Dear #CommsHero, you're a human being, not a human doing.

The following blog was written by #CommsHero Jules Loveland. Jules is a Comms professional who devotes her work to improving the mental health of others. Grab a cuppa (Yorkshire Tea of course!) and take 5 minutes out of your day to read this blog reminding us that if you’re struggling, there are good reasons for that and a reminder to always reach out for help.

 

The last 2 years have left all of us in some kind of traumatised state, one way or another. Whether the pandemic exacerbated what was already there, or brought it on, there are very few of us left unscathed by what we’ve all lived through. For some of us, we’ve experienced terrible loss, for others, we’ve been in fear for our lives. And others, the extra responsibilities we’ve had to carry have just broken us. At home, at work, it’s been an assault on our minds and our bodies.

 

Anxiety, stress, depression – these are all normal responses to having experienced or witnessed something difficult and painful. There’s no shame in admitting our mental health isn’t where it could be.

 

Mine definitely isn’t! I’ve always been known as a ‘high capacity’ person – even though I live with so little energy due to my ME/CFS. But when I started to feel overwhelmed at the thought of even having to carry out basic self care (like showering), I knew something was really wrong. After a series of traumatic circumstances, the pandemic just tipped me over the edge. Burn out had hit hard.

 

Knowing I wasn’t coping brought a lot of shame and guilt, especially when I considered the impact on my kids – who I was supposedly homeschooling. The first thing I did was find a therapist. I know enough about me to know I needed proper help. When I felt like I was failing, one of the first things my therapist said to me was “the numbers of calls for help are overwhelming. You are not alone. No one is coping. No-one is built to cope with this.”

 

And then there was work…

The communications ride and slide

As Communications Manager for a charity who works with very vulnerable people, when the pandemic hit we had to act fast. All our usual support services had to be re-configured. There was no way we were withdrawing from our beneficiaries at the time they needed us the most. We expanded and developed and changed – a lot – in a very short space of time. Suddenly ‘comms’ was thrust into overdrive, having always been somewhere in the background. Now more than ever we wanted to reach and engage and connect in ways we’d never done before.

Initially it was a buzz, long hours and flippin’ hard work but we’re all in it together, all working for the common good. The whole industry was changing the game. But over time, I got tired, we all got tired. The industry got tired. More than tired.

There have been several surveys done by the PRCA and CIPR on mental health in Comms/PR. At the time of writing, the PRCA and CIPR have just released some frankly alarming stats around the state of our mental health in the industry. I wasn’t surprised to discover I was one of the 90% of Communications professionals struggling with poor mental health. Nor was I shocked to read that PR professionals are 25% more likely to suffer from poor mental health compared to other UK workers.

Why? Because aside from the workload, communicators are carrying something the world so desperately needs, and we’ve been giving it out, over and over without recognising the personal cost. I’m talking about connection.

Saving the world one connection at a time

Connection heals trauma. A world that is traumatised is looking for healing, subconsciously it’s seeking the connection it needs to heal. Public relations has connection at its heart. As communicators, we are facilitators of connection. We’re building bridges for people to find their way back to themselves and others. Using our skill and expertise, we’re teaching society the skills it needs to be whole:

● Empathy

● Emotional intelligence

● Conflict resolution

● Clarity

● Authenticity

● Courage

We’re doing this all the time. “Just another campaign” is never just another campaign when you’re a communicator – it’s levels upon levels of emotional and mental processing and analysing and ‘giving away’. You’re not ‘just doing your job’, you’re equipping, educating, inspiring and facilitating belonging. You’re leading with the skills the world is looking for. That’s a big deal. Go you!! There’s a reason you’re called a CommsHero*!

Human Beings not human doings

But you know, even heroes need time to regroup and heal themselves. We’re not bottomless wells of resources for others. For some of us right now, all we have is burn out, exhaustion, anxiety and stress. It’s time to sit up and take note of where we’re at. Horrific industry stats have people behind them. That 90%, that’s you and me, and our colleagues. Now we know the state of the industry, we can’t ignore it. This isn’t sustainable and for the sake of you, and future generations coming into the industry, we have to act.

We’ve got to stop the busy, challenge the 24/7 always available culture, address workloads, workplace difficulties, crap leadership, reduced teams and whatever else. We’ve got to put humanity back into the industry. Collectively, it’s time to heal. We’re so much more productive and effective when our work comes from wholeness and is not driven by brokenness. It’s time to learn that sometimes we need to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’.

