Inspirational and practical insight at #BestPRactice19

By Adam Driver, Senior Associate – Client Services at Cambridge-based content marketing agency CPL.

A few weeks on from the sixth Best PRactice conference, this time in sunny Norwich, and I’m adding a different perspective to Jon Wilcox’s blog. I’ve been reflecting on the benefits of hearing from key industry experts in one place, and the sharing of experiences with other PR professionals.

What a fantastic afternoon in Norwich, with PR and comms professionals from across the East of England coming together to learn, share best practice and meet fellow practitioners – be that in-house at local gov, NHS, charity, or other organisations, working for privately owned firms, freelancers or agency-side.

This was the third CIPR East Anglia conference I’ve attended, and was the best – so far. More on why, below.

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It’s at this point I should point out that, although I’m on the East Anglia committee, I take no credit for this wonderful event. I simply ran social media on the lead up to the event and on the day (it was great to see #BestPRactice19 trending on Twitter!). Huge congratulations and thanks to the whole team – especially Charlotte Stratta of Norwich City Council – who organised a fantastic conference.

Additional thanks to the event sponsor Brand Recruitment, the (apt) National Centre for Writing for helping us hold the event at the beautiful Dragon Hall, and to SGA Video and Events for documenting the day.

So, why so good?

Inspirational speakers

A huge thank you to all the speakers, some of whom travelled a long way to come and engage with us. Everyone was superb, kept the audience engaged and interactive, and left us with great takeaways.

For me, hearing the no-holds-barred approach to professionalising communications from CIPR UK President Elect Jenni Field was really motivating – chiming with a lot of my own personal thoughts on the state of the PR industry at the moment. Looking forward to her getting stuck in soon.

Secondly, I was really pleased to hear Asif Choudry, founder of #CommsHero, give an inspirational talk about how we should ‘dare to fail’, take risks and celebrate our successes. Thanks for taking the time Asif, especially during Ramadan.

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Practical takeaways

For me, living and working much of my time on social, Darren Caveney’s enlightening presentation on Supercharged Social Media was a highlight. Some great examples of organisations punching well above their weight, owning their topics and conversations.

Other sessions I attended included Advita Patel’s in-depth look at communications for change (a very relevant topic for lots of us), influencer expert Harry Seaton, who walked an initially-wary audience through the value (and measurement) of influencing, Leanne Ehren (below) with her superb take on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, and Sally Beadle’s explanation of her evolving producer’s role at BBC Look East – which all went down well.

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Faces to names (Twitter handles)

Too many people to name check individually, but I loved meeting so many people I’d connected with online, IRL.

Living in the East means that connecting and chatting with other comms folk is sometimes challenging. We make it work, however, and events like this are great or facilitating those conversations and prompting networking, ideas and (sometimes) a good moan. Us comms people have to stick together!

Look forward to seeing more of you at CIPR connect events (in pubs?) around the region this summer.

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Insight, foresight, more sight

DJ Shadow sums up my feelings on the conference there – we came, we learnt, we got inspired and we looked ahead. The future of our beloved industry is in a state of flux, but with proponents such as Jenni (direct, authentic leadership for her presidency) at the helm, I am very excited to continue my professional journey to become a chartered PR professional.

What next?

Onto the next event – check here for local meet ups near you, and sign up to Eventbrite to be kept in the loop for other events coming up soon (including a maximising LinkedIn session from yours truly in July).

Thoughts on the Best PRactice Conference… from a non-member (oo!)

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.

 

“It boosted my confidence and has opened up a lot of opportunities” – Enter this year’s PRide Awards

This guest blog is by Lucy Wright, Press Officer at Greater Anglia and Young Communicator of the Year 2018

Last year, I was named Outstanding Young Communicator of the Year for the Anglia, Thames and Chiltern Region. 

I’ve worked as a press officer at Greater Anglia for four years. Prior to this, I worked in communications for another global transport operator and I was a journalist on a daily newspaper for three years.

Working in railway comms can be very challenging. Following an incredibly busy year dealing with industrial action which was a very public and sensitive issue, leading a rail safety campaign and working as part of a small team running a busy press office, it felt like a good time to enter the awards.

I applied for the award earlier in the summer and the application was in two parts – a written submission and an interview.

PRide Awards

The written application focused on my commitment to Continuing Professional Development, work-related achievements and how they related to the industry, challenges I had faced at work and details of a campaign which had gone well.

