Commscamp 2015 round-up

A plate of cupcakes decorated with piped icing and fruit

Commscamp – the annual unconference for communications-types in and around the public sector. I went, I found it hard to choose between the sessions on offer, I listened to interesting people talk about a host of communications topics, I ate cake.

What did I learn?

  • the organising team make running an unconference look easy, which takes huge skill considering the amount of time and effort they must have put in to pull everything together – huge round of applause to them all, especially for the work that means tickets are free
  • the more you pitch sessions, the less nerve-wracking it gets – feel the fear and do it anyway
  • it is impossible to get to all of the sessions you’d like to at an unconference
  • I love that nobody is ‘just’ anything, you are you and know your stuff whatever your job title may be
  • there are plenty of people out there giving things a try and they’re happy to share their learning
  • you will never have time to speak to all of the people that you’d like to, and it’s hard to use real names if you know someone by their twitter handle
  • that I can’t condense what I heard in the sessions I attended into one post, so have captured bulletpoints from:
  • the unconference format is one I enjoy, and I’m going to find it increasingly difficult to go to traditional conferences and just sit and listen
  • I wish there was something similar in East Anglia, and I’m working up the courage to sound people out about viability – starting small 
  • Pimms cupcakes are pretty easy to make and very tasty indeed

Photo: Commscamp15-033 by W N Bishop via Flickr


The reinvention of PR – ten thoughts

#eaconf“The reinvention of PR” was the intriguing title of the first regional conference from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) East Anglia group. Held in Cambridge (UK) on 27 March 2014, it brought together high calibre speakers with PR professionals from a wide range of agencies and organisations. Here are ten points from the afternoon:

1. Walking the walk The CIPR has made a pledge that it will be prioritising regions and becoming less London centric. This was driven home by Institute president Stephen Waddington giving the keynote speech plus chief executive Alastair McCapra attending and taking part in the panel session. Great to see.

2. PR, whatever the channel, is about relationships Stephen Waddington’s keynote speech outlined ten areas of reinvention for PR.  A point that particularly resonated was: “#5 Brands need a human voice: Social networks are based on relationships between people … copy should be conversational and not mangled by corporate approval process.”

3. Are you using and interpreting all of the data available to you? If not, why not? Anna Salter from Kantar Media Intelligence stated that there is an increasing blur between paid, earned and owned media and data. Customers are consuming and generating content about you all the time: data + insight = knowledge.

4. What are the issues your stakeholders have with your company/services. What are you doing to solve them? Guy Middleton, head of corporate communications from Three spoke about becoming a target for the press and consumer body  Which? after an industry-wide price increase. After navigating the issue, Three looked to bring consumer issues into the business, leading to a scrapping of 0800/0845 charges and a positive reaction from Which?  

5. Tell your organisation’s story clearly and powerfully Paul Mylrea, University of Cambridge director of communications did just that, rolling off impressive facts and figures from over 800 years of the University’s history – including 90 Nobel Prize winners. As for any organisation, training specialists to communicate in ‘human’ is always a challenge, especially in the social-media age. A 26-strong comms team works on a worldwide stage – yet the University only employed its first press officer in 1990.

6. In-house is the word A panel discussion suggested that PR is making a move back in-house, and it’s not just fuelled by budget constraints. In-house teams can supply an authenticity of voice and understand the nuances of the organisation and its publics that an external contractor may find difficult to emulate. External agencies are still a great choice for specific projects, but in-house is back in fashion.

7. PR needs to be involved in strategic decision making, not just communicating it Andy Smith, head of media from Santander talked about the ongoing erosion of trust in institutions and businesses, emphasising the need for PR practitioners to be executors rather than just order-takers, and to be an ethical voice. He also pointed out that social media does not have a natural home in the traditional organisational set-up, and while communications has influence over parts, there are more stakeholders to consider.

8. It’s a good time to be in PR Summing the event up, CIPR CEX Alastair McCapra painted a positive picture of the PR industry as a whole, urging delegates to welcome the blurring of boundaries across the marketing mix and the opportunities that new technologies and social media have opened up, treating it as an opportunity to get on top, not be left at the bottom.

9. Where was all the tweeting? There was good flagging of the #eaconf hashtag, great wifi – plus the chairman monitored the feed throughout for comments – but only a quarter of delegates were tweeting. The balance between listening, tweeting and notetaking can be hard to get right, but I expected socmed activity to be higher, especially as it’s a great way to connect. This is a handy ‘How to tweet at conferences’ guide from @commsgodigital 

10. To conference or unconference? This was the first traditional ‘sit and listen then ask questions’ conference I’d been to for a while. It was interesting, and the calibre of speakers was fantastic, but I wanted to come away with a few more learning points than I did. That’s not the fault of the conference, but more of my expectations as shaped by unconferences – see more about the concept here. I think a mix of both is a good way forward, organised keynotes/presentations plus unconference breakout sessions – a best of both for everyone.

ukgovcamp2012 – my top twenty

I was at ukgovcamp2012 on Saturday – my first big unconference. It was overwhelming in some respects, but inspiring in all, mainly due to the fantastic people who where there.

Dan Slee has spread the excellent idea to write down twenty thoughts or snippets from the event. Here are mine (cue TOTP countdown music):

1. It now takes an age to walk to the Victoria line from Kings Cross train station. Do not attempt to cut it fine when aiming for a train home – it will not end well

2. No one takes a blind bit of notice when asked to keep their intros short at the opening session

3. There is a social media simulator available for emergency planning training

4. Identifying local and vocal digital users ahead of emergencies is a good plan – you can ask them to help you get your messages out in a crisis

5. During a crisis, be prepared for your website to crash. Have a Plan B – such as a WordPress site – in your back pocket

6. Ben Proctor has some practical suggestions for minimum social media practice in emergencies

7. If you’re editing Wikipedia you need to be mindful of its Conflict of Interest policy. You should not directly edit pages related to your employer or work without being totally open and honest about it

8. Wikipedia does not accept The Daily Mail as a credible source for health-related stories

9. Key phrases to use when asking for Wikipedia pages to be edited are: It is not neutral, undue weight has been given to a specific area, there is cultural bias, the page/section is unreferenced or does not cite reliable sources

10. When people are passionate about Wikipedia or QR codes, they’re super-passionate about them in a very infectious way

11. If you use bit.ly or google’s link shortener for QR codes anyone can view the statistics as they’re public by default. Terence Eden explains more 

12. QR codes are being used in museums to great effect at minimum cost

13. Never forget the end user – is what we’re doing and using the right thing for them?

14. Never forget that most people don’t have whizzy tech or phones – get your level right

15. Most people have no interest in visiting a Council website, they only go when they really need to

16. It’s a tiny bit marvelous to put faces to Twitter names

17. There will always be people you miss speaking to who you really wanted to meet

18. It’s brilliant that a Councillor came along to the Saturday session

19. Unconferences are a fantastically collborative way to bring people together and learn new things

20. The Plumbers Arms serves very good sausages. I worked nearby for four years and never went in. This was probably a mistake.

Photo: 2012-govcamp-002 by #ashroplad via Flickr