by Dan Slee and David Grindlay

As an unconference this isn’t a conference.

As the great web visionary Lloyd Davis once said, an unconference aims to take you out of your comfort zone and put you somewhere even more comfortable.

If you’re used to a traditional conference where you listen to people talking it’s not really that.

We encourage people to take part and here are some pointers.

We’ll use four rules and one law of open space events.

We’ll use open space principles

  1. Whoever comes are the right people.
  2. Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.
  3. Whenever it starts its the right time.When its over its over
  4. The Law of Two Feet. If you find yourself neither learning or contributing gio and find a more constructive place.

We’ve also crowdsourced some house preferences to make the day work as well as possible.


  1. Please take part. We try and make the event as open as possible so if you’re coming we encourage you to pitch a session and join in with the debate.
  2. Please leave your job title at the door. Comms director with 20 years? Admin assistant in your first week? Everyone’s idea has equal space.
  3. Please pitch a session idea. If something needs solving or if you think you’ve solved it lets hear and see if we can improve it.
  4. Please don’t use PowerPoint. We encourage you not to.
  5. Please be seen. In the spirit of no passengers, do leave your camera on. A screen filled with black squares isn’t very social.
  6. Please be heard. Knock your mic off if your in a noisy room but be prepared to make it go live when you have a point.
  7. Please don’t record without permission but do blog, tweet and report. Make a note, blog, tweet and paint a watercolour about the discussion if you’re able. Don’t record the discussion unless everyone is fine with it and don’t land someone in it.
  8. Please facilitate. If you’ve pitched a session encourage the discussion to flow. Don’t let the debate be dominated by a few voices. Encourage others to make a point. That’s where the pearls often are.
  9. Please share your experience. That’s their truth. Tell us yours.
  10. Please share links. The chat function in each room is useful for this.
  11. Please be nice. You may not agree but we’ll agree to disagree. Be nice.

Big thanks to our super main sponsors Touch DesignGranicus,  and Brand Stencil.

Thanks to our co-sponsors texthelpDan SleeCAN Digital and Birdsong Consultancy.

Thanks to our supporters: Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum CIPR Local Public Services and David Banks Media Law.

pitch perfect: How you can select what sessions we’ll run with during #commscampstayshome

by Emma Rodgers

Why pitching is winning at Commscamp

Commscamp is back. Albeit a little different. ‘Hooray’ I hear you shout. ‘But I’m unsure of pitching and how the sessions are selected and how it works!’ you say.

Never fear, here’s a few words to explain how it works and to hopefully put you more at ease.

We’ll have time for three 45-minute sessions on August 20 and the same again on August 25.

Each 45-minute slot will have six or seven alternative topics and they’re chosen at the start of the day by people pitching or in other words giving a 30-second summary of the session.

I remember my first time at Commscamp – it was cold and snowy and it was a complete eyeopener. I’d only every been to formal conferences before with key note speakers so it felt surreal not knowing what the agenda covered until you got there. And it felt even more strange that you actually had a chance to set the agenda for the day yourself.

I remember the fear at the thought of speaking in a room full of people – I may seem I have a lot to say for myself but I have a real nervousness of public speaking – probably comes from a job with years of advising others in the spotlight rather than being in it myself. There was no way I was going to put myself out there.

But then with a lot of positive support from the people there and after a lot of woman solidarity as we realised lots of men didn’t seem to have such imposter syndrome as their female counterparts, I went for it.

Despite the sweaty palms, I got my pitch out there and the response in the room made me feel on top of the world. Not because my session was ground-breaking – I can’t even remember what it was now – but because I’d done it.

To boot, I remember we also solved a real wicked problem that had been a major challenge for me for quite some time. It was a major achievement for me and a landmark time in my own personal and professional development. It gave me a quiet confidence that I could and should do it more.

Roll forward to 2020 and #CommscampStaysHome – a digital Commscamp – but where the values  are still the same:

  • It’s a supportive environment
  • No pitch is ever a bad one – whether you have only two people in your room or 30, I’m still in no doubt that you’ll still get what you need.
  • Imposter syndrome has no place here – everyone’s contribution is valid and it will be treated as such
  • Solutions are provided and shared
  • Hierarchy has no place here

You’ll solve your wicked issue and most importantly, you’ll feel proud of what you’ve achieved. So if you’re lucky enough to have a ticket, start to think now about what you want to pitch and know you’ll be surrounded by supportive people. That’s why pitching  is winning at #Commscamp

Take a look at ideas for pitches that have already been shared in the Commscamp Facebook group. It’s where you can also test out any session ideas you have too. 

