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12 August 2023

S9 - E4: 50 years of comms and better lives at NCHA

Nottingham Community Housing Association, known as NCHA, has been around since 1973. From small beginnings, they’ve grown organically and now house more than 20,000 people across the East Midlands. They provide over a million hours of care and support services a year, and have an ambitious development programme for new homes.

This year, it’s their 50th birthday, marking half a century of delivering better lives for local people.

In this podcast, three guests from NCHA will be talking about how the role of the Communications and Engagement team has developed in third sector organisations. They’ll be covering what the priorities need to be to make sure these organisations thrive for another 50 years.

Podcast questions

  1. In NCHA’s 50 year history how do you think the role of a comms professional has changed?
  2. Why do you think that’s happened?
  3. How important is it to make sure people can engage with NCHA online?
  4. How have you adapted your social media content strategy to drive this?
  5. What’s your approach to reputation / crisis management?
  6. How do ensure that stakeholders have a good relationship with NCHA?
  7. What are your predictions for the next 50 years?

Disclaimer: this is an automated transcript. Please don’t call the grammar police on us. You never know, we may have ChatGPT writing our next one…

Asif Choudry (00:07):

Hello, and welcome to another episode in the you’re my CommsHero podcast. And I’m your host, Asif Choudry. Today I have three guests on the podcast. Yes, that is correct. Three. And we’re starting off with, um, Nicki Kirkup, who’s the head of communications and engagement, um, for Nottingham Community Housing Association. All three of the guests are from the organization. So Nicki looks after the team, which includes comms, digital marketing, and pr, and make sure the work of the team aligns with corporate and sector strategy. She looks to travel, loves live music, and is someone you can definitely count on to win a pop quiz. So might be some pop questions Nikki, for you in a bit. Excellent. Um, we also have Kat Collins, who’s the PR stakeholder engagement manager with Vast Experience in Public Relations. The changing perception of housing associations presents new challenges, which she rises to by maximizing positive engagement with external stakeholders.

Asif Choudry (01:03):

She’s naturally creative, loves, walks, and getting into a good DIY project. I’ve got a few of those at Home Cat. So, um, if you’ve got some spare time, uh, that might be helpful for a non d i y alike me. And last, but by no means least Robyn Burke, who is the social media and digital content specialist at NCHA. She’s passionate about being creative and finding new ways to showcase what NCHA do and when she’s not at work, she’s usually reading Malcolm Gladwell books, exercising or planning her next snowboarding trip, and also is one of our first ever comms hero ambassadors this year. So, uh, welcome Nicki Kat and Robyn to the CommsHero podcast.

Nicki Kirkup (01:45):

Thank you. Thanks for having us. Thanks.

Asif Choudry (01:48):

So let’s do the getting to know you bit, um, before we kick off and, uh, into the main crux of the podcast, which I’ll come on to later. So Robin, I’ll start with you then. So, are you an early riser or do you love a lion?

Robyn Burke (02:04):

Oh, I’m not an early bird, I’m afraid. I’d say I need about 30 minutes to get used to the idea of a new day. It’s more of a NightOwl I am.

Asif Choudry (02:12):

Nicky, what about you?

Nicki Kirkup (02:14):

Um, I’m, I’m, I’m an early writer, but mostly because I force myself to be, um, yeah, I get more done in the morning, but it’s, it, it’s, yeah, I’m, I don’t leap out bed, but once I’m up <laugh>, uh, I’m on it. But yeah, somewhere in between probably.

Asif Choudry (02:30):


Kat Collins (02:31):

I think I’m very much the same as Nikki. I am an early riser, but only because I make myself, because of everything I have to do. I think my natural state would just be to stay in bed.

Asif Choudry (02:40):

<laugh>, I love that. Three non early risers. Most people have horsed early risers, aren’t they? So yeah. And there’s this thing that exists, the 5:00 AM club, I dunno if you see that on social media. Oh, yeah, yeah. People talking about the 5:00 AM club. I mean, I get up about that time, but I just think it’s a children thing or make sure, I think Sure.

Nicki Kirkup (02:58):

It’s only acceptable if you, you’re going on holiday if you’ve got a flight to catch

Asif Choudry (03:01):


Robyn Burke (03:02):

Yes. That’s

Kat Collins (03:02):

It. Absolutely. I agree with

Nicki Kirkup (03:03):

That. Anything before six.

Asif Choudry (03:05):

Okay. Let’s ask you this one. This’ll be an interesting one across the three of you. Um, apple or Android? Cat, I’ll start with you.

