In 2019, commscampnorth will be held in Yorkshire for a second time and we spoke former Hull City Council and Sheffield City Council head of comms turned student Eddie Coates-Madden.
A veteran attendee Eddie talks about the inspiration he gets from the unconference model.
Q: Are you still a head of comms in local government?
I’m not currently a Head of Comms anywhere, but it’s a hugely rewarding job, so I don’t completely rule out a return to the role in future. I’m currently a full time student. An opportunity came up to do something I’m passionate about, so I took it. It coincided with my thinking that it was time for some new energy and leadership for my team and I’m sure they will go from strength to strength.
Q: Why the change of direction? I think we can all reflect a bit on why we do a job and how well we’re doing in them. I believe I did a decent job and made a difference but – at the risk I sounding like a football manager – I had probably taken that team as far as I could. So that, and the opportunity to dive into some Arts and Culture, along with a recognition that nobody is irreplaceable and it was time for someone else to have a go means I’m doing new stuff. It’s all good.
Q: Are you coming to commscampnorth in Bradford?
I am if I’m still allowed! I will be at commscampnorth for a few reasons. The first is that it feels like family. I’ve made a lot of great friends through my work in Comms and it is good to stay in touch. The second is that I genuinely believe the opportunities to learn at commscamp are unlike anywhere else, and I am working on my learning! And third, Bradford is ace.
Q: How would you describe the event?
My first unconference – I was encouraged to go to GovCamp by a brilliant friend and colleague – was a total revelation. A conference where everyone can be the keynote speaker, where everyone is the expert, including you! It’s a place where everyone is learning and sharing and discussing, having fun and making friends. It’s rare that you don’t take away at least two things you want to try out back at base.
Q: What advice do you have for people coming to commscampnorth for the first time? Join in. It only works because you’re part of it, and – new or veteran – your ideas and experiences are equally valid. Leave the job title at the door; bring your brain in with you.
Q: Seeing as you’re an unconference veteran, what’s your favourite memory from an unconference? A couple. I remember Sarah Baskerville arriving at a GovCamp years ago. She’d been treated appallingly by the Daily Mail over some twitter nonsense. As she said who she was the whole room burst into supportive cheering and applause. Like I say, family, innit? And I remember causing a massive fight at the first CommsCamp with a simple question about whether Comms would be better thought of as Customer Services, than some pretentious marketing thing. Big, ‘energetic’ debate. But all left as friends. Like I say, learning, innit?
Q: How do you intend to pass the day? Talking. Listening. Laughing.
What session would you like to pitch? I’ve been thinking a lot about how or if public sector Comms people can support the communications work of local charities and local action groups. How the professional bodies like LGComms and Comms2Point0 can reach into these very small, under-resourced teams and provide support, skills and platforms. So something about that.
Q: What session would you most like someone else to pitch?
I love the ‘restricted people say what they actually think among friends’ pitch. And maybe something about how Comms people can do better with their own and each other’s mental health. The stats on mental health problems among public sector communicators are shocking and we need to do better at finding strategies for looking after ourselves. And diversity too – we still have a great deal to do to make sure we represent those we serve – especially BAME communities – in Comms teams.
If you could do one thing to make the public sector better what would it be?
Oh, I have controversial views here. I think we need massive reorganisation and merger, with fewer elected members and much greater use of social, digital and insight to drive evidence-based policy, service delivery and improvement. The truth is that we’re running over-layered, confusing, Victorian governance structures in the 21st century. That has to change. Someday I’ll write a pamphlet.
Q: Lastly, what’s your favourite cake?
Today it’s chocolate. Tomorrow it’ll be something different, and the day after that… it’s always cake though.