My first encounter with mentoring was a decade ago. I’d just been invited to lead a prestigious big corporate project and was determined to make it a success. I felt I would benefit from the support of someone who wasn’t part of my everyday circle – someone who could not only help with ideas and problem solving but also be part of my leadership development journey. CIPR had recently started a trial mentoring scheme and I jumped at the opportunity to sign up. I was paired with a very experienced senior communications director (let’s call her Jane) – a PR industry heavyweight, with CIPR awards lined up in her office to prove it.
We met every few weeks and although in some respects our chats seemed quite informal, Jane was astutely identifying where I could best benefit from her input and, most importantly, giving me objective insight into what I needed to do to take my career to the next level. At times, they felt like therapy sessions! We talked about all sorts of things. I ran past her my proposed campaign structure and was able to benefit from her extensive experience. We discussed how to sell in the project and how to secure the influence I needed on the top corridor. And yes, we talked about how to deal with tricky colleagues. I scribbled notes and still refer to them. I learnt so much more than I could have read in books, sourced online or gained from a training course.
To this day I am enormously grateful that Jane was so giving of her time to discuss such a wide range of topics despite her own punishing daily schedule.
On reflection, over the course of my career I have encountered a wide variety of situations and I’ve learnt something from every one of them – good and bad. I’ve worked with some amazing people and enjoyed numerous complex corporate challenges and assignments. It occurred to me that I’ve often been asked, by colleagues, friends or friends of friends, for advice, my opinion on career next steps or thoughts on how to tackle a challenging situation. I have always been happy to oblige, so when the CIPR announced the introduction of its all-new mentoring scheme last year, it seemed an obvious move to put myself forward to be a mentor – a chance to offer something back. It wasn’t long before I was approached by a potential mentee. Then a second. The first thing I learnt was how important the first discussion would be in deciding whether the ‘fit’ was right, on both sides, both professionally and personally and that both mentor and mentee needed to be totally honest about this.
I’m in regular contact with my first mentee and we agree that we both get a great deal from the experience. On the logistical front, the registration process was simple and there are safeguards in the formal agreement to protect both parties. How often to meet, what time of day, what to discuss and how long the arrangement lasts, is entirely down to individual choice.
The turmoil of the last 12 months has forced a re-think on traditional routes to training, work shadowing and personal development, even for those of us lucky enough to be in continuous employment. The CIPR mentoring scheme offers an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself, as mentor and mentee, build something tangible for the future and provides a safe space to share whatever you want.
Adrian Penrose FCIPR is a freelance and interim communications specialist based near Cambridge, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mentoring avaliable from the CIPR
Progress is the CIPR’s new mentoring scheme, free and exclusive to CIPR members.
Career Starteris the new mentoring scheme, free and exclusive to CIPR student members.
Both schemes give you complete control to choose the right mentor, and the flexibility to make your mentoring experience work for you.
Creating video can be seen as a mammoth task, but the reality is, it’s what your audience wants and expects from you. Last month we hosted our top 10 tips to video storytelling success webinar and in this blog CIPR East Anglia Committee member James Sharp shares some of learning from the event.
As communicators, human stories are a powerful tool in our armoury. They are an effective way of engaging people, grabbing their emotions and getting your message across to your audience.
Additionally, using video allows you to make complex stories easier to understand and deliver a more impactful message. They can bring your story to life and make it more relevant for your audience.
Last month I was pleased to be joined by Tom Gudegon from Chelmsford based video marketing agency Two Cubed Creative, for a virtual session that broke down the top 10 things we should all be thinking of when creating a video.
I am pleased to be able to share with you some of these top tips which I hope will allow you to go on and create some awesome video content that your audiences will love.
Tip One: Planning and pre-production creates better results
A successful video is all in the planning – after all failing to plan is planning to fail.
Have a think about the video you want to create, is there actually going to be any value creating it for your audience?
Who are your audience. Do you have a detailed understanding as to who they are and who you are targeting?
What do you want to achieve by creating your video? This is the most important element. Not only will it help you target your content, but it will enable you to track the success of your video. Are you looking to launch a new service, drive sales, encourage people to sign up to a mailing list or maybe get people to register for an event?
Tracking the success of your videos is key. If you see a past video hasn’t performed as you wish, don’t let that get you down. Not everyone gets it right first time round. Review the results and engagement and see if there is something you may have missed, or you could do differently to achieve better results next time.