Kat Collins (03:14):

Android. Ooh, all the way

Asif Choudry (03:17):

<laugh>. God, Nick,

Nicki Kirkup (03:19):

Apple, apple

Asif Choudry (03:21):

And, and Robin

Robyn Burke (03:23):

Apple. Although my colleague the other day had some really great photos from an Android phone, I was tempted, but not quite tempted. So there

Asif Choudry (03:30):

You go. You see, we’ve had, you know, this year in 2023, we’ve had more Android people than, than I’ve probably had in the whole of last year already. Um, so it’s quite interesting that, so yeah, I don’t, I hope that hasn’t caused any internal friction after we finished this recording, but it

Nicki Kirkup (03:44):

Was already there as

Kat Collins (03:45):

It’s a regular combination was

Nicki Kirkup (03:46):

Already there.

Robyn Burke (03:47):


Asif Choudry (03:49):

That’s brilliant. That, so let’s ask, um, we were talking in the, before we went live on the recording, uh, just got into talking about TV and programs and stuff. So, um, box set binging. What’s the, uh, is that something you like doing? And if you do, what’s your current, uh, kind of choices, recommendations to people? So, uh, Nikki, let’s kick off with you on that one.

Nicki Kirkup (04:14):

Yeah. Uh, my, my latest fad is Yellowstone on Paramount. And it’s frustrating that not everybody’s got paramount ’cause it’s one of those programs you just wanna talk about. I really wanna talk about it all the time. It’s, it’s, it’s got everything for me. It’s cowboys and Yeah, beautiful scenery and drama and yeah, it’s a great program. But, um, yeah, I don’t dunno many other people watching it, so,

Asif Choudry (04:37):

So let, let, what about something that the, um, a non paramount viewers, you might have got yourself in the minority there, Nikki, I don’t know, but, uh, you mentioned another one as well, didn’t you? That might be more. Oh,

Nicki Kirkup (04:47):

Succession. I love succession. Succession. I’m very excited. That’s back this week. I don’t, whenever this podcast is there. We’re in April now and, um, no, we’re not in April quite, but I’m, yeah, really excited about series four with succession. It got off with a bang this week.

Asif Choudry (05:01):

Yeah. Robin, how about you?

Robyn Burke (05:04):

Well, to be honest, mainly I do start with kind of more rocom vibes, like Bridgeton and the like, but every, so I surprised myself and go back into a bit of my love, which is like crime drama, right. For a person of interest or the night agent on Netflix. That’s really good. I binged that day.

Asif Choudry (05:18):

I just watched that other day. I binged it really good. Yeah, I binged that all in one go. It’s brilliant. Really good that it is kind of got the, um, uh, designated survivor type thing

Robyn Burke (05:28):

Going on. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Asif Choudry (05:31):

Kat, what about you?

Kat Collins (05:32):

Well, I’m at an interesting TV viewing point in my life because my children are now teenagers and don’t go to bed. So we are kind of having to find things that all of us like, which is really challenging actually. So we’ve just finished watching Last of Us, which everybody absolutely loved. Yeah. So that was great. Um, and my daughter and I started watching Daisy Jones last night, which thinks is gonna be good. And it’s interesting as if that you just mentioned Designated Survivor, because that is currently my solo guilty pleasure. Is it <laugh>? Yeah,

Asif Choudry (06:04):

It’s a good one. It’s a good one. There’s so much choice now. I remember the days, uh, when it was four channels and then five and five, the fifth channel, or the fourth channel was like, whoa, look at this. And now there’s just so much to watch, isn’t there? Yeah. So final question. Printed book or ebook, robin?

Robyn Burke (06:22):

Oh, print. Always print. Yeah. I like to hold the finish the finish article in my hands. Yeah. So

Asif Choudry (06:28):

Yeah. Yeah, Nikki

Nicki Kirkup (06:30):

Ebook all the way. I love printed books. I love the look of them. I love the fear of them, but I don’t like them hanging around my house. I don’t like clutter. I don’t like waste. <laugh> and eBooks. You’ve got everything there. You know, you finish your book. That’s true. You have at 10 o’clock at night, and I think, right. What am I ready for now? And I read quite a lot. So, um, yeah, I’m, I’m all about the, I absolutely love my Kindle and I’m, I don’t sleep particularly well, so it’s great for reading in the Dark because it’s

Asif Choudry (06:56):

Got That’s true actually. It’s, it’s

Nicki Kirkup (06:59):

Cat for You Work

Asif Choudry (06:59):

For me,

Kat Collins (07:01):

Absolutely Printed. Um, opposite to Nikki. I actually love having all my books on my shelves. I love, I love seeing all my books. Um, and I love the smell of them. I love the smell of effects.

Asif Choudry (07:12):

There’s something about the smell of print. Anyone who wants to engage in that outside of books, come up to Resource and Leeds and

Kat Collins (07:19):

Have a good sniff.

Asif Choudry (07:20):

Yeah. And have a good sniff. Yeah. The smell of print is a thing. Emails just don’t smell as good, don’t they? Yeah, I

Nicki Kirkup (07:25):

Get it. I

Kat Collins (07:25):

Get it. I would take you up on that invitation as if to come to Le and Smell Print.

