propositions are focused on data, creativity and lead generation. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), fintech and healthcare are popular markets.

The majority of agency founders have funded their new businesses from savings or lifestyle changes. Alternative approaches include raising funds from family and friends or seeking investment from a complimentary agency partner to help cover overheads.

The report finds that COVID-19 has leveled-up competition for startup agencies. Founders have been able to create content and meet people in a way that wasn’t previously possible. Video calls mean that everyone presents the same in credential and new business meetings.

Everyone interviewed celebrated the support that their launch and new agency has received from the industry. It is a vibrant and supportive community. The UK is a great place to start a public relations business.

“The report is dedicated to anyone who has founded an agency during the COVID-19 pandemic. It celebrates your work. It’s also intended as a source of inspiration for anyone considering setting up their own agency,” said Stephen Waddington, Managing Partner, Wadds Inc.

“The COVID-19 UK public relations agency startup report is an inspiring read. It’s hard not to feel optimistic about the future of our industry after reading the findings. The PR industry has adapted remarkably well to the pandemic and the explosion of new agencies is testament to the strength of our practice,” said Francis Ingham, Director General, PRCA.

“This is a fascinating, innovative piece of research into the life of any agency from start up. I hope, like the famous TV series Seven Up!, we will get the chance to follow their stories as they grow and evolve,” said Mandy Pearse, President, CIPR.

The report found that two-thirds of the startups were located in London reflecting the location of their previous employers or personal circumstances. This is despite the fact that the pandemic has shown that there is no need for creative or professional services to be based in London. It may be that we’ll start to see a shift as a second order effect of the pandemic.

The report includes eight startup PR agency profiles: Second Mountain Communications, BB Partners, Little Mesters, Hard Numbers, Inpulsus, Look After, Happy Yolk and CommsRebel.

The 40-page report is available in an electronic format and Adobe PDF. A print edition is also available.

Information about new agency launches was collated from PRovoke, PRWeek and social media. It was cross referenced with legal company registrations and agencies’ own websites. The database is limited to agencies that were formally incorporated in the UK between 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2021.

Report HTML version

PDF download version

Print version – please contact

The Caterpillars Are In The Ring, But Will Either Win? by Jessica Pardoe

The question of the week is: Team Cuthbert or Team Colin? And yes, if you’ve missed the news, that’s a genuinely real problem we’re faced with.

In the ‘food fight’ of the century, M&S began legal action against Aldi to “protect” their iconic Colin the Caterpillar from its rival chocolate sponge roll, Cuthbert. Apparently there’s nothing more important going on in the world right now… So this is where we are.

Colin And Cuthbert Go To Court

M&S have argued that the similarities between the two caterpillars mean consumers think they are of the same standard, enabling its cheaper rival to, and I quote, “ride on the coat-tails” of the company’s reputation for “high-quality food”. Colin the Caterpillar, who’s been around since 1990, is currently around £7 in M&S stores, whereas his knock-off counterpart Cuthbert can be bought in Aldi for £5.

Credit: Olly Browning

M&S has lodged an intellectual property claim with the high court this week, and reportedly has three trademarks, including the words “Colin the Caterpillar” and the packaging. Their favoured outcome of this battle is to have Cuthbert removed from the shelves and never to return in future (including under a new name)… Ouch!

With it being obvious that you can, in fact, find caterpillar cakes in pretty much every supermarket across the country, many are thinking that this is either an unorthodox PR stunt by M&S, or perhaps even a joint venture by the two brands.

I like the thinking, and you can’t deny that this may pan out to be one of the most high profile legal cases of the decade. But is this battle actually doing either brand any favours? Here’s what I think.

Will Either Caterpillar Make It Out Alive?

There’s no question that both M&S and Aldi have attracted a great deal of publicity this week. The nation is as divided as it was in 2016, with many championing the traditional Colin the Caterpillar, and others sticking up for Cuthbert. Both brands have been the talk of the news and social media, but is all this publicity doing either any favours?

Famously, not all publicity is good publicity.