One of my most effective campaigns was about rail safety. Although the UK operates the safest railway in Europe, we suffer a number of incidents which are avoidable, such as trespass, train surfing and fly tipping on the railway. All of these are highly dangerous, delay trains and cost the industry millions of pounds every year.

Submitting your award entry

When writing an award application, it’s really important to include details of measurement and evaluation and how this relates to wider work in the organisation and industry.

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After submission, I was invited to an interview at the University of Suffolk where I discussed my day-to-day role, campaigns I had worked on, qualifications I had studied for in my own time and the biggest issues I faced at work.

It was the first time I had entered the CIPR awards. My manager encouraged me to enter the Outstanding Young Communicator category and our team also entered (and won silver) for the best use of social media for our work during the Beast from the East.

I was absolutely thrilled and so proud to win the award. It boosted my confidence and has opened up a lot of opportunities.

Advice for others

My advice to anyone considering entering the awards would be to just go for it.

If you need some help writing the entry, I would recommend one of the CIPR East Anglia’s award writing workshops, which are being held this month.

If you line manage someone who you think would be a good candidate, suggest that they enter and help support their application. You have absolutely nothing to lose by entering and everything to gain – good luck!


Visit the CIPR PRide Awards website to enter your campaigns this year.

*Mic drop*: Thoughts about my first podcast interview

Becky Hall 2019 CIPR EA Mic drop podcast blog public relations comms

Podcasting has become a huge mainstream phenomenon and it’s been great to see that there are lots of podcasts emerging about the world of communications. In the spirit of, as they say, “making a habit of trying new things”, I was excited to be involved in my first podcast a few weeks ago.

Sat with a bright red mug of tea and using a red microphone (relevant details as we were using a room in the Mobas office so, naturally, things were wonderfully on-brand), I chatted with Adam Tuckwell and Jon Wilcox of PRHub to talk all things comms.

We covered all sorts, from CIPR East Anglia and the concept of professionalism in communications, my day job at the University of Cambridge and a couple of issues that the comms industry is currently grappling with.

It was fun – I had some experience of having my voice recorded from student radio back in my uni days and, unlike watching myself on camera which I usually find moderately excruciating, I am slightly more comfortable with audio.

I’ve jotted down three reflections that may help in case you’ve got an audio interview opportunity on the horizon:

  • Prepare – I had a few stories and anecdotes in mind, which I could cherry pick during the interview, helping me feel and sound relaxed
  • Remember that no one can see you! – I’d forgotten how much I use visual cues when I communicate. Smiles, hand gestures and nodding count for very little on a podcast, so it pays to translate the liveliness into your voice
  • Keep it level – Try to keep your voice volume relatively constant – sudden guffaws of laughter are unhelpful for the producer…

I happened to be PRHub’s first guest as this was their debut episode – their second episode will be available soon. I’d recommend their podcast to anyone interested in stories that hit the news about reputation and the world of communications, media, PR and marketing.

Have you produced, or been invited to speak on, a podcast? If so, how did you find it? If not, what do you think of the current podcast trend? I would love to hear about any tips you’ve picked up or stories you have to share.

It’s all in the research

Written by Kerry Knight, founder of Hype, a freelance collective specialising in PR. First published: It’s all about the research. Suffolk Free Press [print edition], Thursday 21 February 2019.

Any business owner will have made decisions based purely on a feeling or intuition. We’re all guilty, at times, of believing we know the ins and outs of our industries, what our consumers needs are, and everything there is to know about our own business. But, how do we know what we know? Is it just an innate understanding of knowing what’s what? Or is our knowledge based on data we’ve collated from completing comprehensive research? 

Knowing what’s what

Before you can embark on embedding PR into any aspect your business, which we covered in last month’s article, ‘It’s time to unleash the powerhouse’, a lot of research needs to happen. After all, how can you truly know your business and its capabilities of growth if you haven’t analysed the situation of your business in the first place? This involves gathering data on three fundamental areas: the environment your business operates in, your organisation, and your stakeholders and publics. 

Gather the data 

Some of the most compelling insight can come from truly understanding the environment of your business. There’s a variety of analytical tools that can be used for this element of your formative research, although you can’t go wrong with a PEST analysis that evaluates the external environment impacting your industry including political, economic, social and technological factors.