Asif Choudry (07:29):

We, we have people who come up and, uh, come and do a site, uh, site visit to see some of their projects hot off the press, which is a really nice thing for comms people because they, you know, you’re doing all the creative or, um, the brainstorming sessions, putting content together, and you never get a chance to see the finished product until everybody else sees it. And that for me is quite a shame for lots of communicators because, you know, seeing things hot off the press is, it’s an amazing experience. And it’s other people that, because I’ve been in the industry for such a long time, it’s other people, the comms, marketing people that I know that find it so satisfying. And when I’ve looked back when people have said that, I get it. I totally get it. But because I’m immersed in it every day, I kind of take it for granted. But it is, it is a nice experience, and just to see something literally hot off the press. Yeah, it’s a great experience. We’ll do that on your next, your next customer magazine or something. We’ll have to arrange that. Brilliant.

Nicki Kirkup (08:24):

Sounds good.

Asif Choudry (08:25):

So, so thanks for sharing that. And we’ve all got to know, including myself, a little bit more about you. But today, um, we’re gonna be talking, I mentioned Nottingham Community Housing Association, known also as N C H A, and that’s how we’ll refer to them just to make it easier. Um, has been around since 1973. Um, from small beginnings, they’ve grown organically and now housed more than 20,000 people across the East Midlands. They provide over a million hours of care and support services a year and have an ambitious development program for new homes as well. And this year it’s a very special celebration. It’s their 50th birthday marking, half a century of delivering better lives for local people. So in this episode, um, Nikki, Robert and Kat will be talking about how the role of communications and engagement team of the communications and engagement engagement team has developed in third sector organizations. And they’ll also be covering what the priority needs, uh, to be, to make sure these organizations thrive for another 50 years. So a fantastic organization, and I’m really looking forward to, um, getting into some of these questions now. So I’m gonna kick off Nikki with you then we’re gonna talk about N C A N C H A and the sector. So in nnc a’s 50 year history, how do you think the role of a comms professional has changed?

Nicki Kirkup (09:43):

Well, I think, well, for our organization specifically, we, we’ve, we’ve, you know, as you said in intro there as if we’ve grown organically. So it was one guy in 1973 who got a loan, uh, from our local authority and, and bought a hundred houses. And it’s grown and grown and grown and grown. So, you know, I’m sure comms was the kind of last thing on his mind back then in a, in the, in the, in the way that we think about it now. Although when I look back at that person, we’ve doing a lot of rummaging in, in our sort of heritage, and in those early years, you know, he was actually a great communicator. He was kind of doing it without being told to do it, you know? Yeah. He was just out there, he was networking, he had, um, fingers in all kinds of pies.

Nicki Kirkup (10:26):

And that allowed our organization to grow and develop into the, into what it’s become today. And, you know, fast forward probably to kind of the, the nineties, I guess, I think was when N C H A particularly started taking that side of things a little bit more seriously in terms of the brand and, um, taking the brand, um, you know, the, the ownership of that and the look and feel and, and, and understanding what that, what that meant. And I think the drivers for that were, were around, you know, the organization was moving into a more commercial, um, areas. So things like shared ownership and, and building homes for sale, which we still do a lot of now. And, you know, you, that takes you out of that kind of third sector charitable status thinking, I guess, you know, you’re competing up against, um, private developers and private landowners and things like that.

Nicki Kirkup (11:19):

So I think that’s when, you know, the organization really started to think more carefully about, um, how we manage our stakeholders and how we manage events and press and pr. Um, and that’s, that’s only developed, but of course, in, in more recent times in the last 10 years, it’s the digital shift. You know, that’s changed the role of communicators everywhere, not just in our sector. Um, but all, you know, all of a sudden, um, you know, customers have, um, access to, um, uh, more of a voice to more of a say, um, to, to either to report things or to praise things, you know, whatever that might be. And, you know, we’ve all come to learn that we’ve gotta manage that. We can’t, um, you know, we can’t just let that, um, manage itself. And, um, so I guess that’s where, you know, now I think when I joined the comms team here at N C H A was, um, might be coming up for 10 years ago, you know, and there was, there was, there was two of us.

Nicki Kirkup (12:21):

Yeah. And, um, and we’ve got, um, a website, but it was really clunky. Really clunky. It wasn’t interactive. It wasn’t somewhere our customers necessarily wanted to be, it was just, you know, it was just kind of there. And we were developing our first intranet. And now I look at the team and I think, wow, you know, we’ve got, uh, all our social media channels, which we have a dedicated specialist for, which is Robin, thank God for Robin. And then we have, you know, a digital team that look after our website and our intranet and, you know, digital newsletters and all that kind of stuff. And we have a graphic designer, and, you know, we’ve, we’ve had to, we’ve had to evolve and develop. And, and comms now is, is not about being there for an opening and cutting ribbons with giant scissors. It’s about being part of the conversation at the, at the very top of the table, you know, about, you know, those corporate strategic, um, plans that the organization puts together.

