All posts by Dan Slee

Tips on how to get the most out of commscampnorth… even if you’re not in the room

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by John Fox

Did you miss out on the ballot for this week’s CommsCampNorth? Is it possible to learn from the information sharing that takes place there?

Unlike most industry events, conferences and seminars on a myriad of topics, a CommsCamp is so very different because it is focused explicitly on communications professionals who hold dear to the heart the principles of good, effective and often innovative customer engagement and communication.

And usually fortunately comms people are very good at sharing their knowledge and experiences for the benefit of others facing similar challenges to our own.

We all have friends and work associates that we follow on social media and in blogs. They influence our own thinking and encourage us to think out of the box and to try something new. It’s good to follow, and definitely on CommsCampNorth day. Follow the conversation tweeted by your regular contacts who you know to be present but also keep an eye on the @CommsCamp Twitter feed for an overall narrative of the event and topics in discussion. Following #CommsCampNorth hashtag timeline on CommsCamp day can be revelatory for folk of all experience levels. One can pick up snippets of ideas mooted by one person that are responded to by others. And you can lob in your own thoughts from afar too.

Rather like an oak tree that grows from an acorn, these little snippets can in time grow into big ideas and workable solutions, and best of all, this knowledge and experienced is shared at no cost to you whatsoever. There is considerable benefit to be gleaned by following CommsCamp remotely, but don’t set too much score on the day itself.

For many the real benefit of the day comes later.

For many past attendees the overall evaluation of the event will not be what’s seen on the timeline of the day.

Rather, it’ll be the new contacts discovered, post-event blogs written by attendees on a favourite subject, or even your own remembrance months after the event that that little problem you’re trying to fathom out today was discussed at CommsCamp and you now know who to maybe contact and seek some additional insights to help you.

You can follow John Fox on Twitter here

commscampnorth faces: Q&A with Volunteer and first time attendee Chris Dudley

0As part of our Q&A this is one of our volunteers Chris Dudley who is attending for the first time.

Hello, Chris. Is this your first unconference?

Yes it is and I can’t wait.

What made you volunteer and what will you be doing as a volunteer?

Seen as it’s in sunny Bradford this year, and as a proud Yorkshireman I just thought it was the right thing to do. I’ll be helping set up the room on the day and helping however I can.

What session would you like to see pitched at the event?

I’ll be pitching about how we can rationalise Social Media accounts across large organisations, but other than that understanding how e-marketing is being used throughout the sector would be cool to explore.

Can you describe public sector comms in three words?

Stories that matter.

Have you been to Bradford before? 

Yes, we’re only down the road. It’s the best place for curry in the land. FACT.

What single thing would you do to make the public sector a better place?

Make organisations collaborate more – we’re all on the same team.

What’s your favourite cake?

Coffee Cake.

commscampnorth faces: Q&A with MusterPoint founder Christine Townsend

As part of an ongoing series, we’re blogging a mix of new faces and old faces you may see at commscampnorth.

This is Christine Townsend who had a eureka moment at an unconference and gave in being a public sector comms person to found MusterPoint.  This platform has now blossemed into a one stop shop for your social media, internal communication, media handling and public information management.

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Christine Townsend

Hello, Christine. What’s your background?

I was a public sector communicator and prior to that, a national news journalist.

I worked in policing primarily and also did some work with the Dept. of Health, Ministry of Justice and worked on a lot of big events such as Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, a few major incidents and some really challenging campaigns around young offenders institutes, the sugar tax and fracking.

I was also a volunteer police officer for a number of years. I’m now the founder and CEO of MusterPoint – a communications management dashboard for the public sector.

Have you been to commscamp before? 

I have and it’s lots of fun – I’ve been a few times and it’s always been a worthwhile trip. I’m always amazed at the enthusiasm that people muster – pardon the pun – despite constantly working under difficult conditions in the public sector. It’s heartening to see. I always come away with too many good ideas.

Can you tell us about MusterPoint?

MusterPoint has been on the go now for five years and helps public sector comms teams and internal stakeholders within organisations manage communications. It’s a one stop shop for all types of engagement and includes social media for campaigns, media monitoring, archiving and emergency management. I wanted something that was all in one place that helped me when I was part of a very small team have oversight of all that was being said about and to our organisation. We had a lot of extra legal requirements to comply with and so I wanted to ensure this was taken care of in addition to enabling full internal collaboration.

Is it true you got the idea at an unconference? 

Yes it was – there were lots of people saying that there wasn’t really a tool fit for the public sector as it’s such a unique comms environment, that I scribbled something out on a piece of paper and wondered if it would be possible. I was kind of fed up with paying for six different tools that we were locked into long contracts for and wanted something that was a lot more affordable that did what I needed it to do.

Why does this work for Public Sector people? 

It takes into consideration the things that aren’t a necessity for private sector – archiving, audit trails, accountability, legal compliance. The logging of media contact and decision making during a campaign or crisis response is absolutely vital. Why shouldn’t it be easy to do and all in once place. I would say that the public sector and emergency services have a higher number of people on call, on shifts and across a wide area – some don’t even meet on a regular basis. This enables that clear overview to see what everyone has done at any time day or night.

What session would you pitch at commscampnorth?

How can we beat the procurement system to find tools that are fit for purpose – regardless of how little it costs and how well  – or not – the supplier fills in the the 2,384 page procurement application process.

What session would you like to see pitched?

The above. Or something around how do we professionalise comms in the public sector.