Finally, don’t forget to storyboard. Have an idea of how you want your story to flow by mapping it out before you film. This will allow you to see any potential problems that would have maybe gone unnoticed – saving you time and money.
Tip Two: Get people by their emotions
Sometimes the story you tell doesn’t necessarily have to be a corporate ‘blah blah blah’ story. Take advantage of your service users, clients, customers and tell stories about them. Telling a story that doesn’t directly come from your mouth helps people trust you more, and trust is a key factor in marketing.
Testimonials are great for this. Find that hard hitting story that you know relates to multiple clients. If people see someone in a similar position to them has benefited from your product or service, they are likely to listen and invest.
Here is a video TwoCubed created for NHS Mid Essex CCG back in 2018. It’s not directly about a service that the CCG provides, but rather of a success story from a project that they were involved in. It doesn’t directly mention the CCG and the focus is on the project and its key results.
Word of warning. You may need to grab the tissues before watching – it’s a bit of a tear jerker. 😢
Tip Three: Repurpose
Remember, a video isn’t just for Christmas. Don’t create one video and share it in one place. It’s not a nice to have. It’s not a family portrait. It’s a tool. Take advantage of it.
Create multiple assets. For example, in the Up-Project video (linked above), Two Cubed created a shorter version for Facebook and Twitter which had over 70K views and 700 interactions.
Just make sure that you take full advantage of the assets you have captured, and make sure that you think back to the end goal of the video campaign. Create short form versions for social media. This way you can create multiple assets from that one video. How about creating a mini-series telling different elements of the story in multiple videos? This will help you retain your audience’s attention.
Remember: 2 mins 20 is max on Twitter, over 3 minutes performs better on Facebook, and Instagram has a limit of 60 seconds for a grid post and then an hour for an IGTV. Stories are usually 15 seconds, but if your video is longer it will normally split it across multiple stories.
Tip Four: Be natural
Sometimes, this is easier said than done. Unless you’re targeting corporate bodies, relax, be yourself and most importantly, showcase your or your organisations personality.
Make your messaging natural, have an informal tone and don’t force a regimented voice (people don’t like robots).
Using everyday words that everyday people understand will enable far better results. If you’ve got some overly complicated terminology in your video and it’s not needed, or doesn’t sit right with your target audience, lose it.
At the end of the day, you want to ensure that the end result is as good as it can be. Take your time. If something doesn’t sound right, or didn’t come across how you intended, do it again!
Tip Five: Add visuals
Talking heads are fine, however they are not your only options. If your video relies on an interview or script, then listen and pay attention to help you identify additional footage you could capture.
Is there mention of someone enjoying going to the beach? Show it. Is there mention of someone volunteering? Show them in action. Could you improve the visual experience by showcasing shots of a town or village? Show it.
So long as the additional shots add to the story, use them. Don’t add in shots for the sake of it, if it enhances the story then that’s when you know to use them.
Sometimes you don’t even need sounds or talking in a video if you are utilising strong, evocative visuals.
Tip Six: Be creative
As communication and marketing professionals, creativity should be in our bones, so let this spill out into your videos. Don’t go for the easiest option with the plainest visuals – let your creativity run wild, you may be surprised as to what you think of and how you think of telling your story.
Don’t be afraid to learn from others, see how other people tell their stories and take note. If it would appeal to your audience, then use that to your advantage.
Tip Seven: Use the professionals
Sometimes, if budgets allow you can take advantage of using an external company to help you create video – but remember to take advantage of them and their expertise.
Listen to the advice that they give, inform them about your audience, give them access to your data and your campaign ideas to help them create assets that will perform better.
Don’t just tell them what to shoot and when to shoot it. They’re professionals for a reason. They understand how video works best, how to gain the best results, how to tell stories, what visuals may work and so on.
BUT, you’ve got to work with them. Let them learn as you learn and develop the video campaign together. It’s always risky going for just a single video from a production company, prepare to repurpose your content, because there lies more value.
Tip Eight: But don’t rely on the professionals
Having said that – you don’t always need the professionals. Although they know what they are talking about, and will likely be able to produce better quality videos, they are not the be all and end all.
The majority of us are going to have one of the most powerful tools in our pockets – a smart phone.