I’m actually torn as to whether this court case has done M&S any good at all. They’ve got a famously reputable product that they’ve been channelling a lot of marketing spend into recently. Have they gone too far with this legal battle and ended up actually unravelling their hard work? Here’s what I believe…

Colin is getting a reputation

I think one of the most unfortunate things to come out of this now-notorious case, is that poor Colin is getting quite the reputation. Nobody likes being copied, but taking another to court over it? Now that’s a little extreme. Though Colin was dragged in to this by M&S, I can’t help but think he’s a bit of a brat right now, to be honest.

Un-doing M&S’ branding efforts

M&S have famously being going all out over the past year, spending a fortune on marketing their two iconic products: Percy the Pig and Colin the Caterpillar. You can now buy just about any Percy the Pig merchandise you could ever want, whilst Colin’s been busy getting himself a wife and kids in the form of mini Colin rolls. M&S often frequent my TikTok ‘for you’ page with mini sketches. It’s clear their marketing team has gone all out with these two characters. Does this court case send them a few steps back? Though it’s undeniably giving Colin a great deal of publicity, it’s also unravelling (in my opinion) the hard work done in marketing his personality and character. I’m not too sure if I even like Colin all that much at the moment.

Giving Aldi great publicity

If publicity was the aim for M&S, then they’ve got it. But so have Aldi. Obviously there are some who think that this is a joint PR stunt by the two brands, but I’m not convinced. Just because it doesn’t seem to be doing M&S’ image many favours right now. Aldi already has quite the reputation for being a bit cheeky and risky with its comms – I recall their very first TV adverts (that I remember anyway) being an unapologetic comparison of how much cheaper their products are than the big fours’. A lot of us are team Cuthbert, after it’s quite rightly been pointed out that there are dozens of look-a-like Colin’s on supermarket shelves – why go after Aldi? Clearly, the brand’s been having a bit of fun with the situation though, putting out an absolutely cracking social media post last night…

Promoting other competitors

Perhaps the most ironic thing, is that this legal battle has actually given the limelight not just to Cuthbert, but to his cousins in other supermarkets too. Yesterday, the talk of social media was the various caterpillars of the UK, and how they fair against one another. This is not a new argument, but it’s one that has brought to our attention even more so in the last few days than ever before, I’d argue. M&S has got people talking about Colin – but at what cost? Everyone’s also talking about the copycat versions too, which incidentally are cheaper and arguably a lot more accessible.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I really fancy heading out to pick up a caterpillar cake right now. (But will it be a Colin? Well there’s the issue I guess).

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments below.

You can read the original blog here: and find out more about Source PR:

Jessica Pardoe

Senior PR at Source PR

Branding it the Yorkshire way by Hannah Jowett

The new Yorkshire Housing brand has finally arrived. It has been a long process, delayed by COVID and we’ve learnt a lot on the way. So I thought I’d share some of our journey.

Tell them brand isn’t the logo

When you say ‘brand’ most people think you mean a logo. But it isn’t that. Really, your brand is what people say about you. It’s your reputation.

If I say Disney – what does it make you think? I’ve never been to Disney but I think of fireworks, fairy castles and happy families – a magical experience. It’s not their logo that tells me that – it’s everything else I know and what people say about them. Just think about the Apple logo. If it didn’t make me think of tech and my phone, I wouldn’t blink if I saw it on the side of a greengrocer’s van. It’s a plain uninteresting piece of fruit. In itself the symbol means nothing without my Apple experience.

From the start it’s important to help people understand what brand is, so when they see the new visual identity, they understand that it’s only one part of the jigsaw. A logo will not reflect everything you are or your business strategy. It’s a way for people to identify you. There are many other important parts such as your tone of voice, brand promise (ie what you aim to do for who), and your customer experience that make up your brand.

I found a brilliant video online by a fantastic designer called Marty Neumeier that I showed to our leadership team and Board to explain what brand is.

You can watch it here.

Get the right people in the room

Now, without upsetting brand agency folks, they can have a reputation for being ‘fluffy’. I knew this wouldn’t go down well with our straight-talking no nonsense Yorkshire Housing people. So, I looked for an agency that could hold their own in front of our senior team.

We hand-picked our team carefully and invited colleagues from different parts of the business to be part of a 12-strong brand group. The group worked with our agency DS Emotion to understand what it means to be Yorkshire Housing. We also spoke to some of our customers and got feedback from our leadership team and Board.


