By Jon Wilcox, Senior Communications Manager at Cambridge-based computer games studio Jagex. He is also co-founder of Cambridgeshire-based comms networking group PR Hub and co-host of its spin-off podcast, The PR Hub Podcast.
The sixth CIPR East Anglia Best PRactice Conference took place in Norwich yesterday, having uprooted itself from its previously established home of Cambridge. Taking place – rather aptly – at the delightful National Centre of Writing, the event welcomed practitioners from across the region to hear speakers discuss topics as diverse as influencer marketing and managing online crisis communications, to internal communications and mental health in the industry.
At this point I’m going to hold my hand up and make a couple of admissions: firstly, I’m not a member of the CIPR (or any industry body for that matter); and secondly, this was my first CIPR conference and so was unsure about what to expect.
It. Did. Not. Disappoint.
After a warm welcome from regional chair Becky Hall, CIPR president-elect Jenni Field took the mic to discuss for the very first time her plans for the organisation during her term in 2020. In a speech that was palpably honest about the current state of the wider organisation and its members, Field set out a robust slate of objectives that will need to be focused on beyond her 12-month term. Her ambition, to promote and improve professional conduct among CIPR members, as well as plug the skills gaps that exist in the PR industry, is admirable and should be supported by members and fellows alike. It will be absolutely fascinating to watch her strive to implement them next year, and I for one wish her and the CIPR the very best of luck – when accomplished, the industry as a whole will be all the better for their efforts.
The mix of keynote speakers throughout the afternoon couldn’t be faulted, with Comms2Point0’s Darren Caveney talk about supercharging social media revealing the very interesting – and in the case of Doncaster Council’s Twitter account, amusing – ways in which using social channels continue to evolve. Sally Beadle, senior producer at BBC Look East, discussed how its regional news programmes are looking to stay relevant in the face of increasing challenges including an aging demographic and changing ways in which we consume our news; while Asif Choudry’s insight into how his company’s Comms Hero conferencing brand came about, and continues to go from strength-to-strength, showed exactly how practitioners should approach networking.
Away from the keynotes were the breakout workshops. Six were on offer over two sessions, and there were some difficult choices to make; I attended the very open and honest talk from Leanne Ehren about the increasing strain and toll on practioners’ mental health in the workplace, which was very apt given the conference too place during Mental Health Awareness Week. Ehren’s workshop, which saw attendees discuss the causes and solutions of mental ill health in the workplace, was incredibly useful. As an industry we find ourselves under increasing stress, so to share peer-to-peer advice on how to manage workplace pressure was invaluable. Finally, Helpful Digital’s Alasdair Dick offered a glimpse into the fast-paced world of managing crisis communications online which follows tried and tested tenets, but potentially at a speed several magnitudes faster than most would perhaps realise.
With the final workshop of the afternoon complete came the chance to network with fellow comms professionals over a drink before catching the train. Having completed my first CIPR East Anglia conference, I was left contemplating my key takeaway from the event…
… And my overriding thought? That there is an indelible eagerness among practitioners across the region to do their very best, to continue developing their skills and share their learnings, regardless of the industry sector and discipline in which they work. For me, it was both reassuring and affirming. It was a really interesting and valuable afternoon spent in Norwich, my thanks to the organising team at the CIPR East Anglia for their collective effort. I’m already looking forward to booking my conference ticket next year.