 

Of course, ‘being’ means slowing down, re-examining, and doing things differently. That can feel like a threat to our workplace but also ourselves. Sometimes the distraction of ‘keeping going’ helps us to avoid the reality of what’s really going on. It takes vulnerable courage to ‘be’. But let’s try. Because in the being, there isn’t just healing, but there is also innovation, creativity and joy – 3 things our industry needs in abundance!

 

So let’s take a pause. If ‘being’ is hard for you, because there’s too much ‘doing’ or because just ‘being’ has become scary, I want to let you know it’s OK. There’s help, support and a way through.

 

Step back. Take a breath. Tell someone. And learn to love yourself, because, hero, you just walked through a war and you won.

Support:

Get help. Don’t wait until the thought of cleaning your teeth gives you a panic attack.

British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists. CIPR/PRCA resources for support.

*#commshero is a movement celebrating the everyday brilliance of people like you working in comms.

Jules Loveland (MCIPR)

Communications Manager at Dementia Adventure, certified #CommsHero


A lack of diversity in the PR industry

This week’s guest blog feature is by Ilyana Rajwani, a Public Relations and Communications Management Graduate from Solent University. Ilyana’s blog is such an important read and I hope you find it useful. We still have a long ay to go before there is fair representation in the PR industry but I know with high flying graduates like Ilyana, things are about to change.

However, this topic is not written, discussed or highlighted enough in the communications industry and, as a BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) PR professional, I feel responsible to start the conversation on this ongoing issue and want to use this blog to express my passion for this subject.

First of all, here are some statistics to break down this complex issue. According to the CIPR in 2020, 92% of PR professionals in the UK described themselves as White. Similarly, Chitkara states that the ethnic makeup of the PR industry in the U.S. is 87.9% White.

The question on most people’s minds is why is this happening? Although there are endless reasons, to keep it short and sweet I have chosen two dominant reasons from what I have researched.

Racism and racial stereotyping in the workplace

Although this may sound obvious, this reason is paramount and greatly affects BAME PR practitioners in their daily working lives. Racism in the workplace can be formal, informal and subtle. It can be expressed via microaggressions, racial biases, stereotyping and more. For example, a study conducted by the University of Oxford in 2019 revealed that ethnic minority groups must send 60% more applications to receive as many callbacks as the majority group. This could be seen as an example of CV name discrimination and thus racial bias being practised.

Regarding the UK PR industry, a CIPR report published in 2020, highlights that BAME practitioners feel they must work harder than everyone else and that they are left out of certain tasks and prevented from working on prestigious accounts. Also, it is claimed that BAME employees are appointed racialized positions and are only hired for managing diversity within an organisation or for PR roles where communication is needed with minority consumers. Due to this, BAME PR practitioners feel as if they are the “token” ethnic minority professional who is forced to represent an entire racial or ethnic group.

To conclude, these factors may force PR practitioners to quit their jobs or prevent them from applying for a role in communications causing a lack of racial diversity.

Unaware of the benefits of a racially inclusive PR team

Multiple studies have shown that diversity leads to more creative teams and increases a company’s bottom line, with inclusive teams making better business decisions 87% of the time. So why are racially inclusive teams not being utilised in the PR industry?

Research by Ramaswani 2018 states that minority candidates see the world differently and thus can use their diverse backgrounds and experiences to provide unique insights into what drives customer behaviour, purchasing decisions, and brand loyalty among key audiences. This is also known as cognitive diversity which has been recognised as a major benefit for any business. In my opinion, BAME audiences can only be communicated effectively if strategies are used that make sense to them. In other words, strategies proposed by BAME PR practitioners due to the similar experiences they share. Do you agree with my thoughts?

What can you do to promote racial inclusion in your workplace?

If you work in communications and have noticed a lack of racial diversity at your place of work, perhaps suggest The Blueprint initiative to your organisation. This initiative promotes BAME diversity in PR and comms through online content, mentoring schemes and events. Lastly, simply having diversity and inclusion talks and workshops could help drive a conversation and promote action.

I hope you learned something new from reading this blog and please comment down below your thoughts on this matter and ways your organisation promotes racial diversity!