You need to trust your team and support those with the right skills to do their best work. When it came to design we did it in-house. But only because we have a crash hot designer who is a brand expert in his own right. And we love what he came up with.

Don’t make the Hippos king

Everyone has Hippos (Highest paid person’s opinion) to deal with when it comes to brand. If you aren’t careful they can dilute what you’re trying to do. There is a saying, that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This is never truer than when you are dealing with brand feedback. I don’t like that colour, picture, shape. Can it be greener, bluer, rounder, edgier …… and on it goes. Before you know it your designer will be frustrated as NOTHING can be designed to meet conflicting feedback.

Yes – get feedback from colleagues, the senior team and customers – but don’t hone in on those off the wall requests based on personal taste. And don’t take feedback more seriously because it came from someone senior. Treat everyone equally. Look for themes in the feedback from across all the stakeholders and respond to those.

Remember, the brand is not for the board, the senior exec team, or someone who hates the colour you chose. It’s for all your colleagues and customers. Choose what will work for them.

Your people are the brand

When our customers think of Yorkshire Housing they don’t think of a logo. They think of the colleague who repaired their boiler, or the person they spoke to on the phone.

You can say what you like about yourself and have a shiny new logo, but if a customer has a bad experience – it damages your brand. They’ll tell all their friends and probably tag you on Facebook too. So, it’s really important to help colleagues understand their role in the brand because every email, letter and conversation counts. To support them we’ve created a new tone of voice guide, ‘How to Talk YH’ which shows how to write in our new straight-talking, friendly style. We’re rewriting examples of customer letters and planning brand training.

The fact is, a comms teams can’t build a strong brand on their own. It needs a firm long-term commitment from the business and it takes time. I’m pleased that we’re ready to set off on the next exciting leg of our Yorkshire Housing brand journey.

Hannah Jowett

Yorkshire Housing

Busman’s Holiday by Alison Gallagher-Hughes

Things that you do when you visit the seaside:

  1. Walk on the beach
  2. Build sand castles
  3. Fly a kite
  4. Have a picnic
  5. Play frisbee

Or alternatively, sit in front of a computer and take part in #CommsHero week 2020.

Now, this might not sound like a well-considered plan, but I had been stuck at home for weeks on end and needed a change of scene. It just so happened that my visit to Lytham St Anne’s coincided the opportunity to attend #CommHero week and you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. So, why not combine the two?

So, sitting in my holiday accommodation (a very nice apartment, so no hardship) I found myself embarking on a new experience – a smorgasbord of online sessions from which to choose.

Now, I had recently written an article about feeling ‘Zoomed out’ and how it was important to be selective around attending webinars so I spent time considering which of the sessions would be of most value or which had such kerb appeal that I simply couldn’t ignore them.

Mostly, this strategy paid-off but I must admit that as one session led to another, I was frequently tempted lured into another fascinating presentation or debate.

There were some corking sessions – a delightful combination of presentation styles and content, some topical, intense and thought-provoking, others laugh out loud and entertaining. I do hope that next year the ‘F**kit Bucket’ makes it on to a T-shirt!

The Fit with Frank yoga sessions alleviated the ‘numb bum’ feeling caused by too many hours sitting in front of the laptop and I looked forward to the lunchtime sessions with my mat at the ready.

Like many others, I developed Sharpie envy. As the days rolled by, I failed to capture the fluorescent jewels and I have subsequently found myself standing in Ryman’s ogling the objects of my competitive desire.

My #pethero got a mention on the first slide of the weekly round-up – a photo of @RufusKingCav wearing his beach sunglasses (well, it can get windy out on the sands), looking every inch the superhero.

And at the end of each day, I got to walk on the beach, enjoy the final hours of sunshine (well at least on three of the days), take some exercise and headspace, and enjoy the company of my husband and four-legged friend.

Time and tide wait for no man (or woman) so when you get the chance to attend #CommsHero week take part – come out of your shell and roll with the tide.

Alison Gallagher-Hughes

Director, Tillymint Communications

From Comms Officer to Deputy CEO…one year on by Laura Skaife-Knight

It’s a year since I left my role as Director of Communications and External Relations at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust – after a fantastic 12 years at a very special Trust – to take up the role of Deputy Chief Executive at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust (QEH).