Nicki Kirkup (13:17):

And we are there to advise and support and, um, and think about how that impacts on our brand. And, you know, we are the custodians of our brand, um, and what those kind of messages and activities are gonna, are gonna mean for our brand. And that’s, that’s a huge shift from, like I say, even 10 years ago when, you know, the, the comms, the single comms person that was, uh, around at the time when I joined the team was, was, was really there for tenant newsletters and, um, scheme openings. We both, we, we still do do both of those things, but, um, there’s so much more. It’s, uh, it’s mad really when you think about, about that shift.

Asif Choudry (13:57):

Yeah. Bring back the big check presentations. Yeah.

Nicki Kirkup (14:01):

Yeah. <laugh>, do you know, we, we were, uh, the last time we did a big check presentation, um, I think we were with Lloyd’s t sb, and so it took his ages to get this giant check, and then they split up and we’ve, we’ve still got a Lloyd’s TSB tech Yeah. Kicking around somewhere for prosperity. Yeah. But that was annoying.

Asif Choudry (14:19):

You still see the order, one of those, and it’s great to see from a nostalgia point of view, the next, the next iteration of that’s gonna be a huge, um, iPhone. Yeah. <laugh> with a contactless payment device, isn’t it? I think that’s what’s gonna have to happen.

Nicki Kirkup (14:32):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s day transfer them to transfer the money. Yeah. That,

Asif Choudry (14:36):

That, that there’s a TikTok waiting to happen. <laugh>. So the role of a comms professional has definitely changed. And I mean, I’ve worked with the housing sector for, um, for 15 plus years as well, and I, and I totally agree with that in terms of the number of, um, uh, they’ve become, I think comms has become far more highly regarded, as you say. Yeah. At the top table, the head counts have increased because the whole comms era community started primarily because of the heroics that comms in housing. Yeah. Uh, were per, were performing because it was one person doing pr, stakeholder management, social media as it just started to kick off at the time. But it’s brilliant to see that that’s, that has changed. Uh, but, but why do you think then that, that change, why has that actually happened then?

Nicki Kirkup (15:25):

I just, I, I think this has driven from, um, from a few things really. Like I say, commercially, we are in a different place now. We are, um, you know, N C H A is, you know, akin to lots of other, um, housing providers now we have to do things differently, um, for various reasons, from funding reasons, for, um, regulatory purposes. So, so we have got, you know, commercial objectives now. And even our care and support arm, which you don’t naturally assume or think about as a commercial activity, it, it really is, you know, it’s about, it’s about bringing in income, um, for us to, to continue to deliver our services. So we have to be more commercially minded. And with that comes, you know, a kind of a, a more cohesive, dare I say, slicker brand, um, because that’s what works. We know that that’s what works.

Nicki Kirkup (16:19):

That’s what, um, that’s what kind of brings in in new business and, and, and raises profile of organizations. So there’s the commercial side of things. And then also I think, you know, um, organizations are really mindful now and quite rightly so with reputational issues. So, you know, the whole world has a, has a phone and a camera, and you know, I always say we’re only one tweet away from Panorama. Yeah. And that’s what we, we have to be so mindful of that now. Um, and that’s not to say we’re trying to cover anything up, or we are trying, you know, we, it’s about recognizing where we’ve got issues or because, you know, not everything’s plain sailing. We know that. Um, and the sector is taking a bit of a bashing at the minute in terms of repairs and dump and molds and, and those kind of issues.

Nicki Kirkup (17:09):

And it’s right that all those things are being highlighted. But what we have to do is, you know, look after our customers, look after their expectations, and really, you know, be that kind of interim between, um, our customers and their issues and their challenges and the rest of the business to make sure we can kind of navigate, um, people around those, those issues so that our reputation doesn’t become, um, tarnished. And I think, uh, you know, nothing’s, nothing’s foolproof, and I’m gonna touch all the wood around me when I say that because things go wrong. You know, they just do. But we, we want to be able to kind of manage that and, um, and respond to that in, in the way that our customers have quite rightly come to expect. So I think our exec teams, well, they, they absolutely know that, you know, if you look at our risk maps now, um, reputations really important to us. Um, and, you know, that is where we, we come in. We are the kind of, um, front of house for N C H A and I. Yeah. You know, we take that really, really seriously.

Asif Choudry (18:16):

No, that’s great and a great answer there as well. So, um, so yeah, this, this, the, the role has changed dramatically and some really good reasons as to why. So you mentioned social media in there. So I’m gonna, um, uh, go to Robin now who, uh, looks after all the social, social media and digital content. So Robin, how important is it to make sure people can engage with N C H A online?

