14-take homes to share and live by from commscamp still at home

The great strength of Commscamp is the explosuion of ideas. That haoppens when people come together. Here’s a snapshot of people’s takehomes from Commscamp Still At Home.

The event was an unconference run online after 18-months of pandemic.

Be selfish and carve out time for professional development and *always* during work time; it benefits you and the organisation.”

Sharon Dunbar

“Finding out that spotify advertising was a thing available to public sector people.”

– Lucy Salvage

The importance of sharing knowledge and frustrations. It was great to both listen and take something away as it was to share own experience.”

– Michelle Anne Rose

“The podcasting session was fantastic – just simply sharing tech ideas and mistakes to avoid in a practical sense.

– Ruth Dale

“Being introduced to ‘one minute briefs’ DEFINITELY an item on my team meeting agendas from here on.”

– Kate Noviss

That you should know your value. Day one takeaway – ‘if it hurts, stop doing it’ … there are not many people who could afford to walk away from a job without something else to go to, but that that doesn’t mean staying in a role where your expertise isn’t recognised, where you’re demeaned or overridden. Have the confidence to know your worth and take it somewhere it’ll be appreciated.”

– Eve Hart

 “Knowing there are always people facing the same stuff and ALWAYS people willing to share, support, help and encourage.”

– Sara Martinez

“David Banks’ media law session is ALWAYS useful. And his insight makes me sound like I’m on top of my game when advising my organisation.

– Marianne Marhsall

“That people when they come together have better ideas. Let them speak. Not a presentation.”

– Dan Slee

“David Banks warning me against accidentally sourcing pictures I think are free but are not.

– Tim Taylor

Helped me to dust off my video and editing skills as taught by the most excellent Film Cafe Steve.

– Kelly Quigley Hicks

“Jackie Weaver and how, sadly, many have issues with badly behaving members and her petition to ensure there are sanctions.

– Michelle Atkinson

“Sharing of ideas. Were all working on similar things and it was brilliant to hear what has worked and what other people have tried out too. It’s also reassuring to know that we all face the same challenges.”

– Mhari Burley

“Apart from a huge professional confidence boost by being involved in the organising team, getting a kick out of encouraging others out of their comfort zone. And the Kiwis. I ❤️the Kiwi energy.

– Leanne Hughes

Pic credit: Rosie Ryves-Webb


by Louise Gibson

‘Insanity is dong the same thing over and over and expecting different results’ Albert Einstein**

Why have I begun with this? That should become clear later.

So the last 19 months comms work wise has been (delete as appropriate):

  • Interesting
  • Awful
  • Challenging
  • Bizarre
  • I want to go lie down in a dark room please!

A shifting landscape of messages, processes, rules, misinformation, disinformation, priorities, strategies and diminishing budgets has meant that public sector comms people have never needed to be on top of their game more than they do now.

It’s getting harder to learn

Most of us in public sector comms have seen our work load increase with less time available in the working week for personal career development and (non-essential) training. At a time when being able to share ideas, learning and knowledge is absolutely key to both improving the efficacy of our comms and making sure we have real human connection, we’re often not prioritising it because we simply have too much work to get through each day.

If you’re in a public sector organisation where professional development has continued unhindered by Covid well done, hats off to you all.

I’ve always been a bit of a comms geek so I’ll happily immerse myself out of work hours in comms blogs, sites, social media and podcasts but I’ve been doing that less recently as my work hours creep up and I try to keep a semblance of a work-life balance.

That sort of learning by osmosis is great but definitely no substitute for sharing ideas with real people, after all, our communication has people right at it’s heart and to keep our comms human and relatable we need that person to person interaction.

Commscamp is space to learn

I’m especially thinking of attending comms conferences and training, virtual or real-life, in normal working hours. So I decided to bite the bullet and try to get tickets for CommsCamp this year.

For those who don’t know (seriously where have you been?) this is a public and charity sector comms unconference, free to those who are lucky enough to bag a ticket, with the agenda set by delegates pitching sessions on the day. It’s probably one of the most useful and valuable comms events I’ve ever attended, there’s a good reason tickets are snapped up within minutesof release.