And one year on, I wanted to share my thoughts about how I’ve found the transition and my advice to others who are contemplating a similar move.

In summary – all roads lead back to communications.

Being completely honest, when the opportunity arose, I was in two minds for a number of reasons. Firstly, I questioned if I could do it, second, my ambition had always been to be a Director of Communications and I really didn’t know what was ‘next’, and third, it would mean relocating and leaving a life we very happy living in the East Midlands to ‘start again.’

But in the end – after much pondering – I bit the bullet and went for it, knowing it was a risk worth taking. Why and what were my main motivations?

I had been in my Director of Communications and External Relations role and in the same organisation a long time and in hindsight (as much as I loved my job and the organisation) it was too long and this didn’t look good on my CV. There’s a point you become too comfortable in an organisation and are ‘part of the furniture’ – and if you want to be ‘at the top of your game’ you need to mix things up a bit and get different experience and be constantly challenged, never allowing yourself to standstill. If it ever gets too easy, it’s time to move on
I have predominantly worked for high-performing organisations over the last 16 years – so ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Trusts – and the prospect of working in a Trust in ‘special measures’ presented a completely different challenge for me and one which I relished, knowing that with my experience and passion, I could make a positive difference and help improve patient and staff experience at QEH
I have had the privilege of working with and learning from some of the very best leaders in the NHS in my career which has shaped my thinking today (including Peter Homa and Danny Mortimer to name a few) – and my move to Norfolk would give me an opportunity to work with, and learn from one of the very best in Caroline Shaw, as CEO. These opportunities don’t come up very often and I believe in ‘seizing the moment’. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go for it
We have talked for a number of years about moving to the coast – and the move to Norfolk gave us the opportunity to try a different lifestyle, with nothing to lose

And I haven’t looked back. This move was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was the right role, and the right move, at the right time in my career.

Lots of people have asked me how I’ve found my first year. So I thought now was a good time to capture this in a blog; which I hope will help others considering a similar move or career path.

The last 12 months have been the toughest yet most rewarding of my career to date, for a number of reasons. I’ve almost always been out of my comfort zone, I’ve challenged myself, I’ve had to reset myself and learn a whole new health and social care economy and erase all I knew over the last decade whilst settling into a new local community in West Norfolk; one we are now very proud to call our home.

My portfolio as Deputy CEO at QEH is varied and arguably unusual, and includes strategy, digital, transformation and improvement, culture, communications and external relations, staff engagement, fundraising and Governors and Membership, as well as deputising for the CEO. I’ve learnt more in the last 12 months professionally and about myself than I have in many years, perhaps because I’ve been quickly getting to grips with my new role and portfolio and in doing so living through unprecedented times as the NHS has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task ahead of me when I started my new role seemed daunting and some days still does. To help me to get focussed and make the role manageable, I’ve set myself short-term goals. What did I want to achieve in the first six months? So my three goals in my first six months were: (1) develop and launch a new 5-year Corporate Strategy, (2) put in place a staff engagement programme and (3) further improve relationships with external partners and stakeholders – three areas in our 2019 inspection that the Care Quality Commission said needed attention. Six months on – I’m proud to say there are improvements in each of these areas, with more to do, and now I’ve moved on to my next three priorities to make the next six months feel achievable and manageable – (1) improving our digital maturity (2) reviewing our Information Services and Performance functions and (3) ensuring we have a PMO and approach to improvement and transformation that is fit for purpose for the future and supports an organisational culture of continuous learning and improvement.

Compassionate leadership and consistently ‘living the values of our organisation’ have never been more important. You really are always on stage when you’re a senior leader and role-model, and consistency of behaviour is key. I don’t profess to always getting this right – but this means being thoughtful, caring, considerate, listening, and focusing on the small things that really make a big difference. I always say, what you say, don’t say, do and don’t do, is noticed – and never has this been so true.

Did I feel at times that I wasn’t worthy of my role because I was a Director of Communications? Yes I did, but in reality, in any walk of life you have to prove yourself and deliver and this is exactly how I’ve approached the last year. You earn respect in life and I am a firm believer in ‘if you work hard you get results’ and believing in yourself on the basis that having respect for others stems from having respect for yourself.