Robyn Burke (18:39):

So, I think, you know, we live in a digital world, don’t we? I think when you, when you hear about a company, the first thing you might do is just go check out their social media and see kind of a bit about what they’re about. So I think people do expect us to have a presence, and that presence needs to be, um, accurately representing what we do and kind of how we operate, um, in our region and the work that our colleagues, um, do with customers. So it’s about just giving people that flavor of N C H A and using that as a vehicle to connect with others. You know, people expect to be able to do certain things online, and we can use social media to support other points of the business. So our customer contact team, for example, using social media to make sure that, um, we’re reducing calls where we need to. So directing people to ourselves, serve options and other things like that. So it is really important to give a good representation about brand on social media.

Asif Choudry (19:28):

Yeah, absolutely. Right. And I think it’s, it, it’s such a diverse, um, role because organizations as part of digital transformation, which isn’t just services, it’s accessibility of, um, it’s accessibility to the organization beyond a self-serve portal where you can pay rent and report repairs. But this is, it’s a channel that’s, uh, you know, it’s a, not just a channel, but a number of channels where as a consumer you can go and compliment or complain. Definitely. Um, and uh, unfortunately it tends to be more of the latter. Uh, and I know from personal experience, when you complain on Twitter, you get a much quicker response than you would do if you emailed in, uh, ’cause you get the DMM straight away. So, but that, that, that’s great for the customer. It’s actually probably good for the organization as well. So it’s important to have that. So it’s definitely taken on a, a bigger presence within all organizations, but certainly within the housing sector over the last 10 years. So then, Robin, tell us then, how have you adapted your social media content strategy to, to drive this?

Robyn Burke (20:32):

So I think it’s a number of things, really. I think it’s good that you highlighted the complaint aspect, because social media is often where you see those first kind of things start to rumble and pick up. Yeah. Within our, um, management system, we use a function where we can tag different types of content, both incoming and outgoing. So if we can start to see recurring issues and things that are popping up that people are querying about, we could then change our strategy to use, um, our posting schedule to answer those questions. So it’s a really good way of kinda just seeing those things that are popping up and seeing which things we might wanna dig deeper into. Yeah. Change our content strategy to kind of meet that. Also, just looking at the wider kind of industry of social media, what’s changing over the years? How can we adapt our strategy to get more engagement and more reach, um, depending on what kind of the algorithm is doing on certain channels and what gives us the best opportunity to engage with people.

Asif Choudry (21:19):

Yeah. And how do you then balance with, yeah. From a social point of view, um, uh, how do you balance then the vanity metrics elements? Always an interesting question with the actual business drivers to why social exists.

Robyn Burke (21:36):

It’s interesting because I think there is a real science behind it. I think some people who don’t work in the industry might just think, you know, posts are possibly random. But I think there’s a real science between balancing what people want to see. You know, the real kind of community driving kind of content, what people want to engage with, with that core objective, that business. And the more that you feed people what you want, the more you can increase your reach and your engagement. And then when you do have those messages to push out that are important, the more people that are likely to see those messages could you have took the time to build up the community. Yeah. So it is a real balance that you have to do on your channels, really. Yeah. And get people to understand that actually a post about pancake day or Easter might not be a business objective, but it is towards building that reach and building that community on your channels. Absolutely. So it is a real science behind it. Yeah,

Asif Choudry (22:21):

Yeah. Very much. And it’s great to see that, you know, dedicated roles like yourself at N C H A exist because it wouldn’t have been a thing. It would, like I say, it would’ve been one, two person operation and everyone handling the whole shebang, including, um, pr, which brings us onto to Kat and, uh, Nikki, you mentioned about, um, reputational management and this is, uh, uh, Kat’s Field within N C H A. So Kat, tell us, what’s your approach to reputation and crisis management?

Kat Collins (22:54):

Yeah, I think it’s, it’s interesting when Nikki was talking earlier about the, the way that our team has changed and evolved, and actually my role focusing just on kind of PR and stakeholder engagement has only really been in post for about six months now. So that kind of shows that it’s, uh, it’s a new emerging thing, um, for us stakeholder, sorry, reputational management for us is really important because of the way that it helps support all of our activities. It helps with recruitment, with retention, it helps with our development building program, with our care and support, uh, commissions. So it helps basically support all of our activities. The massive thing that I always focus on when it comes to managing our reputation is that the work is really 90% product, um, proactive and only 10% if that is reactive. So what we need to do is we need to make sure that we build and establish that core reputation before, um, any potential crisis happens.