I managed to get tickets for both half days and despite worries about coming back from it to a huge pile of work, I’m very glad I attended both. It was time away from work and yes, I did have to have a quiet word with myself about not feeling guilt about that – which incidentally none of us should – but time being work focused that reminded me of the importance and benefits of learning and development within office hours:

SIX benefits of learning on work time

  1. We all need time distanced from the day job but within work hours to decompress, step back and gain perspective. It’s often hard to see different ways of working or creating when we’re in the thick of it fighting those comms fires.
  2. Ideas! Conferences and training are brilliant places to spark those lightbulb moments. Ideas flow thick and fast from others in the room and, given the time to think about things in a different way generally from within yourself too. You’ll find ideas you can apply straight away, an immediate work benefit, or tuck away for future use.
  3. People – meeting with peers and other professionals virtually or face to face to chat to, bounce ideas off, listen to, learn from, support, encourage and potentially collaborate with is invaluable. I say this as a total introvert by the way, even if it feels daunting the benefits outweigh the fear!
  4. People again – I know, I’ve said this above but it’s the key thing! I’ve got to know and become friends with some lovely people at comms events and training. We may be working at home, sometimes feeling isolated but we very much don’t have to be alone and I’ve found that I’ve now got an amazing network of friends, collaborators and co-conspirators should I need a nudge or advice and that of course is a two way street.
  5. Empathy. I’ve touched on this in the points above but being with people in the same boat, who totally get it but are tackling issues in a different way or can offer advice and support can be very grounding, comforting and generally brings practical advice. These are often the people that say ‘feel free to drop me a line’, ‘here’s my email address’, ‘give me a call to chat about…’.
  6. Time-out so that you don’t burn-out, crucially not having this time eat into home time and keeping a good balance.

Ultimately yes, if you take time out of the work day to attend a comms conference or training you’ll probably come back to some extra work but the net result is that you leaving feeling ‘work refreshed’; creative, invigorated and ready to face the day-to-day comms challenges in a different way. I’ve already made changes to my work based on things I gained from CommsCamp and that will ultimately benefit me, the organisation I work for and the people we communicate with.

If we continue to work in the same way, if that way isn’t the most effective or practical then we can’t hope for differing results. Without learning, developing, adapting and improving we’ll have diminishing returns on the considerable work we put in to our comms. Learning and development is a valuable, necessary and logical investment in our work.

**Not actually Albert Einstein – this quote is often attributed to him but that’s been widely debunked as on Quote Investigator.

Louise Gibson is digital channels focused communications officer at Sheffield City Council.

Eight tips to push back on ‘just putting stuff out’

by Michelle Atkinson

We all know the importance communications has in helping our organisations achieve real impact. Nowhere more so than during Covid-19.

But to do this we need to be strong – saying no to the ‘just putting stuff out’ and focusing on what really makes a difference. To do this our teams need to stick to clear, agreed, well communicated priorities which everyone’s is signed up to. 

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

But as humans, and especially communications professionals, we don’t like saying ‘no’. If we don’t, we risk not delivering for our organisations, undermining our profession, and potentially making ourselves ill by taking on too much.

Ideas on how we do this was the subject of one of this year’s CommsCamp workshops. We agreed that it’s a tale as old as time and there is no one silver bullet. Here are our eight top tips:

  1. No plan? Then help them get one. If your organisation doesn’t have a clear plan or priorities, or has one which includes everything (familiar?) – help them decide. Ask senior leaders what they want to achieve, how they will know its achieved, what it looks like, and ask them what keeps them awake at night.
  • Get the organisation to categorise the work. Some organisations categorise their work under Gold, Silver and Bronze systems or High, Medium, Low, with definitions and illustrating where they’ll spend their time. Don’t forget to communicate it widely. You’ll still need to push back and beware any booking forms or processes you put in place, to ensure they don’t create even more work.
  • Develop a forward planner/news grid, based on those priorities. Regularly refresh it, and share it. If you have conflicting priorities with different departments, ask them to decide which is the greater priority. Or explain the implications of doing ‘x’ over ‘y.’
  • Evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. That way you know what you are doing is having an impact. If it is, communicate it in your organisation’s language – it’ll give you more authority when saying no. If it isn’t, ditch it.
  • Plan for 80 per cent of your time. Use the rest to focus on other areas of impact e.g.  horizon scanning, training, sharing best practice, evaluation and some work that can’t be planned in
  • Manage relationships and assert yourself early. Speak up. Be a leader of your organisation – talk their language and give communications advice. Don’t be a comms rep. If are an inhouse, you need to bring people with you by developing relationships. If you’re interim, you can afford to be direct from the start. The whole team should know and be interested in the business too.
  • Arrange an external review – change often only tends to happen when there is pressure from outside. The Local Government Association offers a free peer review for those in local government. External agencies also offer such reviews. One organisation involved internal audit to demonstrate the value of the communications team as part of their Covid-19 response
  • Consider your position. Some organisations are inherently chaotic. If they aren’t taking your advice – you may need to reassess your position and work for one that does.