I’m fed up with really good communicators not valuing themselves enough because other people don’t. I was once given a press release written by a police officer with no comms experience. When I asked him if I could have the keys to his van so I could arrest a few people, he was a bit shocked that I would suggest I could do his job. After that he did a short stint in comms and it totally changed his outlook on how absolutely vital *good* communications is.

Victoria sponge or battenburg?

A bit of Battenburg is always better. Mind you, I’m the sort of person that peels marzipan from wedding cakes and hides the unnecessary fruit bit in plant pots.

musterpoint_logo_final_curves-01You can find Christine Townsend via the @muster_point Twitter account where you can find out more about the platform and discuss with her the finer points of Battenburg cake.

You can check-out the platform here or sign-up for a free 14 day trial here. It’s a good platform, so I would. 

commscampnorth faces: Kate Bentham who runs the cake table

With commscampnorth coming we’re putting the faces to the names of some of the people you’ll see on the day.

In this post, Kate Bentham, who works for Shropshire Council who for the past eight years has ran the cake stall. Attendees are asked to bake or bring a shop-bought cake with them. Cakes are then sold and each slice raises money for a good cause. This year? MacMillan Cancer.

34409468475_164a9ec0d8_oHi Kate. What’s your day job?

I work in local government with a focus on communicating information to families.

This includes families of children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities; families who may need some early help to stop challenges escalating and families who are generally looking for information to help them in their role as a parent or to help their children.

Having access to information can really make a difference to family life and it’s something I have been involved in for over 18 years.

 

If you could do one thing to improve the public sector what would it be?

Never forget who you’re working for. Frontline workers have this sorted, but I think there are managers and leaders who, due to the nature of their role, are detached or out of touch with people and this must make decision making a challenge.

How many years have you been coming to commscamp?

I am lucky enough to have attended every single commscamp and commscampnorth. I was asked to be Official Cake Monitor for the first commscamp and have clung onto the role ever since.

No two commscamps have been the same, and they have evolved over the years. The wider public sector is well represented, there’s always plenty of first timers in attendance, and pitches alter to reflect the changing nature of comms, technology and budget.

What tips do you have for the first time attendee?

I always think that you get for something what you are prepared to put into it, so get involved. Share and give what you can and take from the room what you need.

I always come away from commscamp with a new idea, or a clearer way of thinking, or a new contact.

Why is there a cake stall at commscampnorth?

There’s been a cake table at every commscamp since it started. Chatting over a piece of cake is a very sociable way to spend time and get to know someone. Something which we have found to be true at commscamp.

We also use the cake table as a way of raising money for charity – have a slice a cake, chuck some money in a donation bucket. Win, win. Our lovely attendees have raised over £1000 for charity, and long may this continue. 

What’s your favourite cake?

My favourite at the moment is courgette, lime and pistachio. My all-time favourite is my late nan’s banana and walnut loaf.

What tips to you have for first timers when it comes to baking?

Just please bake. A simple traybake, or batch of fairy cakes will go down just as well as a Mary Berry show stopper. The fact is comms people like cake, and lots of it, and so we need as many people as possible to bake.

We have prizes up for grabs for our bakers, one overall Star Baker and 3 runners up prizes. You have to bake to be in with a chance of winning.

Seriously though don’t stress about it if you can’t bake or don’t have the time, a shop bought cake is just as welcome. 

What’s your best memory of the event?

My best memories are when the cake creations start arriving in the morning. I am in awe of the skills our bakers have. From the Willy Wonka cake, to ice cream cones cakes, to ‘Weird Shit’ and last year’s gin and tonic cake, we’ve had some delicious cakes for us all to try and I am sure this year will be the same.

I also have fond memories of the time my strawberry and coconut cake was described as looking like sweaty meat.

You will find Kate on the day by the cake stall.

Commscampnorth faces: Q&A regular attendee Eddie Coates-Madden

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.

180427-CCN-135Q: 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.

commscampnorth: our facebook group and our twitter

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In the run-up to every event we’re always keen to get the discussion going… what kind of cake shall I bake? Is this a good idea for a session? Is there anyone going from Batley? 

With that in mind we’ll be using the pre-existing commscamp Facebook group here.

If you’re thinking about a session you’d like to see, maybe you can find someone who can pitch it with you.

Pop over to the Facebook group and connect with them.

We’re also on Twitter @commscamp and we’re using the #commscampnorth hashtag.

Head over and say hello.

commscampnorth: the walking train

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We’ll run a walking train from both railway stations.

Look out for two volunteers who will be holding a foam finger and a copy of the commscampnorth logo airport arrivals lounge stylee.

At 9.10am on the morning of the event they’ll depart for the short walk to the venue.

There are two railway stations. We have Bradford Forster Square railway station at five minutes walk (postcode: BD1 4JB) and Bradford Interchange (postcode: BD1 1RX) which is an eight minutes walk away.

Bradford Interchange

For the Bradford Interchange walking train, head through the ticket barrier and down the stairs straight in front of you. We’ll be waiting at the bottom of the steps in the lower concourse.

Bradford Forster Square

For the Forster Square walking train, head past the ticket office and bear to the right. Walk past the lift and we’ll be hanging around the city centre exit, just before the slope up in front of the Midland Hotel.

Making your own way

If you will be making your own way from one of the stations, here are a couple of videos of the routes.

Questions? @commscampnorth on Twitter or dan@danslee.co.uk or in the comments box here.