So what’s different in the end between my Deputy CEO role and a Director of Comms role?

The level of responsibility (when the CEO is on leave – it’s me – and this is a whole different level of responsibility)
The breadth of my portfolio
The criticality of appointments you make are even more relevant. You really are only as good as your team – appoint people better than you and surround yourself with the best (over the last 12 months I’ve appointed a Head of Communications and Engagement, Head of Staff Engagement, Head of Culture, Head of Digital and soon a Head of Planning and Performance and Director of Transformation and Improvement)

But fundamentally – however which way you look at it – all roads really do lead back to comms. My background in comms has given me a real grounding to do what I do now and in every single thing I do, my comms experience is relevant. Whether it’s writing a Corporate strategy, developing a bid and case for a new hospital, responding to COVID-19 or responding to patient concerns and complaints – my passion is improving the experience of patients and staff and my comms skills are absolutely relevant. Many of these things were new to me and things I hadn’t done before – but actually it didn’t matter. I believe in getting stuck in, learning from others, and importantly from your own mistakes. I happen to be a Director of Communications by background – and the importance of this Director and Board level post is no different to that of any other post sat around the Board table. Trust me; as many know, I regularly debate and argue this case.

My take homes:

Believe in yourself and the experience you bring to the table (as Director of Communications you experience it all so are well-placed to have a view of the organisation that arguably no other post does and you therefore bring a unique and valued skillset)
Surround yourself by those who you respect and can share guidance and support (I regularly have guidance from other CEOs, Deputy CEOs and others whom I respect so I can learn from their wisdom)
Draw on your experience – as a comms lead, you’ve likely seen and experienced it all – never underestimate the importance or value of this (and trust your judgement)
Don’t stay in a job too long
Life is too short – make the next move that works for you, your family and loved ones and which ultimately makes you happy (as you’ll all know from my social media posts – living by the coast makes us very happy)!
Finally – never under-estimate the importance of comms and what we bring to the table – a helicopter view of our organisations, we hold the mirror up and can say ‘have you thought about/this is/isn’t going to work’, we can create compelling visions and campaigns and can bring a dimension to the Board table no one else can. And as a bonus – we’re pretty good in a crisis, as COVID-19 has shown.

All roads really do lead back to communications, and for this reason communications professions are really well (if not best) placed and equipped to be more than Directors of Communications – if this is your ambition, go for it. There’s not one day in my current role that my experience in communications doesn’t help me. If I can do it, anyone can.

Laura Skaife-Knight

Deputy Chief Executive – Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Foundation Trust (QEH)

The CommsHero experience by Alex B Cann

I joined in with this year’s #CommsHero event as a compete novice, and was a little confused about how it would work in these socially distant times. I needn’t have worried, as I got a cordial welcome from all the Comms Hero types!

The technology worked fantastically well, as I got to meet the speakers before their talk “backstage”, and ask all the questions using the prompt boxes, all in real time, in my role as a facilitator.

I really enjoyed meeting all the speakers and networking with delegates between sessions. Fit With Frank was a particular favourite, as it inspired me to get moving a bit more, and proved there is never any excuse, however busy you are. I’d love to a podcast with him one day! A casual mention of Will Day from Santander’s cat also inspired an entertaining #CommsHeroPets thread on Twitter. A prize was offered for the best pictures, from a company not even signed up for CommsHero, who spotted it and got involved! Overall, I learned loads, and made reams of notes, which I’ve kept for future reference!

On a personal note, my wife Sofia was also involved in some of the facilitating, and found it a real confidence boost. This came after a period of not working for six months and having Covid-19 in March at the beginning of lockdown. All of this has had an adverse impact on her mental health, and getting on board with CommsHero proved to be a really positive move for her too.

I would heartily recommend the CommsHero experience to everyone, and shall be dunking several biscuits this week into my brew in celebration of a brilliantly organised event by Asif, Lee and all the team.

Alex B Cann

Radio Broadcaster, Voice over, Events, Social Media, PR & Communications.