Every discipline has its own lingo. In PR, when we refer to people as stakeholders and publics, we’re talking about the people that impact your business in some way. Think suppliers, buyers, regulators, competitors, complementary service providers and so on.

Once you’ve identified your stakeholders and publics, delve deeper into their relationship with your organisation to establish how important they are to your business, what their wants and needs are, as well as how to communicate with them. 

And finally, a great way to analyse your organisation is the classic SWOT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that relate to your business. We all begrudge doing them, but they’re great at uncovering little nuggets of information that can benefit your business.    

Divide and conquer

The process of gathering data isn’t enough to make you fully armed and dangerous with your new found knowledge. You also need to interpret it to identify any particular issues, problems or opportunities that could impact your business. 

The research doesn’t stop there. During the strategy stage, where you’re defining the aims and objectives of your plan, the stakeholders and publics involved, along with the approach of the programme too, research plays an integral part. There will be plenty of key questions to think about throughout this stage in the process, starting with who is it you need to engage with and how will you do it, to how will you measure success at the end? Countless research-based activities including testing ideas and content, to identifying the suitability of a channel for communication, all help in establishing the overall strategy of your programme.  

Don’t stop now

With the implementation of your plan well under way, there’s no time to rest on your laurels just yet. Monitoring the programme as it unfolds, is the next aspect of research for you to undertake. Once again, asking questions is paramount to the success of your planned programme. How is it developing? Would any adjustments be beneficial? Even questioning the management of the programme itself, will help to identify whether you’re using adequate resources, are achieving the timescales set and also establish the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme too.  

Review, improve and repeat

The often most forgotten about element of any strategy is the evaluative research stage. We’re so intent on pushing forward, we rarely take the time, or allocate the budget, to do a comprehensive evaluative review of the implemented plan. How do you determine that your strategic approach has been successful? What would you do differently next time? Ultimately, it’s fundamental to any plan to identify what you’ve learnt to feed back into the planning process so you can continually improve what you know and what you do. 

Question everything, because intuition alone is not enough. You may think you know, but in a world that is constantly evolving and changing at an unprecedented rate, can you afford to throw caution to the wind and make your decisions based on a hunch? Research. It’s a formidable tool. 

Time to unleash the powerhouse

Written by Kerry Knight, founder of Hype, a freelance collective specialising in PR. First published: MasteringPR: Time to unleash the powerhouse. Suffolk Free Press [print edition], Thursday 10 January 2019.

Public relations (PR) can often have a bad reputation. For those that are aware of its existence (and, interestingly enough, there are plenty of people that wear a confused expression when I tell them what I do), they often view public relations negatively.

Even in the world of journalism, it’s commonly referred to as ‘The Dark Side’. But, in truth, there is a lot of good taking place thanks to public relations. And it is a force to be reckoned with.

The Heart of your Business

Public relations is at the heart of everything your business entails. It gets into every nook and cranny and can impact every aspect of your business. How? Quite simply, if you strip public relations back to its simplest form, it’s all about communication.

It is how you communicatie with others, both internally and externally, and how others communicate with you. And what does all this communication achieve? It builds your reputation.

In the digital age we live in, where your reputation can have a global reach no matter the size of your organisation, the stakes have never been higher. Reputation is paramount to success. To summarise the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) definition of public relations, it is: “The discipline that looks after reputation. It is the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.”

PR bridges the gaps between the different disciplines of your organisation.

The Purpose of PR

What are the goals and aspirations of your business? What are you striving for? Public relations can assist in reaching your goals through utilising a variety of PR activities. Tactical approaches to everything from internal communication, crisis management and corporate communication to digital engagement, copywriting and community relations, plus a whole host of other PR activities, can push you closer to where you want your business to be.

With a strategic approach to how you communicate, public relations can be wholly beneficial for your business, from improving your company image and reputation, to increasing your media profile and promoting your products and services.

It can also improve relationships between everyone your business deals with: its employees, investors, key stakeholders, consumers, target audiences and so on. PR bridges the gaps between the different disciplines of your organisation and should be embedded into every aspect of your business.

Build Public Relations into your Business

So, where do you start? In reality, you’re incorporating elements of PR into your business already without necessarily realising it. Every piece of communication your organisation does is public relations.

So, the next step is to start looking at how you communicate as part of your business’s strategy. Evaluate your existing communications and the feedback you’ve received, and use this knowledge to influence the strategy and tactics you implement for the future.

There is so much more to public relations than press releases and publicity.