Most smart phones can now shoot up to 4k footage. This means you can shoot your video, edit that footage and that can share and schedule that footage all from the same device.
You can watch the full webinar recording for lots more tips on how to use your device from lighting to sound.
Tip Nine: create something
For those that do not have the budget for the professionals or have access to a smart device – don’t let that stop you from creating video. So long as the story is powerful, that’s all that matters. It’s not about the gear, but the end story.
Tip Ten: Where are you sharing it?
Think about where you are sharing your video – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Is it intended for an in-feed post or for Stories or Fleets?
Interestingly most people watch video without sounds – so adding subtitles to your video will not just tick your accessibility boxes but also broaden the reach of your video.
I hope you found those tips helpful and if you create any new videos then please share them with us – we would love to see.
If you want to watch the webinar in full you can view it here. Don’t forget to log it and claim your five CPD points.
Thinking of taking on a new opportunity or found yourself looking for a new role? We hosted our New Year, New Horizons recruitment webinar on 21 January to bring members advice for job hunting, CVs and remote interviews. In this blog CIPR East Anglia committee member Hayley Mace shares some of the top tips from the event.
Job hunting is a daunting process and there’s no doubt that searching for a new role during a pandemic can be even more stressful. So it was great to be joined at this virtual session by members from across the region, who heard from Carter Recruitment’s Alex Carter and comms specialist Rebecca Harris. Rebecca shared her experience of furlough, redundancy and finding a new role in recent months.
I’m pleased to be able to share some of the tips and advice from the session, which I hope will help anyone who is looking for work. And don’t forget, if you need someone to talk to, a critical friend to help tidy your CV or even someone to grill you in a practice virtual interview, our CIPR East Anglia committee – and I’m sure many of our members across the region – will be only too happy to help.
Tips for remote interviews
Preparation for remote interviews is key. Practise talking to your screen. Check that your background is clear of clutter, that you are well lit and can be clearly seen. As you’re not meeting in person, it’s great if they can clearly see your facial expressions to pick up on the things you don’t say.
Video yourself so that you can see what the interviewer will see. Adjust your seat, correct your posture and smile – you only get one chance to make a strong first impression.
Check the technology in advance and log in early to test it. Make sure you have a power cable, microphone and speakers which are working.
Timed video calls put additional pressure on timings so keep an eye on the clock and make sure you have time to ask your own questions.
Tips for CVs and applications
Target your CV or application to be as specific to the role as you can. Make it easy for a recruiter to identify your key skills, and to see how those link to the job, by putting them at the top.
Your personal accomplishments make you stand out. How will you solve their problem? Don’t be afraid to be bold and outline what you think you could achieve in the first 12 months.
Don’t worry about design or templates. Keep it simple and tailor it to the recipient. For example, a covering email to a marketing agency might have a different tone to one applying for a more corporate role.
Tips for using LinkedIn to raise your profile
Create and maintain a LinkedIn profile. Companies are using them to shortlist candidates.
Fill out as much of the profile detail as possible.
Add a professional picture where you are clearly visible.
Give a clear summary of your skills and experience.
Use the About Us section to talk about you, not about your current or most recent employer.
Invest time in using it as a content platform. Share blogs or articles which you find interesting, create your own content which reflects your values and experience. It is a great free way to create a microsite about yourself.
Tips for structuring your job hunt
Staying motivated is hard. Accept that you’ll have good days, OK days and bad days. Focus on what’s in your control and do what you can to make progress.
Make the most of free online training. There are lots of great resources (including of course the CIPR CPD database) so refresh your skills and generate some new content for your CV.
Create a routine which works – if you’re more energised in the morning, focus on doing your most important tasks first thing.
Scour LinkedIn and websites for opportunities and don’t be afraid to tell trusted friends and contacts that you’re looking for a role. Two pairs of eyes and ears is better than one.
Post a blog or add content to your Linkedin profile one a week. That will keep it fresh and give you new ideas to share.
I hope those tips are helpful and if you are looking for work, I hope you soon find a new role.