Michelle Atkinson is head of communications at Durham County Council.

Picture credit: Sara Aida Ospino Martinez.


by Kate Vogelsang

For the past year I’ve worked in the NHS in Newcastle, working on the rather large-scale citywide vaccination programme.

Our team has vaccinated more than 200,000 people – a massive challenge, and one we couldn’t have achieved without a large group of volunteers working alongside our team.

Because of this, I wanted to lead a session at this year’s CommsCamp on saying ‘thank you’. It’s never felt more appropriate as it has been this past year, but the importance of also being authentic when saying thank you has also been essential.

I’m not the only one who found ‘clap for carers’ somewhat inappropriate after too long. 

So, here are some of the top tips from a fantastic group of people at the session on ways to thank staff or volunteers. Thank you to all of them for their contributions and for a really inspiring session!

  1. It’s not just about thanking people. You need to ‘see’ them, notice them; say good morning, offer a cup of tea, find out their names. And use them.
  1. Make sure you say thank you all year round, not just at staff awards. Share customer/patient comments on your internal channels, but also on social so those on the receiving end can be celebrated by friends and family.
  1. Give shopping vouchers for local shops as a thank you gift. Not only will this bring a smile, but it will also boost the local economy
  1. Mugs, pin badges and stickers are also often well received. One comms team distributed packets of seeds to their volunteers which was really positive.
  1. A gift of time is appreciated – whether that’s a day’s leave, or an offer to support someone when they are under pressure.
  1. Thank people yourself and encourage your team to do the same. Hopefully it will rub off on others in your organisation. 
  1. Be prepared with the cost of any spending if you buy gifts to say thank you, in case of negative press and give a robust response of the importance of valuing staff.
  1. Use Volunteers Week to thank volunteers and put together award submissions to highlight good work

Kate Vogelsang is a co-organiser of commscamp and runs the Birdsong Consultancy.


by John-Paul Danon, from Commscamp Still at Home SUPER GOLD sponsors CAN Digital

Comms Camp – both the IRL and virtual versions – remains, of course, a great way for public sector communications folk to get together over cake, curry and beverages of various kinds to share what’s working, and not, with their peers.

Although I’m not quite sure if “to group” has become a verb in this context yet, what I do know is that everyone needs to tap into others’ expertise, experience and ideas at times – no matter how much of a maverick genius you are. With no one an island and all that.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns meant many of us were forced into ploughing a lone furrow more than usual, working from home with just the cat to bounce ideas off. And it’s during this period that we at small Team CAN found ourselves collaborating more than ever – with both other agencies and with Zoom screens full of public sector communicators.

During the first wave of Covid, we worked with 14 local authorities on a regional campaign led by West Midlands Employers and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to recruit to desperately-needed care roles. And we did the same with the London borough councils.

Once a national Covid testing regime was established, we started working with Westco Communications to come up with a creative campaign – informed by their research and amplified through our digital advertising skills – to share with councils across England so they could quickly roll out information that could  cut through the online noise and misinformation.

We carried on with this idea when the vaccination rollout began. Westco devised a range of spot-on creatives based on up-to-date insight and we made sure they reached the geolocations and demographics of those who most needed to see the info.

Meet-ups were arranged for the council comms teams running these vaccine campaigns locally – and those from NHS CCGs who had joined in by then – to regularly share experiences from their necks of the woods. There ended up being many vaccine-hesitancy campaigns, aimed at different age groups and communities.