Kat Collins (23:54):

So you need to establish a really good foundation. Um, and if you have a good and consistent reputation out there in the wider public, then it gives you a good solid space if a crisis does emerge. Um, and to lay that groundwork, we make sure that we, uh, get lots of positive stories out there. We talk about our positive outcomes with the different, um, different services that we provide. We make sure that we develop good relationships with all of our stakeholders. We keep our lenders, our regulators, our commissioners informed, and we make sure that we build really good relationships with our local press as well. We give them positive stories, we make sure that we respond quickly if they call for contributions or comment. And another really big one, as well as word of mouth. So, as Robin said, we, uh, use social media extensively to let people know what we’re up to.

Kat Collins (24:46):

And we’re basically doing all of this because we want to create advocates. We want people to, to think that we’re great because we are, and we want them to kind of, um, perpetuate by word of mouth that, that kind of reputation of, of who we are and what we do. Um, and we also make sure that we, uh, look after our frontline colleagues as well, because they are the face of our organization. So we work on our internal relationships, um, and, and we, uh, you know, support them to produce excellent customer service, um, and retention as well. Um, when a crisis does arrive, the key thing to do is to, um, sorry, bear with me one sec.

Kat Collins (25:34):

Okay. So what I was gonna say was, a, a a crisis will arise occasionally from time to time, and every single situation is different. And the more prepared you can be, um, it will make it easier to respond to that. So a crisis might be a press query, it might be a public negative comment that we get on social media. It might be a more national crisis, like the one Nikki referenced earlier with the dampen mold. So the key thing to know is to prepare in advance to know who your organization, uh, who in your organization you would approach for what information, be prepared to set up an action group if needed, have a business continuity plan in place in case there’s a more critical situation. But I think the main thing that you have to know is that if a call does come in, and then if an email does come in, if a national story breaks and you know that you’re gonna go kind of into crisis mode, it’s to just breathe and give yourself five minutes to have a little bit of a think plan what you need to do, and then you need to respond quickly, but accurately, when it comes to media queries, I always try to go all out, give them what they need, give them more than they’re asking for, to make sure you are establishing that relationship with them.

Kat Collins (26:40):

But the key thing to do is to be open and honest in your response. So whenever there’s a crisis, a, a media query, I always make sure that I find out exactly what’s happened. And if we were in the wrong, if any mistake has been made, then we will publicly hold our hands up. We, and we will detail what we’re gonna do to put it right. And also the lessons we’ve learned from the fu lessons we’ve learned for the future as well, and the things we’re gonna do to put it right.

Asif Choudry (27:05):

Yeah, some really good advice there for, for an e comms, um, professional, whether you’re on, uh, digital, uh, or, uh, offline channels or whether you’re in PR or not, I think it’s some really sage advice people should pick up and, and take note of that. So, and I, having worked with the sector for quite a number of years, I mean, you talked about positive stories and making sure they’re always out there, that the work that the social housing sector does, which doesn’t make its way to panorama programs, unfortunately. It’s amazing what, you know, uh, N C H A and the whole housing sector does for their local communities and other organizations that aren’t necessarily direct customers. It doesn’t, you know, you’re not just contributing to, um, uh, people who are actual tenants or customers in shared ownership properties and things like that. So there’s so much positive stories that you, so there’s no shortage or, or do, do you find there’s a, a shortage of, um, those stories to tell? Or is there, is there an abundance where you’ve got, you know, a a a massive amount to choose from?

Kat Collins (28:08):

There is never a shortage of stories. Yeah. We have, uh, too many stories to tell. It’s, I think one of our biggest problems is, as you’ve said, we do so much fantastic work that often our colleagues, because it’s their day-to-day work. Yeah. They don’t know how great it is. Yeah. So actually our biggest our biggest problem when it comes to sharing these great stories is finding out about them. Yeah. Because colleagues don’t always tell us about them because they don’t realize how great they are.

Asif Choudry (28:38):

No, that’s a fair point. And that’s genuinely something that’s always happened, because there, there is so much for that good work. So, so Kat, tell us then, how do you ensure that stakeholders have a good relationship then with N C H A?

Kat Collins (28:52):

Well, I suppose I should probably establish when we are talking about our stakeholders at N C H A, we’re referring to those people that have power or have influence, uh, people who are the decision makers. Um, and that can include our mps, it can include our local authorities, regulators, commissioners, lenders, people that we have delivery partners with. So when, you know, at N C H A, that is kind of who we are talking about. And it’s a really big group. We work with over 30 mps, we work in over 30 local authorities. So it’s a big group of people to, uh, engage with. And we, we do want to engage with them. It’s really important to us that we do, because by getting them on board, it helps to raise our profile. And it’s another way that we can celebrate our exce our successes, but we also want them to have a great perception of who we are to influence their opinion, um, so that both publicly and politically, people can kind of share the work that we do, but also raise any issues we have and anything that, that we need support with.

