CommsHero: Putting the comms in community

Our next guest crossed over from the dark side. Former Sith Lord (slash journalist) Glenn Bowley began his communications career in a housing association in St Helens before moving to Lancashire Constabulary as a press and PR officer. In 2013, Glenn was seconded to the Home Office to manage the media on the criminal investigation into the Hillsborough disaster. His brief was extended further to incorporate some stakeholder management. In 2019, Glenn joined the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) as Head of Communications.

The DBS – created in the merger of the Criminal Records Bureau and the Independent Safeguarding Authority – is approaching its 10th birthday. Glenn’s role entails having oversight and responsibility for internal, external and strategic comms, and DBS’ editorial and design function, as well as growing its public profile.

In this episode, Glenn talks about the power of communication, community and how teams that #CommsHero together, stay together.

Glenn Bowley

Head of Communications, Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Key topics

Glenn says most people will be familiar with criminal record checks. We’re not sure what you’re implying about our listeners, Glenn! He says: “In terms of our comms offer, it’s a team that’s grown massively. I arrived in 2019, I think there was me and possibly six others. We’re now up to 15 and there’s a lot of reasons for that, but our team split into four, so it’s your traditional kind of internal comms and engagement.

“Engagement being the staff engagement, not the stakeholder engagement. [Then there’s] external comms and your digital, your social media and we have strategic comms because we’re an organisation like many that has a very ambitious strategy and the strategy involves some significant pieces of work to transform the business.

“We have a dedicated team that’s focused on the comms around that and we have a new function – editorial and design which is what it says on the tin, really. We’ve got a designer, a creative content officer. We’re just about to recruit an editorial officer and we’ve got someone that oversees that function for us as well.

“There’s [sic] two main parts of DBS, we have the disclosure aspect, which is predominantly based in Liverpool and we probably issue about 8,000,000 checks every year and then we have another function, the barring side which is based in Darlington. They are responsible for barring people from working in regulated activity that’s working with perhaps children or working with adult to adult social care.

“They are two very different aspects of the organisation, but bringing them both together they both contribute to making recruitment safer and obviously our role is to go and deal with the comms.”

“I think that one of the biggest challenges is just because the organisation is undergoing a lot of change.

“Things like our technology offer – some of the systems that we use are quite old, so we’re in the process of ‘needs to go’ and update them. We’ve got a lot of transformation and lots of people are quite scared of change. We don’t really like change. Some people say they do. I’m not sure I believe them at times!

“I think we kind of like that comfy pair of slippers. We like to feel settled. There’s so much change going on, really positive change that is going to make things so much better for people that rely on and use our services, but also for our staff as well.

“That level of change obviously requires significant comms and engagement.”

Glenn remembers attending during the pandemic. He says: “Caroline King is my first comms boss. She gave me my first job in comms a long, long time ago.

“I follow Caroline on Twitter and noted a few things that she’d tweeted and did a bit of research. The CommsHero event was online due to the pandemic. I think that really opened up my eyes to so many different things, the development but actually the community.

“That’s some of the battles and we all have those battles every single day in our jobs.

Whether that’s that people think they can do our jobs. I don’t particularly think we are seen as subject matter experts in many of our organisations, which is frustrating, yeah? Can you pretty this up as the t-shirt says.

“I think that what that taught me – that first event that I attended – was that actually there are so many people out there that are breathing the same problems that you experience on a daily basis. Sometimes just engaging with those people that have been there in your position – hitting their head against the table or walking away from the computer because of something that’s happening – it was comforting, actually.

“It was really comforting knowing that people have been where you’ve been and to be able to go and listen to their experiences or find out how they may have dealt with a particular challenge or or a particular problem.

“So for me I just took so much away from that and that first event for us in 2020, I think we probably had three or four of the team that attended and they very much felt the same thing. “We’re going to book the whole team this year because we just think there is so much value for learning and development.

“There’s such a mix of sessions and we took so much away from it and then obviously since then I thought I might set up a Twitter handle. I’ve got a personal Twitter where I tweet about football and the usual sort but I set up a work one which is always great to start engaging with people, and you know you can run ideas past people, seek a bit of advice, find out what they’re doing.

“I have a bit of a saying in the team. Actually sometimes the best ideas are where you see something that somebody else has done. You kind of grab hold of that idea, mess around with it a bit and you make it work for you or your organisation. The CommsHero community gives you those opportunities to be able to go and do that.”

A final thought

“I think we’re probably gonna make some people really green here.

But we’ve got a good team – 15 including myself in our comms team – we are well resourced.

“Our chief executive is very much comms, comms, comms.

“He absolutely gets and sees the value in the importance of comms, and actually that’s part of your first problem, isn’t it in any organisation? I think that starts to make the job easier.

What that’s allowed me to do is to be able to go and look at the team and say right.

How can we go and be the best that we can be?

How can we go and support our organisation?

“You know you need some help or you need some inspiration at times from different people and I think for me that’s why the CommsHero community and conference is important, but crucially as well, you don’t need to actually do it over the full week because all the sessions are available for 12 months. I found myself attending as many sessions as I could and some of them brilliant, so many ideas and it’s fantastic.”

The show notes are the creation of friend of #CommsHero Teela Clayton.

About the DBS

The Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) is an arm’s length body and non-departmental public body of the Home Office. We carry out disclosure and barring functions on behalf of the government. Note: No other organisations should be advising that they carry out ‘disclosure’ and/or ‘barring functions’. DBS helps employers make safer recruitment decisions each year by processing and issuing DBS checks (also known as criminal record checks) for England, Wales, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. DBS also maintains the adults’ and children’s Barred Lists for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and makes considered decisions as to whether an individual should be included on one or both of these lists, and barred from engaging in regulated activity.

This episode is sponsored by Blink. The world’s first enterprise app designed exclusively for frontline workers.