From this, the idea of a public sector “huddle” (well, it sounded a bit cosy, like “cuddle”) was formulated. We at CAN have long thought that coming together around common public sector themes would benefit comms teams and could cut the wastage involved in continually reinventing the wheel by creating bespoke campaigns from scratch. Building on shared knowledge always seemed like a far smarter idea and use of time and resources.

The Westco/CAN Public Sector Campaign Hub (more sensible title!) now has four groups up and running on different public sector themes: vaccination hesitancy (still going – still needed), Covid testing, High Street recovery, and the newly launched foster carer recruitment comms group. You can check it all out here: https://www.westcocommunications.com/campaign-hub

More about us

For an idea on what we do, take a look at our stash of case studies and blogs: https://can-digital.net/case-studies-blogs/

We also send out our monthly Lunch Bite Bulletin by email. It features useful future planning info for comms folk and details of projects you might want to tap into. Sign up here: https://can-digital.net/can-ebulletin/

Or get in touch with Team CAN:

John Paul Danon is co-founder and salkes director at CAN Digital

Blog – How to create a successful approach to creativity

Content from our lovely SUPER GOLD sponsors

by Scott Hingley, creative director at Touch Design

The brief: Develop a communications campaign targeting young teens in communities who would not traditionally consider careers in medicine to persuade them to learn and train to become doctors.

The campaign: Well, what would you do? What would your campaign be? How would you go about the creative process of sparking such a campaign into life?

Creativity can be an elusive and ethereal concept. Sometimes when you’re in the flow, the ideas come as quickly as cars on a motorway. But on other occasions, you’re stuck at the services, with the bonnet up, exasperated, staring at the engine for signs of life.

But there can be ways to fire up the spark plugs of creativity – and in this blog we detail some helpful hints for taking you along on the journey of creativity.

Top tips

Before our top tips, we’ll briefly mention our campaign. From thinking about doctors, we naturally thought of Doctor Who, the classic inter-galactic time traveller, a figure appealing to youngsters and adults alike. The object of the campaign was to say to every young person, have you considered a career in medicine, and if not, why not? There are many pre-conceptions about what is involved and what is needed. The campaign needed to say that the next doctor in training could be you. Doctor You? A play on words, opening up medicine to all. We then removed the question mark. It felt like there was an element of doubt. And there we had it. Dr You. The campaign creative hook was in place.

Channel your thinking

You may well have a similar communications campaign challenge. If so, here are some thoughts to help you with your creative thinking:

  • The creative process is aided by a good brief – if you are the client, try to provide as much relevant background information as possible
  • Consider the ‘framing’ of the issue – thinking about the issue as a problem to be solved may be one way. But all issues can be considered in different lights. Is there another way of looking at your problem?
  • Come at the issue from a different angle – place your issue in another context – what would happen if you wildly exaggerated it, what would a child think of your issue, how would it work in the countryside, what if it was coloured orange, could you build a Lego model of it? All of these approaches will help you gain different perspectives
  • Play with an issue – and have fun. Here at Touch we like to have fun with our work. What are your first reactions to the topic? How does it make you feel? What makes you smile?
  • Close the door and open another – there’s only so long you can play around with a certain idea. At some point you’ve got to close the door on that idea, walk down the hallway, and open another door, to another idea. Open and close enough doors and you will discover a room of surprises
  • Take different approaches, put yourself in a new context – sometimes the best idea will come when you least expect it – when you’re in the shower or walking to work, from out of the blue inspiration will strike. If you’re still waiting for inspiration, put some dedicated time and effort into it. A cake will only come out of the oven if you put the right ingredients in the tin. Creativity sometimes needs a recipe
  • You may not have the solution – sometimes despite the best efforts and the most dedicated thought, you may not find the answer you want. That happens, it’s just the way things are. However, you are not alone. Ask the person across the desk. Phone a friend. Ask a stranger. Form a focus group. Listen carefully. The answer is out there.
  • Still stuck? Leave the office, get some fresh air, come back, then give us a call or email scott@touchdesign.co.uk. We’d love to talk through your ideas. www.touchdesign.co.uk

Scott from Touch Design will take part in a free open online workshop in the commscamp Facebook group from 12.30pm on Wednesday September 15.