Kat Collins (29:57):

Um, but it’s a, it’s, it’s a two-way relationship. That’s how we see it. So we want to talk to our stakeholders, we want to tell them how great we are, but at the same time, we need to listen to them as well. Um, so we need to know what it is they need so that we can, we can help deliver that. Um, at N C H A, we have a, so we’ve got about 1200, no, we don’t, we have, yes, we do. Sorry. We have about 1200, uh, employees at N C H A and we have a group of 40 to 50 stakeholder relationship managers, and they are people across the business that we have identified as having a direct relationship with our stakeholders. So we get this group together regularly, um, to share best practice and encourage engagement. And in the comms engagement team here at N C H A, we provide this group with support, with resources to help them in their engagement with, with our stakeholders.

Kat Collins (30:55):

So we like to keep our stakeholders really informed of everything we do. We, um, we like to send good quality, frequent regular contact to them, but the key word there is regular contact. We, uh, content, we don’t want to just share noise with them. We want to share, um, important information that aligns with our messages with our organizational objectives. So we keep them up to date on what we’re doing. We invite them to our scheme openings. We invite them to visit our care and support services. And, uh, let’s be honest, we are also giving them an opportunity for some self-promotion as well. Yeah. So quite often some of our key political stakeholders, they’ll like to come along so they can get some photos as well, stick ’em on Twitter, et cetera. Um, and our end goal with our stakeholders is building meaningful and productive relationships. We want to get them on board. We want them to think we are great, we want them to help support our work. And if we can create advocates out of people with power and influence, then we can call on them when we need support and we do all of that so that they can help contribute to the success of us and help us deliver our services.

Asif Choudry (32:05):

Yeah, amazing. And some, some really lots of, uh, hard work going, um, into that, into building those relationships both externally and internally. So you’re celebrating the 50th, um, year of N C H A this year. So what are your predictions for the next 50 years? So, uh, Robin, let’s kick off with you on that one.

Robyn Burke (32:23):

Oh gosh. There’s loads and I follow, um, social media today to keep track of social media news in particular. Yeah. And I think there’s just lots going on with it. There’s thing’s always changing when you look at, when you first started to get on social and you post the odd photo of your family going on a walk or whatever from like the short film video that we see now, I think as we move into the future, we’ll see technology play an even bigger part. So even recently looking at the conversation on LinkedIn as some of how that’s being populated by AI technology and things like that. Yeah. I think that’s quite an interesting thing to see. So I think the next 50 years will be quite interesting for social media and it’ll be very much more, more tech minded Yeah. Than it’s now, I guess.

Asif Choudry (33:00):

What, what percentage of your, um, the content in your, the copy in your post will be curated by chat G p T version. Right?

Robyn Burke (33:07):

I know they’re right.

Asif Choudry (33:08):

12 or 50 or whatever it’ll be in that, that particular time. Yeah. Um, so, uh, Nicky, how about you?

Nicki Kirkup (33:16):

Um, yeah, I’m not gonna comment on the technologist. So if it freaks me out a bit when I think about, you know, having a phone in my fingers or head, or did you watch years and years? You know, that program setting in 10, anyway, anyway, they’re Robin’s just taking my brain off in a whole different direction there, <laugh>,

Asif Choudry (33:34):

But robots are coming.

Nicki Kirkup (33:36):

Yeah, I know. Um, so yeah, I, I think really, if I’m going put corporate hat back on, I think it’s the kind of e s G world is gonna just, so environmental and, um, social and government, you know, that whole part of our, um, business model now I think is just gonna grow and grow and grow. And I think that’s gonna start defining our culture more and more, you know, how we work, um, the differences between, um, you know, the, the hybrid working model and what that means for us as communicators, um, and what that means for our workspaces and what that means for our customers. And so I think, I think there are the, I think those that the kind of, certainly the environmental agenda is really gonna start, um, gathering pace. Well, it, it certainly already is at N C H A, but it, I think that will influence our culture a lot, lot more over the next kind of five, 10 years, I dunno, about 50 years. Um, yeah. And you know, I, I, I, I, and I, like I say, when I, when I think about how, um, our borrowing and lending and, you know, all kinds of, um, associations with that agenda now, um, I’ll be surprised if that isn’t the the driver for most organizations as we’re heading into the next 10, 15 years.

Asif Choudry (34:55):

Yeah. And Kat, for you pr in 50 years time, what’s that gonna be like, auto replies from, uh, an AI bot <laugh>?

Kat Collins (35:04):

Oh, maybe, maybe. I think, I think we’ve, you know, we’ve, we’ve spoken about this morning how, um, you know, in the, in the last 10 years we’ve gone from two people to, yeah, I don’t know. Are we nine now? And we all have our different specialisms. And I think that’s just gonna continue to become more and more important. I think there’s gonna be more channels. I think people are gonna expect responses at any time of the day. And, and I think we’re just gonna come under more scrutiny as, as we’ve discussed before. As Nikki said earlier, you know, everyone has a phone, everyone can take an instant photograph. Yeah. And I think from customers and politicians, I think we’re just gonna become under more and more scrutiny, um, and reputational management. Um, and the work we do with our stakeholders is just gonna get more important, not less.