The simplest approach to incorporating public relations into any aspect of your business follows four steps: research, planning, implementation and evaluation. Start asking questions: what are your aims and objectives? Who do you want to talk to and what do you want to say? How should you say it? Did it work?

Don’t forget, communication is two-way. Building relationships takes time and engaging in dialogue with everyone that influences, and is influenced by, your business is key to reaching your goals. There is so much more to public relations than press releases and publicity. Used correctly, it can be a powerhouse for your business.

 

iProvision: What is it?

By Pat Gaudin, former Chair of the trustees of iprovision

It’s sometimes surprising to hear CIPR members say “I’ve never heard of iprovision – what is it?!”   So, it’s great to have the opportunity to spread the word to the CIPR East Anglia group.

iprovision is the CIPR’s Benevolent Fund which was set up in 1965 by then IPR members to support colleagues facing hardship. Since that time, iprovision has supported over 500 CIPR members and their families who have hit hard times, often because of illness, disability, unemployment or bereavement, through for example:

  • grants to meet specific needs
  • help with respite care or care break costs
  • support and assistance.

There are a wide variety of ways that iprovision has helped, for example:

Diane, aged 45, is a single mum with two boys with special needs, who found herself struggling following the breakdown of her marriage, and lack of freelance work. When her boiler broke she had no-one to turn to until a friend recommended iprovision.

Diane said “iprovision has been an absolute lifesaver in a time of enormous turbulence in my family situation. Their support – both financial and pragmatic – enabled me to move forward more easily in what were extremely stressful times. I cannot thank them enough.”

Chris, aged 46, had been out of work for some time and was struggling to get interviews.  iprovision was able to provide employment help with a package consisting of 7.5 hours’ face-to-face time with a career coach to help identify strengths and weaknesses and put together a strategy for finding a job.  Chris said “My coach is really good and gets me thinking about new and different things so it is really helping!  The sessions keep me motivated and I can make plans with my coach for the time between sessions.” Chris is now getting interviews and hopes to be in work soon.

Heather, aged 59, has MS.  As her condition deteriorated she had to give up work and her income drastically reduced. A one off grant of £600 was given to make Heather’s home more suitable for her needs.   “Thank you for the fantastic news.  It was wonderful to wake up to your call this morning.   I am so very grateful to you and everyone who has made this possible.”

As a charity, iprovision is independent and provides a confidential service, and exists exclusively for CIPR members and past members in need and their dependants. It is however a CIPR member benefit and reference is made to iprovision in a number of CIPR documents including the membership welcome pack.

You should hear about iprovision at least once a year with your renewals letter! Every member is asked to pay the annual voluntary donation of £10 – and ideally to indicate willingness to Gift Aid.  Of course some of you may have your sub paid by your employer in which case you may wish to give separately.

iprovision has two core messages for CIPR members:

  1. To encourage you to donate in whatever way suits you best (CIPR members are the main source of income).
  2. To make sure, through you our members, that everyone knows how iprovision might assist if a current or past member hits hardship.

Without your help iprovision could not continue to provide vital support to PR professionals.

Last year we helped CIPR members through financial grants, mentoring and other practical assistance.  You can help by

  • donating £10 with your CIPR membership subscription
  • donating online with www.virginmoneygiving.com and enter “iprovision” as your chosen charity.

Every group is different and I would welcome any ideas that you have as to how we can make sure that iprovision is relevant to CIPR East Anglia.

iprovision has a special ‘helpline’ for any member in need.  The number is 0208 144 5536 – all calls are confidential. Who do you know who might benefit?

Wellbeing in change – three things that can help

By Jo Twiselton
Original Post

My passion for wellbeing began over ten years ago and is driven from my own experience in two areas: my own career in communications and change, plus the impact I’ve seen big organisational change have at a personal level – and that includes being on the receiving end of poorly managed change.

My first run-in with change was a reorganisation in the very early days of my working life and it’s stuck with me ever since. We received long, jargon-filled announcements with little understandable explanation of why the change was happening and not much opportunity for those affected to ask questions and make sense of it for themselves. And, for those of us not directly impacted by the change?  Well, a few, including me, felt what’s now known as ‘survivor guilt’ – being left behind when others are gone. Overall, it was a pretty emotional experience.

With this experience – and others since – I know that big change can often create wellbeing havoc and have a negative effect on organisations.  So, part of my approach is helping people to help themselves when they face change. This stuff can really make a positive difference to people – and organisations.