We co-hosted a cracking session on wellbeing, resilience and change with the Association of Project Management (APM) last week. This was a hands-on session with an opportunity for the 25 attendees to hear from change consultant and CIPR Fellow Jo Twiselton before splitting into groups to discuss recent experiences of managing the changes to our working lives since the start of the pandemic. The third in a series of webinars we’ve been running with the APM, this was another lively event with both CIPR and APM members benefitting from the shared learning and networking. Read CIPR E Anglia committee member Nic Wray’s blog post on the event:
The old saying is “there are no certainties in life, except death and taxes” but to that, I’ve always said there should be a third – change. As Take That sang, “Everything Changes.” Looking back at last year’s diary, I was catching a train to an event 170 miles away from home, my partner was flying to Berlin for his own meetings and today, those same gatherings are being held virtually, as offices are deserted, schools are closed, and hospitals at bursting point due to a virus only the most diligent of news followers had even heard of.
A pandemic is an extreme example of change thrust upon us. Any change out of our direct control can be uncomfortable at best, and actively harmful to our wellbeing at worst, and I’m sure we are all aware of people at various stages on that spectrum as they deal with the current situation. But what about changes we can control? How do we ensure the wellbeing of our organisation, teams and ourselves as we deliver change – large or small – in our professional lives?
Why do wellbeing and resilience matter?
This was the topic of the latest in the series of joint learning events hosted by CIPR East Anglia and the Association of Project Management (APM). Members of the two organisations from a wide range of industries and backgrounds came together to understand why wellbeing and resilience matter in any project involving change, how to help teams improve their wellbeing and resilience and how we can work together to build these qualities into teams.
Jo Twiselton (Twist Consultants) is a consultant specialising in change. She outlined definitions of wellbeing – which can flex from day to day – and resilience. Resilience isn’t just the ability to bounce back, but the capacity to adapt whilst maintaining stable mental wellbeing. The Health and Safety Executive recognise that change is one of six key stressors and that the way change is managed can be a barrier – or enabler – to wellbeing.
Jo advocates for a people approach to change, and introduced us to Fisher’s Personal Transition Curve, which shows the stages someone goes through when faced with change – but everyone’s curve will be individual.
Jo then suggested some questions to consider at each level – organisational, team and individual – when delivering change, before we broke into smaller groups to discuss and share our own experiences and learning.
This was a very valuable part of the evening – both in the small groups and when we came back together – because so many of the challenges of change regardless of role, or industry. It was good to acknowledge that even though wellbeing isn’t formally built into many change plans (yet – after the session, I think that will change!) that wellbeing and resilience activities are happening, and that people do think that they are important.
I know I can’t stop change – and that I may myself be responsible for introducing uncomfortable change for others. However, I now feel more confident that by using my skills to deliver authentic, clear and compassionate communications and building wellbeing and resilience measures into my plans, any change can be implemented and managed effectively so that not only the needs of our organisation are met, but also those of our people.
Following the announcement of Lockdown 3.0, we firstly want to share our support for all the fantastic businesses, organisations and individuals doing such sterling comms work under incredible pressure. Hats off to those in local government, public services and the NHS, in particular. Your work is valuable and much appreciated by us all.
As we mentioned on a few calls toward the end of last year, we wanted to begin 2021 by sharing our vision for CIPR East Anglia, and our goals for the year ahead. It’s good practice to set out our intentions, and it will be something to benchmark against as we progress through the year.
Firstly, we want to say a massive thank you to our outgoing Chair, and CIPR Fellow, Becky Hall for her dedication over the years, and to Louise Hepburn, who has stepped down from her position as lead for the CIPR Pride Awards. It is the dedication, energy and enthusiasm of our voluntary committee members that has given us such a strong foundation on which to build going forwards.
Adam currently runs his own strategic comms consultancy (Authentic Comms) and has agency and in-house experience across digital marketing, SEO, content, PR, social and internal comms.
Ruth has over 25 years in marketing communications across the private and public sectors, both B2B and B2C. She’s currently the Communications Manager for Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge.
As co-chairs, we’re looking forward to working with the committee and CIPR HQ to deliver increasing value for the members in our region in 2021 by delivering a clear, shared agenda focused on the following three areas:
1. Diversity and inclusivity
We will reach out to more groups and organisations that support diversity across the board including, but not limited to, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, and socioeconomic status. We want to become more representative of our society, and therefore more relevant to a wider cross-section of PR and communication professionals.