Asif Choudry (35:49):

Yeah, no, absolutely. So that, that’s been fascinating that there’s loads to take away, uh, from that. There’ll be other housing comms professionals listening that will be nodding an agreement or, um, aspiring to get the big checkout or the contactless payment, <laugh>, you know, whatever is, they’re gonna do <laugh>. But there’s some really good advice. They’ll be nodding or they’ll be learning some new stuff, and there’s lots of people that are in any sector to take away from that. So thank you. Uh, it’s been really insightful to do that. So we’re here because of, you know, we’re all part of the Comms Hero community, and it’s, it’s great to welcome you here on the podcast. And, but, but tell us why is Comms Hero important to you, and would you recommend people working in comms and marketing to be part of it? Nikki, let’s kick off with you on that one.

Nicki Kirkup (36:30):

Yeah, definitely. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s, it’s, um, it’s really helpful to know that you’re not on your own. Comms can be quite a lonely place in an organization. ’cause I, you know, the work of our team is so different, you know, to the rest of the business. So it’s great to see, um, uh, you know, comms Zero broadly is great at sharing what other the people in other parts of our sector or other sectors are doing that’s, that’s similar to us. So I love that. Um, yeah, and it’s just, it’s just good fun. It’s, uh, it’s, it’s a bit different and, um, yeah, we, we really, um, appreciate your support broadly.

Asif Choudry (37:08):

Thanks, Nikki. Ka

Kat Collins (37:12):

Uh, yeah, absolutely. I think it’s, um, as Nikki said, it’s a really great community and, and a way for people to share best practice. Um, and I think what I really like about Comms Hero is, um, we, we already have lots of kind of network groups for the social care that we provide for the housing we provide, but Scom Hero is, is, is cross-sector. And I think that’s a really nice way to share best practice across the board. Yeah.

Asif Choudry (37:37):

Great. Thank you. And Robin?

Robyn Burke (37:40):

Yeah, I’ll just echo what Nikki and Kat said. Really, I think we are looking to have a big team, but I think when you think about that loan more for the person who are on their own n h s team or something like that, and to manage all aspects of comms, I think comms here provides a good place to just network with other people and share your ideas and just check, you know, am I on the right track with this? You know, will all the professionals do that in response to that issue? So I think it’s really interesting to have that and really useful. And sometimes it’s nice to just take a breather and have some fun content. Just take a bit bit of time out your day and just enjoy the banter that it’s Yeah. You know, that comes with being a comms professional.

Asif Choudry (38:12):

I think. So I think it appeals to that inner creative that exists in us all. Yeah. Um, especially in, in comms people. But I just tend to find that, um, a lot of the, uh, events and things like that are geared up to all the learning about content and what the, the next version. There’s, there’s enough of that about there. And that’s where we all go for C P D and learning and what have you. But those elements of creating that safe space to explore or, or unleash that inner comms hero, it’s a nice, it’s a nice thing to be able to do. So thank you for sharing that. And uh, it has been a great, um, uh, episode. Lots of stuff for people to take away. And the community in the community, it’s important that people network and connect with each other and we want to make sure our listeners do connect with you as well. So, uh, what are your, um, handles? Where will people find you? Nikki,

Nicki Kirkup (39:03):

Twitter. Nikki cc, N i c k i c c.

Asif Choudry (39:08):

And, uh, you’re on LinkedIn as well, aren’t you? So we’re gonna share all that in the show notes as well. And, uh, Kat for you,

Kat Collins (39:17):

Um, Kat Collins, n c h a, uh, Kat with a k

Asif Choudry (39:21):

And Robin,

Robyn Burke (39:22):

So LinkedIn is Robin Burke with a Y, and then Twitter’s at Robin m Burke. Goodbye. Me there

Asif Choudry (39:29):

At that. When you said Robin with the why, that reminded me of a tweet I saw of somebody posted from Starbucks. Um, and you know, they put your name on the cups. Yeah, yeah. Uh, and it was, he must’ve said Mark with a C and they Oh yeah. Yeah. And it was Kark <laugh>. Yeah. So I always think of that now. So, uh, it’s something that’s gonna be blazing on my mind. So, um, uh, so yeah, please connect with Nikki Ka and Robin, um, and, and, and share in their best practice and expertise as well. And you’ll find this podcast on Spotify, apple, or your chosen platform, and also on our website com You can follow us on Twitter at com zero. If you are listening on Apple or Spotify, please do leave a rating review and hit the follow and subscribe button as well, so you get the new episodes that come out every two weeks, every fortnight. So, Nikki, Kat and Robin, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.

Speaker 5 (40:22):

Thanks. Thanks for having us. Thank you.

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