CommsCamp is still at home … and so it’s time for a quiz and takeaway curry the night before it all kicks off

by Kate Vogelsang

Every year we hold #CommsCamp, we have a curry night. Beers and baltis in Birmingham, Bradford, Salford, Sheffield or on your sofa, as we did in 2020.

Anyone who has a ticket to either day of CommsCamp is welcome to join us on Tuesday 21 September at 7pm. It’s a chance to catch up with old friends, make some new ones, and take part in the not-quite-legendary quiz.

As last year we’re doing the whole thing virtually so it’ll also be a chance to see the tech set-up we’re using before CommsCamp kicks off, although I’m sure you’re all rather used to using Zoom by now!

What’s occurring?

Whilst the football didn’t come home this year (for those of us in England at least), the curry will. So, order yourself a takeaway (or if you want to show off your cooking skills, knock something up in your kitchen), grab yourself a drink and join us on Zoom at 7pm. The link will be sent out to you nearer the event time so you can join the social.

When your curry arrives, take a picture of your dinner for social media and share what you have online using the #commscampstillathome hash tag; we want to see colour, size, volume and variety, and find out where to get the best curry across the comms camp family.

Is there a quiz this year?
Yes, of course there is, kicking off at 8pm after we’ve all finished our curries. You’ll need pen and paper and a knowledge of random topics. Emma Johnson from Essex County Council won last year. Who will be wearing the crown this year?

As ever, if you can’t come to the event and you have a ticket do cancel it so we can re-distribute it to the waitlist. If you’d like see some of the pitch ideas for what we could discuss head to the commscamp Facebook page.


Pic: Kelly Quigley-Hicks

by Kate Bentham

It’s CommsCamp soon and of course that means we’re upping our obsession with cake.

You see it’s tradition that whether CommsCamp is taking place in its homeland of Birmingham, or visiting Manchester, Sheffield, or Doncaster, or even for that matter happening in your home or your socially distanced office, that cake features heavily.

And who are we to argue with tradition?

So, cake fans, here’s what’s happening this year

The cake baking competition is still on. Yay. Could you be this year’s Star Baker and winner of the wooden spoon? We are having a cake baking contest on both days and ask our bakers to send a photo of their wonderful cake creations to katyjay@hotmail.com by 9pm the night before the CommsCamp they are attending. We will then ask our lovely attendees to vote, and winners will be announced at the end of each day.

We all still need to make sure we have some cake to eat. The fact of the matter is that anyone who has attended a CommsCamp in previous years would have left feeling sick from the amount of cake they consumed during the day, but them’s the rules. We still want people to connect over a slice of lemon drizzle and there will be plenty of opportunities to join others in shared break out spaces to chat, so make sure you have some cake to hand.

We are still raising money for charity. At CommsCamp we ask those that can, to donate a few pennies for a slice of cake. This money then goes to a chosen charity. Since CommsCamp first started in 2013 the lovely attendees have raised nearly £3,000. This year the chosen charity is The Christie and you can read a very personal story from Emma Rodgers  on what this charity means to her and her family. You can start donating now – leave your name is you want to be in with a chance of winning cake.

That’s right, you can win cake. I repeat, YOU CAN WIN CAKE. If you donate to our chosen charity, and leave your name on our just giving page, you will be entered into a raffle, not to win top tat but to win cake. Actual cake. Through the post from the magnificent Say it with Brownies What’s not to like about that?

So, there we have it, CommsCamp is still at home but with a lovely slice of cake on the side.

Happy baking and see you by the cake table

Kate Bentham

Official Cake Monitor

blog: how does online commscamp compare with in person?

by Kate Bentham

CommsCamp at home – how does it differ to being in person?

I’ve been lucky to be involved in CommsCamp since it first started back in 2013.

I’ve travelled to Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield and Doncaster, carrying tins of tiffin to use as a bribe to talk to comms professionals and to encourage them to part with money for a chosen charity.

That couldn’t happen during 2020. I had to stay home. We all had to stay home. But thankfully CommsCamp stayed home too.