2. The next generation
We will embark on a drive to engage with those starting their careers, encouraging them to develop their public relations and marketing communications skills and experiences – this will include mentorship through the CIPR’s new Career Starter scheme.
3. Being PR & communication ambassadors
We will focus on stakeholder outreach with professional organisations like the local CBI and CIM, media, businesses and fellow communicators to raise the profile of the CIPR and how we add value to our profession. With this goal in mind we have created a new Stakeholder Lead role, which has been taken on by incoming committee member Hayley Mace.
Interview with Jennifer Sanchis: “Always think of your organisation as a piece of a puzzle. Never review it in isolation. Always look at the bigger picture”
For AMEC’s measurement month this year, the CIPR EA hosted a webinar with measurement specialist and 2019’s Outstanding Young Communicator Jennifer Sanchis on the importance of strategic planning and PR research. The event was a success, so we managed to follow-up with additional questions from the audience.
CIPR EA: What is the best way of measuring outcomes?
J.S.: Undeniably by understanding your organisational objectives from the start. Your activities and your strategy should serve the goals and objectives of your organisation. If you are able to measure your efforts against those goals, your outcomes will be more impactful because they will speak to the bottom line of the business.
I often see the mistake of focusing too much on output metrics (‘the big numbers’), but these vanity metrics generally do not tell us much about our impact on outcomes.
It is absolutely essential to make this connection between communications efforts and business outcomes, because an organisation’s objective is rarely to achieve media coverage or generate one thousand likes, it is usually to influence behaviours and drive an action.
So, we need to be able to show our impact in influencing behaviours and driving actions.
CIPR EA: How do I communicate results effectively to clients and the Senior Management Team (SMT)?
J.S.: I would give four pieces of advice for better communicating measurement results:
Use the language your colleagues at the board speak. Do not dumb down the analysis. However, do use the concepts, metrics and salient aspects your colleagues live by to assess the success of their campaigns. In my experience, dashboards containing tailored metrics work quite well to share easy-to-digest and sizable but still actionable insights;
Acknowledge your audience isn’t always data and analysis savvy. We need to dedicate some time to train and explain what each metric and information in our evaluation process implies and means to your audience;
Highlight clear links between the initial business objectives and the desired outcomes. This way, your audience will be able to relate to your measurement study and your findings will have more impact;
Integrate your measurement analysis by speaking to the different departments of the organisation. For example, the marketing team could share insights on customer behaviour, the sales team on sales data and the digital team on web traffic. Identifying areas of collaboration will enable to not only understand where opportunities lie but also get a holistic picture of business performance.
CIPR EA: How can I pitch my clients for more budget on evaluation and measurement?
J.S.: I understand the need to pitch for better budgets allocated to measurement.
I guess the best way to secure budget is by delivering value. So many tools and platforms out there give you lots of data, quick and easy outputs metrics, but do they really deliver value to what you’re trying to achieve? Do these tools really speak to your organisational objectives? And are you measuring the things that matter?
A compelling argument would be to demonstrate that measurement is not a final activity that solely exists to prove the success or failure of a campaign. Rather, we should prove that it is an intelligence-gathering exercise that can be used to show an impact on business outcomes, inform future decisions to do better and find new ways of doing things more effectively and efficiently.
Delivering value, always, should be the answer.
CIPR EA: How can Artificial Intelligence support my planning process?
J.S.: We could do a whole piece on this because there seems to be a lot of misconceptions around the power of AI.
People are wondering if machines are taking over, because when we look at data, measurement, analysis, reports, digital spaces etc, yes, we do see huge innovations in terms of AI and machine learning in this field.
And AI is really great for data management, forecasting and analysis. It can help us go faster and stronger, but ultimately, and this is a big BUT, it can’t replace us. Humans are still needed.
So, to answer the question, AI can be a valuable tool for risk management, community identification and reputation audits, and it can support the information gathering phase. However, we have to remember that PR is not an exact science, so humans are still needed.
CIPR EA: How do I review and plan for your Covid-19 strategy?
Jennifer Sanchis: This is a very timely and relevant question.
I would advise t first and foremost to review and clearly outline your organisation’s strategy, its objectives, and research, monitor and analyse its environment. It will help you communicate your organisation’s position on the issue of Covid-19.
Ultimately, always think of your organisation as a piece of a puzzle. Never review it in isolation. Always contextualise it and look at the bigger picture.