Three areas of wellbeing

The term ‘wellbeing’ is used interchangeably to mean many different things, but for me, it’s about three main areas:

  • How I can notice more about how I’m feeling
  • How I can better look after myself – physically, mentally and emotionally
  • How I can be kinder and more compassionate to others – and myself

There are heaps of topics you can explore that sit beneath these, including exercise, nutrition, resilience, emotional intelligence, coaching, self-awareness and mindfulness amongst many, many others.  But most recently, the ones I’ve found that resonate with people the most are:

  • Being part of a trusted and honest support network – so having supporters who can look out for you and you can look out for them, particularly when things get tricky
  • Whatever is happening, recognising that there are things in my world that I can have control over, such as how I talk to myself and others, what I choose to eat and drink or watch or read
  • Being kind and compassionate. In the words of JM Barry, “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

I love to hear about ways that people support their own wellbeing, particularly during tricky change. If you’d be happy to share your approaches or would like to chat more about this, do get in touch.

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Jo running a recent CIPREA workshop on wellbeing, Images by Becky Asplin Photography.

How to get CIPR Chartered

By Sarah Roberts
Original post

Last month I took the plunge to become Chartered. It was one of the most tiring, yet utterly rewarding days of professional development I have ever experienced.

I want to thank CIPR Inside who provided me with a one-off learning bursary as part of the package of goodies for winning the Future Leader Award at the Inside Story Awards this year.

So, what does it entail?

CIPR Chartership is the gold standard of professionalism in public relations practice. For me, it was the natural next step in demonstrating my commitment to my career, following on from being accredited for five years running.

To take part you need to meet the eligibility criteria, and you choose which Chartership Assessment Day you want to attend, where you will be rigorously assessed on your skills, knowledge and competency in strategy, leadership and ethics.

Ahead of the day you are provided with a case study for each assessment area, and a series of questions to get you thinking about the topic.

How should you prepare?

  1. Plot prep time in your diary – at least half a day, plus a weekend. I’ll echo here what others have said – you need to get enough time in your diary to prepare so you feel confident walking through the door and holding your own in all three conversations. But not too much that everything you speak about sounds rehearsed.
  2. Read the case studies and think around the questions.
  3. Don’t stop there though, read around the subject, draw on your own experiences
  4. Complete your 2-Year CPD plan after your prep, as you’ll better identify gaps in your knowledge base

My top tip (courtesy of Emily Osborne) is to prepare an A4 sheet of paper with 8 post-it notes for each session, which covered:

  • My overall thoughts on the case study
  • Headline answers to the questions
  • My own examples, and if I haven’t experienced something in the case study, how would I handle?
  • Other industry examples

You can take anything in with you into the room on the day – some take reams of prep, others take nothing. I found it helpful to have one of the below prepared for each conversation, which meant I had handy prompts to demonstrate my skills and competence.

Sarah R blog 1

How do you know you’re ready?

I’d been thinking about getting Chartered for almost two years and in April it became one of my developmental objectives as part of my appraisal. The reason I’d toyed around with the idea for so long was because I didn’t feel confident enough and the thought of failing, after being assessed by my peers, was quite frankly stomach churning.

I spoke to a number of people who had been through the process, read up as much as I could about what was expected from the day, and made a commitment to myself that I’d do it before Christmas.

This video with Sarah Pinch and Annette Spencer helped me gauge that it was the right time for me to do it: https://youtu.be/rGgv-1gG1fE

Congratulations to the other people who passed the assessment to become Chartered practitioners:

  • Caroline Black Chart.PR, FCIPR
  • Stuart Bruce Chart.PR, FCIPR
  • Matthew Davies Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Nicola Eyles Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Tom Howard Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Sara McCracken Chart.PR, MCIPR, DipCIPR
  • Victoria Moffatt Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Sarah Roberts Chart.PR, MCIPR, DipCIPR
  • Kathryn Robertson Ballotta Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Caroline Sharp Chart.PR, MCIPR
  • Kevin Taylor Chart.PR, FCIPR

Jason MacKenzie FCIPR Found.Chart.PR, CIPR President said:

“Professional public relations is on the rise. We’re building a community of ethically competent, strategic professionals, with the judgement to positively influence organisations at the highest level.

