Communications, it’s more than just chatting and tea

 

Jessica Grudgings,
Dissemination Coordinator,
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Yesterday I made my way up to Liverpool for the first day of the LG Comms ‘Public Sector Communications Academy’ annual event. I hadn’t been before and I must admit when I first saw the email invitation after being on annual leave for a few weeks, the thought of catching an early morning train for a full day out of the office wasn’t exactly top of my ‘to-do-list’. However, I thought I should probably at least check out the agenda before I declined, and I’m so glad I did.

As I read through the topics which were to be discussed, I did a mental ‘strategic comms planning -tick, devolution – tick, community engagement – tick’ – and thought ‘tell me more!’

When I arrived at St George’s Hall in Liverpool I was amazed with the setting, the building was fantastic and there was a real buzz in the room. I imagine many people think comms professionals are always chatting to one another over a cuppa and sharing info. However due to time, geography and capacity it rarely happens – making an annual event such as this really important.

There were a plethora of speakers and workshops during the day, (far too many to mention! However, you can see the agenda here) so I will instead pull out some of the key highlights which I took away from the day. Simon Jones (Chair of LG Comms) opened the day by saying there is much we can learn from one another – and really that was what the day was all about. Sharing ways of working, best practice and looking ahead.

Although I always try to keep the audience in mind, it’s often all too easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day, and lose focus of what our aims as comms professionals in the public sector should be – as Paul Masterman said ‘step away from your brand…often partnerships fail due to the brand – the objective is improved services for the public’.

Later in the morning I went to a workshop ran by Conrad Bird (Head of Campaigns and Marketing, Cabinet Office). Conrad spoke about ‘a planned sequence of communications and interactions that use a compelling narrative over time to deliver a defined and measurable outcome.’ The key message which I went away from this session was ‘it’s vital to know your audience’ – by knowing your audience, it means you will be able to engage with them in the most effective manner. Conrad went on to say that the objectives should be ‘bold, smart and stretching’ – in other words; simple objectives so the aim is clear from the beginning. It was a really engaging session (one which I can’t do justice in this blog), and it made me come away with a renewed resolve to do more to delve deeper into our audiences here at the Centre.

In the afternoon, one session which I was eager to hear more on was ‘devolution and partnership’. Two of the speakers were from areas which are leading the way in devolution – Bridgette Ahern, (formerly Head of Communications at Greater Manchester Combined Authority) and Jan Jennings (Head of Communications at West Midlands Combined Authority). Both spoke about the importance of relationships, as the scale of devolution means there is simply so many more people to engage with – from the public to the chief executives and heads of comms at all of the local authorities involved in the combined authority. The basics (i.e. research, plan, do and review) is still needed, but as devolution is new, there’s no roadmap to get there. That’s why we need to know what’s achievable and have the ability to take opportunities when they arise.

On some levels, what I heard yesterday wasn’t anything different to what I’ve already heard at one stage or another over the years, however to have it all in one place and be reminded of what our focus is – improving services for the public, and the importance of knowing our audience was an important message to be reminded of.

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