For more information on the lack of racial diversity in PR check out this link:https://newsroom.cipr.co.uk/unequal-opportunities-non-inclusive-cultures-and-racist-experiences-cipr-publishes-new-report-into-lived-experiences-of-bame-practitioners-in-pr/

Feel free to contact me on twitter @ilyanarajwaniPR or drop me a message on LinkedIn if you want to know more about racial diversity in PR and to get this conversation going!

Ilyana Rajwani

Public Relations and Communications Graduate


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: https://lnkd.in/d89vH3F

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 stephen.waddington@wadds.co.uk


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: https://jessicapardoe.com/2021/04/16/colin-and-cuthbert-legal-battle-pr/ and find out more about Source PR: www.sourcepr.co.uk

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


Sausage rolls socks would complement the cape rather nicely

I’m fairly new to the #CommsHero world, little did I know
that despite living and breathing comms since Uni, there was such a huge bunch
of awesome people waiting to say hello and unleash their inner hero. The
tables, perfectly set with personalised note books and goody bags full of swag,
built excitement on arrival and whilst itching to find my cape (I had a red
one) I held off until the break to listen as the speakers began.

The ever lovely, smiley Helen Reynolds opened the event and
set the scene for a motivating, energetic day. 
I was lucky enough to benefit from Helen’s social media training
recently so it’s always good to see her IRL. 
Then Mr Grant Leboff – he took my mind off my cape and mask with his
great, upbeat delivery about brand authenticity and reputation.  More thought-provoking stuff followed by
Yorkshire Tea’s Sam Ward and Gina Stringer, on the importance of ‘doing things
proper’.  Celebrity endorsements aren’t
something I can easily relate to coming from the public sector, but the part
about investing in relationships is on point and as important as strategy. Relationship
building is something we can all do, whichever sector we work in.

Mr Choudry! Great to meet Asif before breaking for lunch.
What he has done is create an environment (on and offline) which celebrates
comms and drives home the importance of believing in yourself.  Thanks to Asif, in #CommsHero we have a
community to share ideas and challenges; we can all feel empowered and be
‘thought leaders’.

Lunch time brought about much excitement. Not only could I
finally get the cape and mask on – it fit like a dream – but I could also have
a spin on the wheel of #dunkability.  This
was a long awaited moment for me and it turns out that jammie dodgers have
incredibly good staying power.

After enjoying a Greggs sausage roll – why didn’t I try the
vegan one?? – the afternoon session opened with Greggs who talked through their
very entertaining campaigns including of course, the vegan sausage roll and
romantic Valentine’s suppers. What really came across from Fiona Mills and Ian
White though took me back to the whole theme of the day – keeping it real and
being authentic. Greggs celebrate who they are, they celebrate their staff and
their customers. They deliver what people want from their brand and it turns
out that sausage roll socks are a part of this! #sockenvy

Next up, Liam Smith of Yorkshire Wildlife Park, he was so
incredibly entertaining and uplifting. He really does put the human into social
media and offered lots of very quirky, comical ideas about how to really engage
audiences. But then he did have photos of mongooses so he was winning from the
start. Either way, he certainly had us glued to our seats.

The day concluded with Helena Langdon, formerly of innocent,
with her accidental success of a travelling office stapler which went viral, to
never under-estimating the power of non-sense. The penguin awareness day is now
a firm fixture in my diary. You had to be there.

So now I am back in the office, I have ideas and my
colleagues have swag envy. If there’s one thing I have learned from my day in
Manchester, it’s that I can’t wait to book my place for the next #CommsHero.
And this time I think I may have company. Until then a huge virtual fist bump
to my new #CommsHero buddies.


CommsHero - Keeping it real since 2014

by Josephine Graham @iojosy

I’ve never worked in London. I’ve visited a few times and it’s
nice enough. You’ve got some great museums, a few palaces and a heck of a lot
of company headquarters.

And with all that corporate workforce to cater for, London
also has scores of breakfast briefings, drinks receptions, and conferences
galore to keep everyone networked up and on top of their game.

But guess what. 88% of this country’s population is outside
London. And even the CIPR’s latest State
of the Profession
report recognises that around three quarters of PR
practitioners exist beyond our capital.