I’d like to congratulate all of those who’ve passed today’s assessment. You are a credit to yourselves and the wider profession and collectively, you’ve taken us closer towards our ambition of becoming a predominantly chartered profession within 10 years.”

I am now incredibly proud to feature on the ever-growing list of PR pros who have become Chartered.

Everything that we go through – looking after the mental health of comms professionals

By Leanne Ehren | Original post on comms2point0

10 October 2018

As an issue mental health has been on the radar for the communications industry for some time. In truth we haven’t responded quickly enough to the risks it poses to us. But it feels like changes are taking place and that’s something we should all embrace.

I am not a mental health expert. I’m putting that out there, front and centre. I am just one comms person, trying to give a voice to the mental health challenges we face in our industry after having my own eyes opened wide to this negative stigma.

So, why did I decide to raise the flag? It all started earlier this year (2018) when I was approached to speak at a super event known as the Granicus Summit UK. When the organisers went through the line up of best practice, awesome campaigns, crisis tactics, I felt like there was only one thing I could talk honestly about. One thing that I had really learned over the past year that was absolutely imperative to good comms – but also was the one thing I had rarely heard being discussed openly: the mental health of comms professionals.

I bet you’ve written about it – mental health that is. Been asked to develop and deliver a campaign even tackling the stigma; a news release about your organisation signing a mental health pledge or pictures of staff undertaking mental health training. So we can talk about mental health, write about it. But when it comes to telling our story, the story of the communications industry and some of the negative impact it’s having on our mental health, we seem pretty tongue tied.

So, for World Mental Health Day this year (October 10), I’m trying to tell a very different kind of story; my story and hopefully, our story.

My story

About one year ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Like dozens of other colleagues, I was part of the many teams of people managing the aftermath Manchester Arena terror attack.

But we’re all different, and apparently, guilt is a real thing. It was for me; the guilt I had that I couldn’t do more, that we were working so hard but still couldn’t make things better, the guilt of going home when all you wanted to do was stay, the guilt that then six weeks later I had a new job opportunity and had to leave my team in, frankly, a slightly broken state.

It wasn’t until three months later, one day having a shower of all things, I started uncontrollably crying, continually seeing the faces of my colleagues who had gone through so much in such tragic circumstances. This wasn’t me. I was a strong, resilient, loud, bubbly, determined, a happy person – normally. I should be able to control this, deal with this, suck it up and just crack on. That’s not what happened.

I was so lucky to get the help and support I needed to learn about mental health, understand what PTSD was and develop ways to overcome my challenges and return to the person I’m most happiest being. And the beauty of mental health, like any injury, is that you can manage it, and that’s what I’ve been able to do.

While this was my first battle with my own mental health, I became intrigued and have learned I’m not the only one as the CIPR State of Profession report from this year highlights: about one in six PR professionals (16 per cent) report living with a mental health condition – an increase of 10 per cent from last year’s research.

A study for PRCA also found mental health in comms people is repeatedly ignored. Tragic.

So this is me, speaking for all those people I’ve chatted to in the past year, who maybe feel they can’t stand up right now and share their story quite yet.

I started listening to the stories of comms people and how the world we work in, can make them feel. These are some of their words:

“There’s a stigma – I didn’t want to say I felt stressed because comms people are can-do people. We’re the fixers.”

“I find it really hard to separate my work and my personal life online. It’s like I’m permanently switched on.”

“I bottled everything up until I exploded. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but everyone always expects comms to be the happy people!”

“We’re the first line of defence. All the trolls, all the negative comments about what the council isn’t doing; all of that, my team sees first on social media. I guess you become a bit immune to it all, but there are a few we’ve taken really personally and they can just hang over you. I think we then carry a lot of guilt.”

“There’s no out of hours rota but what’s expected of us is so full on. And worst of all, if something contentious that a councillor has spotted isn’t responded to over the weekend, we get blamed. We know it’s not fair but it’s just how it is. You feel the pressure, do it after work, then it’s hard to switch off.”

“My boss set up a competition in the team for social media: whose content would get the most engagement each week. It was meant to be motivational but it actually became harmful. People would be on the accounts out of hours, responding and making sure they were doing everything they could to get engagement up. It was only one Friday night at 7pm when I was in the office obsessed with the challenge, when I should have been up the pub, that I realised this whole situation was not a good thing.”

“Public sector comms is always under scrutiny – therefore it’s constantly changing. It puts a lot of pressure on us and we have to be resilient. That can take its toll after a few rounds of it.”