Party Time by Teela Clayton

A chill wind slices through the trees, casting down a swirling shower of autumnal colours. The impending darkness hangs just beyond the sun as it eases into its resting spot. In fields as far as the eye can see, potatoes jostle to be plucked from their black fecund bed.

My sisters sit to the left of me – all side ponytails and in matching party dresses, garish pink and green satin raras hanging from a velvet sweetheart neck bodice – each of us in our prescribed place in Dad’s car.

We’re on our way to The Howdells’ party.

Not just any party. The main barn will be decked out with decorations – the likes that would make a Kardashian shindig seem modest – and the spread will be unlike any you’ve seen before. There’ll be trestle tables bulging under sarnies of every denomination and pickled goods and sausage rolls and pizza and quiche and vol-au-vents and chicken legs and chicken wings. There’ll be a station to construct your own fajitas or duck rolls, the hoisin sauce glossy like newly sprung oil. There’ll be the dessert table; a showy cheese platter centre piece, flanked by trifles and wobbly jellies and cupcakes and butterfly buns and fruit salad. There’ll be a DJ, a classic touch in this competitive village party industry, where spending anything under a grand is unheard of. And everyone from the village school is invited.

Well. Not everyone.

I look down at my bright green tracksuit bottoms, trying desperately to remain still should the friction cause them to combust. I am not invited. Mrs. Howdell has politely disclosed to my Mum that Terrible Teela the Troublemaker and Wanton Vandal (must remember to add this job title to my CV) is not welcome. (Spoiler alert: I turn into a goody two-shoes circa junior school and repair my reputation.)

How do I feel? I totally respect my parents for allowing my sisters to partake of this immeasurably rewarding social experience, punishing merely the perpetrator of (spent) crimes. But also, this is bull. I feel like I’ve felt every time I’ve been left out of a social engagement since. Like a flammable loser. A friendless reject. It’s not a nice feeling to experience.

And so, when I heard about #CommsHero week, and saw the guestlist via all-consuming PSA Tweets, I knew I would do ANYTHING to get to the party. The FOMO is real when it comes to #CommsHero.

And it didn’t disappoint.

Alright so there were no trestle tables of savoury goods – since Cozzy V struck, errthing’s moved online, in this case to the Airmeet platform – but there was still a veritable feast in terms of the breadth of speakers. And perhaps it was that lure of a peek behind the curtains, or maybe it was a seven-year-old me, terrified that my name would precede me and my invite would be reneged, but I also asked The Choud (that’s Asif Choudry to you uninitiated few) if I could help out in some way. He could obviously sense the party pain I was carrying, noted the battle scars, the jaded affectation behind my dead-eyed stare, and offered me a prime role.

It wasn’t quite the DJ, but an MC, a classic touch in this competitive conference CPD industry, where usually, generally, a couple of speakers are eked out over a day. I was to be responsible for around ten of the sessions of the 15-minute Q&A over the Monday and Friday. My big moon face was to be broadcast to the anticipated 300 onlookers, and I would get to speak to some of the big #CommsHero types I’ve previously fangirled over. Which is pretty much everyone.

I’m almost 29 years away to the day from that fateful car journey to The Howdells’ Farm. It’s as if Asif – the entire Resource team including Lee Hird – is some merchant of magic, bestowing a light which shines from my face. In every conversation, every interaction, the legacy of CommsHero, the legend of the hardworking but resolutely hilarious Northern team permeates and is celebrated. It’s an institution that’s gathering pace; in its ambitions, its fanbase and its merch. I laugh, make jokes, interact with speakers, network with attendees, and when it’s all done, I’ll have a t-shirt, personalised notebook and two competition wins in the form of Sharpies and donuts to compensate my feeling of loss.

And that sense of community, that comes from a shared experience, like being at the same party.

And in some version of reality, that little kid in her fire hazard trackie is getting her fill of a showy cheese platter centre piece, and all the sausage rolls she can handle.

It’s a lot.

Teela Clayton

MA PR & Strategic Comms student @ LBU 2020
Member of CIPR & PRCA

Context over Content: How a Comms Hero saved me by Kevin Campbell-Wright

There’s something about meeting face-to-face that is different from doing it online. Staring into a camera just isn’t like being in a room with people.