So across our nation, from Aberdeen to Anglesey, Belfast to
Bridlington, there are tens of thousands of dedicated, talented comms and PR types,
for whom a trip to London, for an expensive conference or post-work networking
event, with the associated travel and hotel costs, is just not that accessible.
That goes for our colleagues in the countless in-house and agency teams around
the UK, but is doubly the case for anyone operating their own small business,
or working in a public sector or not-for profit organisation.

This is the issue that Bradford-born Asif Choudry set out to
address in 2014 when he first had the idea for CommsHero. Fed up of paying
hundreds of pounds for identikit conferences, being talked at by people from
businesses with budgets so immense you could never emulate anything they did,
he decided to take a risk (or ‘dare to fail’ as he puts it) and try something a
little different.

I won’t tell his full story here, but in summary, in the
space of eight weeks, Choudry launched the CommsHero brand, started spreading
the #CommsHero love on Twitter, and created an event in Manchester where 80
professionals gathered for a full day conference, with tonnes of swag (freebies)
and terrific speakers, for the highly modest price-tag of just £180.

Now in its fifth year, and after touring locations around
the UK including Bristol, Leeds and London (just so no one feels left out), the
twelfthCommsHero has just taken place, back in the place of its origin
– Manchester’s impressive Bridgewater
Hall
. And I was there.

How to approach
conferencing heroically

So CommsHero claims to be different, but is it really? Well,
I put it to you, at how many conferences can you expect to find an actual
superhero cape and mask in your goody bag, while opposite the coffee bar
there’s a dressing up rail and heroic backdrop for photo ops?

Meanwhile, rather than canapés and fizz, at the latest
CommsHero bash we enjoyed a mug of Yorkshire Tea and a choice of ‘dunkable’
biscuits. OK, so maybe tea and biscuits isn’t exactly ‘out there’ when it comes
to conference catering - but you don’t usually find a ‘wheel of dunkability’ to
help you choose which biscuit to go for.

But it’s not about the gimmicks, although they are fun.
People go to CommsHero because they get great networking, hear from thought
leaders like Grant Leboff,
find out industry trends from peers leading the way (Greggs, Yorkshire Tea, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Innocent) plus all the extras such as
dazzling cartoonist and comms siren Helen
Reynolds
who popped along to compère.

So what about the
content?

OK, OK I was getting around to this. The theme this time was
‘authenticity’ – #KeepingItReal. How can we be more human and relatable, be
true to our brands, be ‘proper’ (as Yorkshire Tea put it), find our natural
brand voice and have real conversations with our publics?   

The speakers took us on a journey, with each presentation creating
new avenues of thought on a consistent theme. You could not help but pick up
some useable or inspirational insights along the way, to help with the day job.
Here are my three top takeaways from the day.

1. Leboff on brand

Speaking about brand, author and expert Grant Leboff is
nothing short of gripping. I’m awe of the clarity and authority he brings – if
you ever get the opportunity to hear him speak, do not pass it up. “Brand is
the process of taking an inanimate or indistinguishable product or service, and
giving it meaning.” Like transforming a slightly sickly, fizzy brown liquid
into Coca Cola. Damn, he makes it sound so obvious!

Brand is a concept the public sector in particular often
struggles with. It’s so much more than a logo and coordinating colour palette. Leboff
provides a handy triangle to help us hone our thinking, combining (1) the
unique or special product or service we provide to our customers, (2) our ethos
or purpose why we bother and (3) the emotional connection we hope to make with
our stakeholders. This is brand. Boom! But trying to capture his wisdom is a blog
post (or indeed a book) in its own right, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead on that
one.

2. Properness

As a committed Yorkshire Tea drinker, hearing from this
award winning team (represented by brand leads Sam Ward and Gina Stringer) was
always going to be a highlight for me. ‘Properness’ is the attitude, or ethos,
that brings the whole company, not just the comms and marketing team, together.

For example, when they wanted to create a biscuit domino
rally to launch their ‘biscuit brew’, they didn’t just film a few sections in a
studio and edit it together, oh no. They got a proper domino rally expert in,
set up a proper course in the Harrogate HQ, with real biscuits (carefully filed
so they would stand up straight), then filmed the whole thing in real time to make
a fantastically engaging film
which has had almost 1.5 million hits on YouTube.