“I’d dealt with much worse, so many times before. But for some reason, that case really got to me. I just sobbed and sobbed the whole way home. Reading words can be extremely powerful.”

“The symptoms I went to the doctor with were physical – a skin rash. But it was only when we sat down and started talking and I told her all what I’d been dealing with at work, she was the one who said it wasn’t just my skin that needed treating, but my mental health needed looking after.”

“Everyone is being asked to do more with less. Some days I feel like I will never get to the end of my to-do list and that makes me anxious. But I just want to make sure everything gets done so I do work long hours.”

“We see some pretty horrific stuff working in blue light services and don’t get me wrong, we can access welfare like the frontline officers, but the difference is, people across the organisation don’t realise what you’ve been dealing with. You might have just been to the scene of a horrible incident overnight on-call and then the next morning you come in and deal with branding issues on a poster. The horrible stuff just gets forgotten about because “comms” is thought of as fluffy. It’s not and this stuff can really hang over you.”

“Comms isn’t getting the recognition for how 24/7 and “on” we are, all the time.”

Do any of these resonate with you? After hearing these, so many of you nodded your head, smirked, or found yourself embarrassingly echoing the calls of other people in our industry.

“But it’s just the way it is, isn’t it?” No. No, it’s not. It shouldn’t be, and it doesn’t have to be. Our mental health is no more, but equally no less important than that of any other employee in the workplace, but we do face different challenges.

It’s great we’re talking about mental health but there is a stigma. Still. I’ve faced that stigma head on.

No one is expected to be superman – or woman – there is no 24/7 resilience in one individual. We’ve seen that when expert comms teams lean on each other and on mutual aid during major incidents and times of crisis.

Your organisation has a legal obligation under the Health and Safety at Work Act for your mental health. Risk assessments have to be done to make sure you are OK. It really is a shame that some organisations don’t do this. It’s also a real shame that some leaders allow their teams to break – mentally and often physically – before bringing in a temporary fix.

But there are contributing factors to poor mental health that seem prevalent in the comms industry:

  • Our 24/7 online world
  • Mobile devices muddying the waters
  • Long hours, deadline driven
  • Doing more with less
  • Organisational culture
  • Poor leadership
  • Lack of respect and understanding for comms profession
  • Don’t forget on top of these, we have normal stressers as well, such as relationships, financial pressures and just general life.
  • However, there is some great stuff going on in organisations out there. These are some of the things you’ve told me is going on:
  • Wellbeing walks, meditation, wellness sessions and activities during core hours
  • Peer advisors
  • Managers encouraged to log time spent on staff wellbeing activities
  • Banning lunchtime meetings and out of hours emails (when not business critical)
  • Encouraging staff to work, create and deliver off-site
  • Specialist networking groups; single-sex, LGBTQ+, mental health groups
  • Staff subscriptions to meditation apps
  • Talks and training by mental health specialists and speakers

And as individuals you’ve given some brill tips:

  • Talking to people helps
  • Having one or two reliable buddies in the workplace you go to when you feel pressure is building , to coach you through a tough day
  • A safe space to go and switch off
  • If you’re leading a meeting, checking with people at the start how they are – accept that maybe our colleagues aren’t firing on all cylinders.
  • Addressing out of hours issues and pressures to be “on” through peer-led discussions
  • Getting work tech to help separate work/personal; doing this by sourcing business cases from other organisations who are successfully running a model you want to adopt
  • Regular team building efforts to bring comms together – and keep us there

Finally, we must drive this if we want things to change for our profession. The challenge of having difficult conversations with bosses who are just used to you managing every social media enquiry out of hours (with no additional pay); who are used to you just turning up for the 11th day on the trot without needing some time off; who are used to you undeniably putting your work and the organisation in front of everything else you do. It’s hard, I know that, so we must encourage a culture of change and tell our leaders what they can do to support us in being healthy, happy and productive people.

Someone always has to be the first – why shouldn’t it be you? As communicators, we are storytellers and I think it’s about time we started telling our story of mental health – do you?

Leanne Ehren is the communication and stakeholder engagement manager at London Stansted Airport.

CIPR East Anglia is running a wellbeing in comms event next week: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/wellbeing-and-mental-health-in-communications-tickets-50638439937

For the full videos of the speakers at Granicus Summit UK: https://uk.granicus.com/uksummit18/