Both of these are statements I’ve heard lots over the last few months. It’s true. Somehow the perks of the home office have started to grate and the walls have closed in. The monotony of the appropriately coloured blue glow that is your magic window the world has turned from a light at the end of a tunnel to a warning beacon that tells you that somewhere, out in the Matrix, there are other real people feeling the same as you.

But then CommsHero online happened. Now, I’m not going to pretend that orgasniser Asif Chowdry is actually the single saviour for all those stuck in home offices (though rumours persist) nor am I going to say that, in terms of tangible learning outcomes it was the most productive conference I’ve been to, but what it did prove to me is that the problem is not the LEDs and slow fan whirs that have become my daily space, it’s the presentation of content. It’s not the situation, it’s what we do with it.

For those unfamiliar with CommsHero, it’s a communication conference with a twist. Building on the strengths of unconferences, world cafes and all the buzzwords of the late 10s, it provides top notch speakers amid an atmosphere of fun. Face to face that has meant, for example, Apprentice celebs, copious amounts of donuts or, when Greggs social media team came to speak, vegan sausage rolls. So, when the pandemic put the conference in hiatus, it was written off by many. After all, those of us who have been doing online conferences for years, know how much of a struggle they can be. But, of course, while the people at organising organisation Resource don’t wear capes, they certainly wore thinking caps.

CommsHero 2020 took place over a week instead of a day. It used a platform called Airmeet, which allowed not only the familiar webinar experience, but also options between sessions of meeting in small groups. The built in use of emojis in sessions, along with a very functional Q+A and chat module, the ability to DM attendees between sessions, proper social-media style delegate and speaker profiles, the agenda available and dynamic along the side of the sessions backed up with the Twitterbuzz that’s been its trademark for years meant that, suddenly, I wasn’t just listening to energizing content; I was meeting new people, old friends and important contacts too. I was popping into the sessions I could, sometimes late as I had other meetings, and scheduled my week around it – it didn’t get in the way, it added value to my workload. Rather than pottering upstairs to a lonely kettle to stare at the world through a window, I could enrich my breaks with new ideas.

As always at CommsHero the real magic isn’t the depth of the content (though make no mistake, there are some real gold nuggets and top-level speakers within it) it’s the sheer energy of the event. By using a combination of clever marketing, great contacts, an excellent platform and real creativity, Resource had pulled it out the bag. Not only that, but they had added to it. Rather than spending the breaks in a corner with my colleagues talking about the coffee, I’d actually gone out and networked, without the awkward “ooh am I interrupting” moment you get at traditional conferences.

Yes. The more I thought about it, the more I realised. Actually, this CommsHero had worked BETTER for me than the face-to-face one. Actually, the pale white walls of my home office are close to the same colour as the walls in our main office. Had I not had monotonous days in the office too, with people coming and asking questions all the time, with distracting noises and wished I’d been at home? Actually, I realised, the old adage I used to use when talking about agile and digital education was true. It’s not the content, nor the technology, it’s what you do with it.

Over the weekend, this adage became even more relevant. My daughter’s homework is all online now, for Covid reasons. For some, this means a crafted platform of engaging videos, for others PDF worksheets you have print, complete, scan and email back. They can contact all of their teachers on Teams 24/7 to ask them questions, but the teachers are so busy they often don’t reply. Despite Teams being at their disposal, despite them using worksheets with proven learning value, the package is not yet there. What could reach more, is reaching less.

Later in the weekend I also caught up with The Green Party conference speech. Most of the party leaders have used the pandemic to deliver speeches from a single camera focused on a podium. As a confirmed politics geek, I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled to get through them. Even someone with as much energy as Boris Johnson becomes blander when on a single backdrop pulpit. Bartley and Berry took TED Talks as an inspiration and used multiple cameras and digital backdrop to deliver theirs; it watched better, in engaged better. Really, the content was just another political speech. But the difference was how it had been purposed. The lack of an audience means edits, notes, autocues can be more strategically placed. There’s MORE room to move around, MORE places to stick the energy in. The same content delivered from a podium in a hall could work; but if you’re not on a hall but in a livestream, deliver differently.