To be honest, my main takeaway from this (as someone who has
spent the last 10 years working for a local council) was, wow, it must be nice
to work for a company where the public likes you! But of course,
notwithstanding that tea and coffee is somewhat more benign than your much- derided
local bin and council tax collectors, a great deal of that love is down to the
brilliant handling of the Yorkshire Tea brand by the team and business as a
whole.

It’s clear that the comms and marketing team combines exceptional
creativity with a robust strategic planning approach – while always allowing a
bit of give for capitalising on unexpected gifts, such as a World Cup
footballer casually mentioning Yorkshire Tea is his favourite brand. (They
reacted quickly and sent him a personalised box of tea – gaining a huge amount
of positive media coverage as a result.)

With so many ideas and opportunities, they use a handy
approach to choose what to prioritise – only if an idea will appeal to their
customers, their media stakeholders AND it fits their company ethos will it go
ahead.

3. People like funny
posts about animals

I’ve been a fan of Liam Smith’s work since his Doncaster
Council days - he and former colleague Rob Jefferson are widely recognised as
game-changers in the world of council social media. Since his move to Yorkshire
Wildlife Park, Smith’s ingenuity has been further unleashed. He is naturally inventive
and hilarious and - bad news for us mere mortals - I think a portion of this is
innate talent which not everyone can learn. But all is not lost, because he
gamely shared many tips which any of us could adopt to create more engaging
content - whether for social media, internal comms or any other channel. 

He encourages us to take risks. Why – because otherwise we’re
in danger of being boring.  He also spoke
knowledgeably about ‘finding your voice’ – if your company were a person what
would they be like? In internal communications we sometimes fall foul of
lapsing into a boring corporate voice in our copy, because that’s what we are
sent by our managers or internal stakeholders, and we’re too busy to do
anything about it. So this was a timely reminder that, on a tactical level, it
is our job to inject a bit of spark and creativity into our communications, so
that the corporate voice represents a personality that people actually want to
hear from.

Smith’s key message for me was - make a flipping effort.
When asked to put out a job advert (potentially the “dullest content ever”) he
took a step back and challenged himself to do it in a more interesting way, and
ended up devising an interactive job interview on Instagram. (No, I didn’t know
that was possible either.) This resulted in more click-throughs to the
jobs page than any job-related social media the park had ever put out before.

That’s how CommsHero
types roll

The learning above represents just three of the great
speakers on the day – we also heard from Greggs, Innocent, and Mr Comms Hero,
Asif Choudry, himself. And this ace event, with bags of CPD, took place in
Manchester, 179 miles from London, playing to a room of delegates from
predominately not-for-profit and public sector organisations, for whom the £180
ticket was a realistic investment they could justify.

CommsHero is not the only affordable conference around – it
is part of a wave of free and reasonably priced learning events which have sprung
up around the country over the last few years. Often funded through
sponsorship, or made possible through the work of volunteers, these are
organised by people who care passionately about professional development and
want to make a difference. And that is what being heroic is all about.


No, You're The Hero

Not just any hashtag … it’s a CommsHero hashtag *camera to film custard seductively oozing out of a Krispy Kreme doughnut

I can’t remember the exact date I discovered the CommsHero hashtag, but I do remember that it changed my mindset, it helped me pursue my mission.

Yes, I know that may sound a little dramatic but let me explain. 

I’m a people person.  My heart is filled with happiness when I’m surrounded by people, my wish is for everyone to live a healthy and happy life, I want everyone to reach their full potential, I need everyone to know that it’s not selfish to put your physical and mental health first. 

I’ve been freelancing for over 2 years now, mainly creating content to help organisations engage with their workforce (aka their greatest asset and don’t you dare forget that). I spend a lot of time on my own at my desk in my house instead of being surrounded by 1,500 corporate colleagues which I did for nearly two decades.  #CommsHero became my lifeline – it opened up a whole new world to me – in seconds I can connect and engage with like-minded creative people.

asif.jpg

The creation of this hashtag has brought together a community, without it I’d probably be sat at my desk and dare I admit it – maybe consider ditching the freelance life and getting myself a j.o.b.! Thanks Asif, you’re a legend!

My first CommsHero Conference

Say what! A room full of others who love the CommsHero hashtag? People I follow and ‘chat’ to on social media in the actual flesh!  Hell to the yeah – sign me up!