So how did #CommsCampStaysHome differ? To be fair, there wasn’t much difference, apart from I wore my slippers and sat on my sofa looking into a screen, whilst eating cake

  • There was still a pre-event curry and drinks social event, with the added bonus of a quiz.
  • There were over 300 comms professionals who attended over two mornings.
  • Job titles were still left at the door, it simply doesn’t matter if you have years of experience or just starting out, your opinion is valid.
  • There were still people who were new to CommsCamp and this is great
  • All sectors were represented, from local government, to education, to the emergency services to housing, and the voluntary sector.
  • There was still no agenda, but a great variety of ideas pitched and a grid of nearly 50 different conversation sessions over the two days, all set by those attending.
  • The rule of two feet still applied. It was still ok to leave a session and head into another room.
  • Connections were still made, email addresses still exchanged, faces were still put to names.
  • It was still free to attend and always will be.
  • There was still a heavy cake theme (it’s all about the cake), we even issued the exclusive Commscamp Cookbook and the breakout rooms where cake themed.
  • There was still a cake baking contest with a star baker prize at stake.
  • Comms people are still good people and managed to donate over £1000 to The Christie cancer charity for which we thank you.
  • Attendees received a tea towel which wasn’t a tea towel but a strategic communications channel.
  • We still had a fantastic team of volunteers who worked to pull this together with guidance from Dan Slee and Emma Rodgers.
  • We still had some brilliant sponsors and we are very grateful for their continued support.

So yes, CommsCampStaysHome had to be different but it was also its brilliant familiar self and I can’t wait to do it all again in September.

Kate Bentham is the Official Cake Monitor at commscamp

Picture credit: Nigel Bishop

What we learnt about the struggles of brand management in public sector comms at CommsCamp

by Candi Underwood, Brand Stencil

In August we sponsored #commscampathome, an conference for comms people working in the Public Sector.

From the police to local councils and everything in between, we relished the opportunity to hear the troubles people experience in the industry and to look at practical solutions to how we can make their lives easier while encouraging digital transformation in the public sector.

With over 242 unique attendees across both days we weren’t short of a few horror stories and tell tales, so we’re rounding up what we learnt about the struggles of brand management in public sector comms:

People are seen as the brand police

As comms people this is a perception that can often be placed upon you and once you’ve been tarnished with that brush it can be hard to change people’s minds. In the public sector this term is more common as it’s usually one person in the organisation who is seen to be almost militant in their brand management. The struggle they face however is that other people just don’t care about the brand as they do. This is a really common issue we hear, which is why we wrote this article on Brand governance made easy: tips for managing your brand to help with getting people onboard and caring about your brand.

Going rogue is more common that you think

During our session there was no shortage of anecdotal evidence that people going rogue with the brand is a normality. It was relayed several times to us that people will often make and distribute their own things without consulting the comms team. In order to work towards a solution the real question we were asking here is why is that? Some mentioned it was more about saving time or just getting the job done themselves, some mentioned the fact that some people just don’t think about the brand or understand why it’s important. And for those that did want to stay on brand there were more limited resources available.

Templates based in Word documents or sometimes even Publisher

Templates are not a new idea and everybody was on the same page with using them. However they were a lot more ad-hoc, with Microsoft Word or Publisher documents drifting about. These were stored in a central place, but people were frequently saving them locally onto their desktop and thereby using out of date templates.

There is an appetite for digital transformation internally & externally

Throughout the day the attendees at #commscampstaysathome talked about digital transformation in the public sector and how, although progress may be slow, the wheels are turning. A lot of people were looking to go digital to increase comms efficiency: for example to introduce briefing forms or to create digital templates to help with their brand management.

Others were looking more to use digital tools to increase engagement; having had all face to face events stopped due to the pandemic they were finding it harder to reach their target audience and looking for advice on social media and other engagement tools to bridge the gap.

Throughout the conference the ideas on digital transformation were certainly flowing. There was talk of a utopia where everyone stayed on brand and clip art calamities were never seen again; of introducing something like BrandStencil where digital templates could make comms people’s time and spend more effective and they could stop being the brand police; of a world where you didn’t have to make poor designs from word templates and get into a time sink of fixing people’s artwork.

And the main outcome was that this is possible, but with baby steps. With budget constraints, technological constraints and uncertainty over how it could work digital transformation in the public sector wasn’t something that would happen overnight but it’s something that is at the forefront of future plans.

Brand Stencil are a main sponsor of #commscampstayshome.

Unconferences for public sector comms people