Now, when a crisis hits, like a pandemic for example, or you have to make some employees redundant, or you are faced with health and safety issues, you will want to think about your people and how ready you are to tackle those issues.
Usually when we talk about a crisis such as a pandemic, there’s usually a lot of introspection and internal work involved. So you’ll want to investigate areas like policy and leadership, structure, procedures, people and culture.
In doing so, you should be able to collect data from employees to stakeholders, legal teams to directors, from meetings and calls that took place internally, internal newsletters, surveys and social platforms.
And your research and planning should revolve around those three important points:
Escalation of the crisis: Did we escalate the crisis on time? If not, what prevented this? What could we have done better?
Decisions: Did we get the right people at the right time? Did the crisis team define SMART objectives? How did we assess our progress? How were key decisions perceived?
Implementation: How were important decisions communicated internally? Was accurate and sufficient information provided in a timely manner? Were all the targeted audiences reached? Did everybody within the organisation understand the effectiveness of the crisis response plan and were the facilities/tools in place to support this?
The quality of relationships (Interpersonal trust with key stakeholders and audiences)
Communication channels (With comparisons between official and unofficial channels)
The sentiment of the collected data (Any positive or negative stories? Incidents?)
We can now be a little bit more optimistic by assuming that a vaccine will be made available for next year, so perhaps you will want to monitor the latest clinical developments closely and reflect on your communication around this.
I have written a more extensive piece for Influence Magazine if you’d like to know more about the monitoring mechanisms you should put in place. This framework should help you with your Covid-19 response to make better decisions.
What a day. A few weeks ago, I took part in one of the online CIPR Chartered assessment days. It was one of the toughest professional days in my career, and also the most rewarding.
#GetChartered – why did I bother?
I have immense pride in my career and how I hold myself. The way I act, the decisions I make, how I do things. It’s about confidence in my ability (imposter syndrome, anyone?) and being evaluated and pitted against peers and fellow professionals.
For me, becoming a Chartered practitioner is a prestigious accolade. It is about being at the top of my profession, proving my abilities and – as w*nky as it sounds – being the best of the best.
Secondly, my late father was a Chartered engineer, and I always admired how proud he was of achieving that – something that took a lot of hard work and dedication.
In honesty, this is the second time I have gone for it.
The feedback from my unsuccessful attempt this June was that I was ‘borderline’, and I thankfully got a second chance to come back. That said, June was a huge sucker punch to my confidence. Took a while to get over, yet I feel anything like this should be tough to achieve.
However, I also wasn’t ready in June. I was in the throes of launching my new business and had two big pitches that stole my attention. For one, I was working until 1am finishing it off, on the morning of the assessment day. So, yeah…. Don’t do that.
I read the case studies and prepped the questions – but not enough – and didn’t know the CIPR Code of Conduct in enough detail/didn’t refer back to it as much as I should have.
What did it entail?
As many other, more eloquent folk have laid out (including Liz, Sarah and a great webinar by Michelle and Ruth), the day starts a few weeks before, when you get given the case studies & starter questions.
Without giving too much away, for me these three topics were on the wider topics of strategy (importance of measurement and evaluation), ethics (on a PR tender for a controversial state client) and leadership (style and skills of a leader). These are different each time.
On the virtual day, there are four key sessions, sandwiched between an introductory and wash-up call. Each session looked at the strategy, ethics and leadership articles and the assessor asks questions to individual participants, based on the articles shared beforehand.
During the sessions, you have the opportunity to interject and come back on points made by your peers. It’s about balanced, reasoned debate. Make the most of this.
Don’t take it for granted – yes you’ve been working for years, but this is not an easy process. Make sure you feel ready;
Be concise but coherent – I was not comprehensive enough in my explanation. Make sure you are clear in what you are saying. Give real world experience and examples;
Know the Code of Conduct back to front, and refer to it;
Use examples – from your background OR what you would do in that situation. Don’t worry if you’ve not managed a team of twenty or worked for a global agency. Use things that are relative to you and how you would approach things; and
Interact with the other participants – Chartership is all about holding your own in the company of your peers. There is more than one way to answer the leading questions…
Get in touch if I can answer any questions, or help you decide on making the move to being Chartered. Want to know more about getting Chartered? Drop me an email.