And there I was, handwritten ticket in hand (if you think Charlie Bucket was excited when he found his non-personalised gold ticket schmicket in a filthy grid think again!) about to walk into the Bridgewater Hall on my own in a room full of people I hadn’t met IRL*. 

What the AF** was I worried about, I was surrounded by familiar faces – thank you hashtag.

There are bits about being a freelancer that suck!

Being freelance means I get to work in my pyjamas – all day if I want.  I can market myself how I want to with no sign off – I worked for a bank for 18 years and you have no idea how good that feels.  I can (and do) drink Yorkshire Tea constantly without any judgemental looks (nothing to do with the choice of brand, everything to do with the quantity I consume).  Ultimately, I get to be me.  I get to live out my personal goals and values.

But being alone sucks.  I launched Redwood Copy with one aim.  That was to help companies find more creative ways to engage with their staff – even just communicate with them would be a start whether that is through the written word or actually speaking! You can have the best strategies and plans in place to boost that bottom line, but if your workforce aren’t feeling the love – you can kiss goodbye to it – simple as!

There were many moments when I worked in the gloriously boring world of finance (sorry ex-colleagues and bankers across the world) when I would simply day-dream about running my own copywriting business and my purpose.  Allow me to share one such moment with you:

For this to make sense I need you to know that I have Crohn’s disease (having any invisible illness and working for a large corporation is a ruddy challenge and tests the strongest of people, even Strongy McStrongface***).

Me chatting inwardly to myself while scanning the sea of heads in an open plan office crippled with the pain that Crohn’s cruelly brings: “You lot don’t know how lucky you are.”

Colleague walking past 10 mins later after getting themselves a cuppa and not bringing me one (aka tw*t): “Hi Mand, you look well.”

I look WHAT now!  He couldn’t have been further from the truth, but why would he know? Maybe he would have brought me a brew if he did know I was feeling like shit – btw ‘getting yourself a cup of tea without asking if anyone else wants one’ is a crime in my eyes and yes, I hold grudges.  Statistically 1 in 4 of us experience poor mental health every year, so why did I assume that my fellow colleagues were all OK.  Probably to do with the fact that we don’t talk, we’ve forgotten how to communicate, or maybe we feel that if we open up, our story will stop our chances of succeeding or getting promotion.  Sod that … organisations need to treat everyone as individuals – motivate them, embrace diversity, make adjustments, support them and develop them to be their best selves.  It should not be seen as an unnecessary cost – it’s an investment.

Redwood Copy launched.  I knew my purpose, my core values and my goals.

But I was doing this alone. 

Authentic connections

The theme of the conference was Authenticity.  Bloody brilliant – let’s all be a bit more human in our communications.  Weirdly, this doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people.  As soon as they put a pen in their hand or place a finger on a keyboard formality kicks in.  We’ve all done it, it’s time to stop that crap and realise that the people you are communicating to are just that – real life people with families, worries of their own, in need of a bit of humour, craving for some genuinely authentic emotional connections.

The theme didn’t disappoint, and I learnt so much from the most talented people in the world of comms - Grant Leboff, Hel Reynolds and the marketing and PR gurus from Yorkshire Tea, Greggs, Yorkshire Wildlife Park (The UKs number 1 walk-through wildlife adventure) and Innocent.  It would have taken me weeks to research the expertise they shared on the day.  Plus, I got to enjoy Greggs’ delights, plenty of proper brews and my very first Krispy Kreme - hhhmmmmm dreamy!

bridgewater hall.jpg
greggs.jpg
krispycreme.jpg
personalised swag.jpg
swag.jpg
yorkshire tea.jpg

Even better, I made my own authentic connections.  I met my twitter fam.  These are the colleagues I CHOOSE to have.  The colleagues who inspire me every day. The colleagues who never fail to make me laugh.  The colleagues who support me without even realising they are doing it. 

So, a word to all freelancers out there.  It’s hard, I know it is, but there are people out there who bring communities together and keep us emotionally happy and healthy, they do this alongside their day jobs – yes, I am talking about the team at We Are Resource committed to bring amazing marketing communications to life.  They really are heroes.

If you haven’t discovered the CommsHero hashtag, take a peek.  It may just spark a beautiful relationship.

Oh, and thanks for inviting me on stage to say a few words too.  My mum would have been proud.  Not because of my bravery to speak in front of a large room full of frickin’ heroes, but because I managed not to swear. 