Yes, the reality is not that our mental health is suffering because we are stuck away from people. In some ways we are more connected than ever. It’s not because we spend it one room, because we spend that much time on our own in a car commuting. The commuting time can now be spent chatting to colleagues online and calling them just for a chat. You can do that. It is productive and it is allowed.

Since March, the content hasn’t changed, only the context. If we try and deliver that context in a pre-pandemic way, we are doomed to failure. We don’t need a new normal that’s the old normal in a more irritating way. If we deliver the same content, to the same audience using a different platform creatively and properly, we can find we’re in a better place.

After all, as Nolan’s Batman said: “It’s not who I am underneath, it’s what I DO that defines me.”

Now there was a comms hero who did where a cape.

Kevin Campbell-Wright

External Affairs & Digital Learning Lead, Community trustee and primary governor

CommsHero Week 2020 - the week when…by Cassie Webster

CommsHero Week 2020 – the week when…  

1 amazing network came together for 

5 engaging days, comprising

35 inspiring sessions, delivered by

55 awesome speakers to

100+ CommsHeroes, who logged/notched up

175 CPD points, while dunking (probably)

1000 biscuits into (probably)

2000 cups of tea and creating

530.9k impressions

Billed as `a virtual event with a stellar line up’ CommsHero Week 2020 certainly lived up to the hype, and while the stats speak for themselves its the feels that it created that matter most, and there’s been a whole lot of love for this event on Twitter!

Uniting the community at this difficult time, providing each and every member with an opportunity to be part of something bigger than the day job, to think outside the box (and to win a bumper pack of sharpies) was priceless.  It certainly provided me with the lift that I needed, so much so I felt compelled to write a wee note to thank Asif and the team at We Are Resource for pulling it together and to jot down my top 15 takeaways:

  1. Drive forward your company’s commitment to putting disability inclusion on the boardroom agenda – become a member of the Valuable 500 if you’re not already #JustAskDontGrab  #DisabilityTwitter
  2. Follow @MediaJake’s top 9 tips for PRs when looking to add `Influencer marketing’ to your mix, and work only with individuals who share your brand values to create authentic, meaningful and compelling campaigns.  @influencersinthewild provides great examples of who not to work with, and Social Dilemma (currently streaming on Netflix) reasons why not to do it 🙂
  3. In the words of a fellow Superhero `with great power, comes great responsibility’ and those who want `a seat at the table’ need to sit down with caution.  In the absence of `spidey-sense’ make sure you do your research, and go armed with data and not opinions. Sound scary?? Don’t worry…
  4. `Being in the room’ can be just as powerful (and a little less stressful), 121 access to leaders is the key to success when adopting this tactical approach.
  5. When it comes to internal comms, content is king! Whatever’s happening record it then repurpose it, refashion it, upcycle it, pimp it!
  6. Don’t be afraid to `make yourself a little bit famous’ – start by recording short videos and employing @PennyHaslam’s FACE planner to make sure you never make another titanic-dote 🙂
  7. Use the platforms you’re most comfortable with to let your personality shine – Be brave, be bold, be you!
  8. #Itsoknottobeok #shareyourshit #bekind #donttroll
  9. Adopt agile ways of working before a crisis hits.  This will not only provide members of the team with development opportunities but mean you’re much more flexible and able to deal with a crisis #pacenotperfection
  10. Make positive changes to your approach to diversity and inclusion by taking the DRIVEN Pledge – the output of a collaborative brainstorming session at this year’s PR Fest
  11. Don’t be a corporate tosser – be edgy and make people smile when developing campaigns encouraging the public to change their behaviour.
  12. Explore SCARF – David Rock’s brain based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Both @Chuckgose and @grantleboff are fans of it!
  13. Overcome imposter syndrome by making 2021 – The Year of Yes!
  14. Exercise is as good for your mental health as it is your physical health said @fitwithfrank, encouraging everyone to `walk the talk’ and hold meetings outdoors like our pals at Center Parcs…
  15. Apply the 30 v 60 v 90 day plan approach to my `to do list’ NOW!

Asif and team should be so proud of what they achieved – a truly fantastic week, brilliantly executed online and without any zoom fatigue at all.  Let’s keep the conversations going and with the dates for next year’s #CommsHero event announced, have you reserved your place yet?

Cassie Webster

Corporate Communications Manager for Greggs