Blog by Elizabeth Skeels, internal communications manager for Essex Police
Given the frenetic pace of work over the last five months, I feel like I’ve gained a lifetime’s worth of experience.
Elizabeth Skeels, internal communications manager, Essex Police
It’s so tempting to use words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘historic’ when talking about these ‘current times’ (another ubiquitous phrase at the moment), but I’m sure I’m not alone amongst internal communications professionals when I say that alongside a seismic shift in society, we’ve also seen a once-in-a-career shift in the appreciation for our industry.
I think many of us have emerged with very similar scars from battling the challenges that the pandemic presented. Whether it’s having to support an organisation to adapt to an entirely new way of working overnight or keeping up with the pace of societal and legislative change or desperately trying to understand the latest public health messaging.
To create some kind of structure and consistency during the crazy months of March and April, I used some tried and tested internal communications tactics, including:
a resource hub of Covid-19 information and policy on our intranet
a weekly, virtual leadership briefing for strategic messages to be shared and cascaded
a visible ‘lead’ in force who published regular updates that immediately followed and translated the key messages from the briefings from Number 10
a daily briefing document for police officers which collated all the latest operational guidance
We also published regular media briefings on our external messaging, to maximise the opportunities around employee advocacy. This was so important because in times of crisis or uncertainty, the public looks to the police to help and protect them. By providing our employees with direction on our external communications strategy we were able to amplify our messaging and reinforce our policing approach to engage with our communities, building trust and confidence.
Not everything worked – anecdotal feedback from officers is that we over-communicated and the volume of information was too much to absorb. I can completely take that on board. But there were some impressive results:
of the new COVID-19 internal channels, we evaluated that our Coronavirus info page had 126% more views than a comparable page for the month of March 2020.
75% of the public surveyed think that Essex Police is doing a good or excellent job policing during the Coronavirus pandemic
82% of the public fully support the approach Essex Police has taken during the pandemic
Most internal communications professionals would love to be able to find a direct, measurable link between internal engagement and external impact. In our case, there’s a definite causal link between the consistent messaging that we used within the organisation and the consistent policing approach our communities experienced and supported in such overwhelming numbers.
During the Comms: inside and out webinar I was asked what I considered to be the greatest success for our communications activities during the last five months of the coronavirus. My answer: getting through it! It’s been incredibly tough and it would be really rewarding to be able to measure everything that we’d done, but I take comfort in the thought that we did our best and we contributed something positive during this devastating global crisis.
It’s now ten years since I started my own PR and marketing agency and, even in the current circumstances, things continue to go from strength to strength.
Pre-Brexit, pre-COVID, 2010 certainly seems like a long time ago, so I thought it would be a good time to write down some of what I’ve learnt over the last decade. And as I foolishly wrote a post entitled 5 things I’ve learnt in 5 years of running my own business in 2015, I’ve now got to up my game and come up with 10 lessons…………
1. Network, network, network
I’d estimate over 95% of my client business has come from referrals from people I’ve worked with in the past or personal recommendations. In fact, I can directly link a huge chunk of my revenues over the years to one contact and the people and companies she’s introduced me to. I’m not a pushy networker – this has all come from doing a good job for people, keeping in contact and never burning any bridges.
2. Pay it forward
When I started up lots of people gave up their time to help, from recommending what I needed to do on the admin side of running a business, to providing introductions or just listening. I’ve tried to do the same for people I meet starting up – hopefully I’ve been able to help, rather than hinder their growth!
3. It’s not a competition
Linked to being helpful is realising that PR and marketing is a big field when you are a freelance or a small agency. Clearly you have competition, but the likelihood of coming up against someone you know in a pitch is small. So being open and helping others won’t have an impact on your own success – and you’ll learn as much as (or more than) you give. And meeting with fellow practitioners is great for setting the world to rights and getting out of your own bubble.
4. Be agile
I started with a belief that I’d be offering PR services with a smattering of copywriting and a bit of social media. Ten years on I’m primarily providing marketing consultancy in its broadest sense, with creating content the biggest part of what I do. Obviously do what you are comfortable with, but be flexible, particularly with smaller clients and tailor what you are doing to their actual objectives.