Keep it real everyone, Amanda x

*in real life

**actual flip

***unoriginal idea for a name, heavily influenced by Boaty McBoatface (polar exploration ship which ended up with a much safer name - BORING!) and Gritty McGritface (Shropshire Council’s gritter name).  I’m proud to know (thanks again to the CommsHero conference) the person responsible for Doncaster Council’s poll to find a name for their gritter – David Plowie.  Genius, and no Mc or Face in sight.  For the record I also liked the other choices of Basil Salty, Spready Mercury and Usain Salt.  You de man Liam!


An epic learning experience, on a truly heroic scale

by Josephine Graham @iojosy

I can’t exactly
remember the first time I noticed #CommsHero. It was a couple of years ago,
maybe slightly more. There I was, a peaceful citizen of the world of work-related
social networking, wandering amiably along the streets of Twitter City, when I
looked up and spotted a dazzling streak, way up high.

Was it a bird? Was it
a meme? No, it was #CommsHero!

I watched in wonder as
our champion zipped about the Twittersphere, anointing and applauding worthy
#CommsHero types as it went.

Gosh, I pondered. How
does one become accepted into this illustrious alliance?

It seemed like the
coolest club in town, so I typed ‘aspiring #CommsHero’ into my Twitter biog and
waited to see what might happen next…

OK, let’s pause there. Before anyone gets too excited, this
story doesn’t continue with Christopher Reeve/Dean Cain/Henry Cavill (delete
according to demographic) swooping down to rescue me from Lex Luthor just
before he brainwashes me into producing tedious and unengaging comms.

Rather more prosaically, a few months later I saw a tweet
about the 2018 #CommsHero event in Leeds, and resolved to get a ticket. (Easier
said than done when you work in local government, but we’ll chat more about
that another time.)  Lucky me, I live in
Leeds, so at least I didn’t need to fill out a purchase req. for the bus fare.

I was super-excited about meeting my #CommsHeroes IRL
(that’s In Real Life by the way) and that probably overshadowed how I felt
about the speakers. I was looking forward to seeing the ‘Innocent lady’ (Helena
Langdon), the crafty and creative Doncaster Council lot and the very lovely
Helen Reynolds. To my very great shame I hadn’t actually heard of Grant Leboff
(I’m not from a sales and marketing background, what can I say, I’M SORRY!)

I was blown away by how much the event exceeded my
expectations. Hearing from Mr Leboff was worth the ticket price alone. The way
he clarified what it actually means to engage, why we need to create content
that has intrinsic value and just how much content is the right amount – I felt
like someone had placed a tube in my ear, syphoning incredible insights directly
into my brain. The number of times I have mentally referred back to that over
the last year... well to be honest I wasn’t actually counting but it’s been
quite a few.

Every speaker had something different to offer and I haven’t
even mentioned all the fun stuff and freebies yet. The CommsHero guys go all
out to make all the delegates feel special, with personalised swag and lots of
super goodies including (last year at least) everyone’s favourite Krispy Kreme
doughnuts and a crate full of Innocent smoothies.

So, yes, the event was pretty special, which is why I am
going again this year. The #FOMO would have been too much to bear.

But before you rush off to get your ticket, or quietly
congratulate yourself for already having yours, there is one more quick point
to make.

Blogs are not marketing copy, they should be written from
the heart. And when the #CommsHero 2019 event theme is authenticity, this is
doubly important.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been maximising every
learning experience I can get. I go to anything I can that’s free or local, and
I’ll go further afield to connect with like-minded people. Working in
cash-strapped local government, I pay for a lot of stuff myself.  I get involved, I contribute to the comms
community and I have fun doing it. I’ve made good friends along the way and
found that there are some really special people out there, who want to make our
profession better, and make being part of our profession better for all of us
working in it.

I admire the #CommsHero brand because it is supportive,
celebratory, inclusive and genuine. What I know now, that I didn’t know when I
first saw that heroic cape zooming across the digital sky, is that everyone can
be a member of the club. You don’t need to go to the event (although I would
recommend it!), or know a secret code, you just need to be authentically you,
caring about what you do, doing your best to connect and share, and learning as
you go along.

So if you are going to the event on 6 June I’ll see you
there. In the meantime, I’m just going to practice wearing my cape.