5. Be brave
Setting up your own agency is a risk, but it delivers incredible satisfaction and rewards. While we all need to bring in revenues (have you seen how much three teenage boys can eat in a day?), be prepared to say no to clients you don’t feel comfortable working with. Or, if you have to keep them on for financial reasons in the short-term, look for alternatives that you can replace them with down the line.
6. Be prepared to continually learn
As I said what I do has changed dramatically and it has meant learning new skills and brushing up old ones. Ensure that you are continually learning, both to ensure you stay relevant and to keep yourself sharp and on top of new ideas.
7. Don’t be an idiot
Or, as Joe Glover of the Marketing Meetup puts it “Be positively lovely.” Bear in mind that everyone you meet could be a potential client or help you in some way and treat them with respect and give them time. You’ll feel better about yourself and it could help you in the future too.
8. Learn to let go
Something I find difficult to do, but make sure you switch off from work and recharge your batteries. It isn’t easy, particularly if you are based from home and have a smartphone pinging every time a new email arrives. Develop coping strategies – whether that’s going for a run, spending time with your family or taking the dog for a long walk.
9. Be creative
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, doing the same thing you’ve always done, in the same way you’ve always done it. Like learning new skills, take the time to approach problems from new directions or solve them in different ways. Share and brainstorm issues with people you trust to get their perspective and spark new ideas.
10. Don’t try and do everything yourself
There’s a huge range of support services out there, from marketing and PR software to really good accountants and advisors. Outsource what you can to other experts – bear in mind that you only have a limited amount of time in the day, and in many cases others can do tasks much faster, more cost-effectively and just plain better than you.
Ten years of work equates to over 57,000 hours of hard graft, which is a sobering thought. I’d never have been able to get this far without the support of countless people over the decade – thanks for all your help and here’s to the next decade.
Blog by Mel Atkinson, communications manager (corporate affairs) at Norfolk County Council
I thought I was experienced in crisis comms – and then Covid 19 arrived.
Mel Atkinson, corporate external comms manager, Norfolk County Council
Our NHS, social care and key worker colleagues deserve all the plaudits for their dedication, professionalism and bravery throughout this pandemic.
Public sector comms supported their efforts to protect the public’s health and wellbeing, through clear messaging, reassurance and information.
The pace, complexity and sensitivity of the issues presented daily and long-term communications challenges – and lots of learning.
Councils and their partners have had a wide-ranging role during the pandemic, including: public health advice and tackling outbreaks; supporting vulnerable adults and children through social care, befriending of lonely people and deliveries of food and medicine; helping the care sector to source protective personal equipment; working with hospitals on the safe discharge of Covid patients; advising schools on how to reopen, safely; setting up temporary mortuaries; ensuring key services were available online, when libraries and other facilities closed; and planning for how to implement the easing of lockdown and economic recovery.
The key communications challenges were:
Responding to a relentless flurry of game-changing announcements from the Government, while attempting to look ahead and plan future phases of our comms work
Working with the grain of Government messaging, while identifying the need to clarify and tailor aspects of it to our audiences
Ensuring the council and its director of public health provided the main local voice of reassurance, advice and authority
Partnership working and co-ordinated communications to ensure a united front across all public agencies in Norfolk – maximising the impact of our messaging
Managing a comms team remotely, to ensure people who were working from home and were facing their own stresses were supported and valued and productive
The experience we gained over the last few months should improve the way we serve the public and our organisations:
Comms has demonstrated, in the toughest circumstances, that it is a skilled, strategic profession. It should be wired into key plans and decision-making from the start.
Swift, sensible and informed decisions can be made when the right people are in the room/Zoom. The culture of copying in half the world to approve comms products needs to end.
Genuine partnership working can take place, if comms reps are open and respect the particular issues each organisation has. Let’s not second guess each other and let’s focus on the shared aims.
Up-front accountability and engagement with our audiences, including the media, builds trust and should continue beyond crisis periods.
Our teams have shown they will rise to exceptional challenges, if you understand them as individuals, you actually care about them and you show you are human, too.
As chief medical officer Chris Whitty said, we are not out of the woods yet. But public sector comms will continue to play its part – striving to be strategic, agile and effective, in the toughest of circumstances.
I’ll share my key lessons and takeaway points from an external comms perspective in the CIPR East Anglia’s webinar on 29th July at 7pm alongside Elizabeth Skeels from Essex Police who will share her experiences from an internal comms perspective. Sign up for free here.