Big thanks to our super main sponsors Touch DesignGranicus,  and Brand Stencil.

Thanks to our co-sponsors texthelpDan Slee, CAN Digital and Birdsong Consultancy.

Thanks to our supporters: Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum CIPR Local Public Services and David Banks Media Law.


One question we’re often asked is about the agenda ahead of the day at commscamp events…

‘But there is no agenda ahead of the day,’ we reply with a big smile on our faces.

So, how exactly is that going to work? We’re asked in a tone of voice that ranges from curiosity to blind panic.


The event is run under Open Space principles. They’re a tried and tested set of principles.

It boils down to the attendees themselves choose the agenda on the day. Why? Because the people in the room are the right people to decide what they want to talk about. Besides, this way means we can be a lot more responsive in a very volatile landscape.

Sound helpful?

Session ideas come from pitches… what’s a pitch?

Any attendee can pitch – or suggest – a session. It’s basically a 30 second summary of what the session could look like.

After 10 years of events like these, I’m tempted to say the best pitches are often:

  • How can we do X better?
  • This is how I did X and can we improve on it? 
  • Oh, and niche is really good.

If you pitch an idea, you don’t have to talk for 45-minutes. In fact you can just pose a question.

How you can test a pitch

You may want to see what other people think of your pitch before the big day. 

You can do that by heading to the commscamp group here where you’ll already see some being put forward.

How we fill the day

Each session lasts 45-minutes. There’ll be the chance of between 20 and 30 sessions per date. Each one can be filled by an idea from an attendee. We’ll populate the sessions at the start of the day.  

Any questions, just shout.

Dan Slee

(On behalf of the organising team.)

PS – Let us know if plans have changed and you can’t come. That way we can re-release the ticket to someone on the wait list.

Big thanks to our super main sponsors Touch Design, Granicus, Council Advertising Network and Brand Stencil.

Thanks to our co-sponsors texthelp, Dan Slee and Birdsong Consultancy.

Thanks to our supporters: Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum and David Banks Media Law.

Emma on why we’re raising money at #commscampstayshome for a special charity

by Emma Rodgers

This year, I’m thrilled to be able to be involved with #CommsCampStaysHome.

Since it started way back in 2013 in a freezing cold Birmingham in the middle of February when I was a Commscamp helper – I’ve been a co-organiser every year since then.  

Apart from last year but I think I have a good enough excuse as last year Richard, my husband of 13 years and my boyfriend of 26 years since I was 18, was diagnosed with cancer.

You can imagine my disappointment to not be involved but to be fair actually getting through each day last year was a massive achievement in itself and I had very little left to give.  

 I remember the day of diagnosis like it was yesterday. I still get that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking about it. He’d been having pain in one of his arms and had been to the doctor three times sent away and sent away with various treatments that made no difference until it came to a head on 5 January 2019. He’d been grumpy over Christmas and if anyone knows my other half, he is generally anything but. The pain was getting too much – so we ended up in the hospital accident and emergency unit after being sent there by a doctor at our local walk-in centre. Richard had been waiting there a while when my 10 year old and I rocked up.

It started out as a bit of a giggle in the waiting room as we innocently thought he’d just pulled a muscle. Then they sent him for an x-ray and everything changed. A lovely Asian doctor came and told us the news. Unbeknownst to us, Richard had actually broken his arm but it was the next words that changed our world forever. The break had been caused by a sinister shadow which they believed to be cancer. It turned out to be a metastatic cancer spread from his kidney.  Who knew?

What followed was months of distress and sadness for us and endless amounts of pain for Richard. By the time he’d had a biopsy and the various scans and test that are need for cancer investigations, his arm bone had been eroded away by a cancerous tumour. Eventually a treatment plan was put in place and weeks and months of hospital time followed. Richard got his arm bone replaced by a prosthetic which he had to learn to use again, had radiotheraphy treatment, had his kidney removed and underwent weeks of physiotherapy showing extreme bravery throughout.

We then had the devastating news that despite everything, the cancer had returned in other places including his left arm where his bone had been replaced. Richard’s only in his forties and as my soul mate for so many years, I’d always assumed we’d grow old together. But every time we were hit with more bad news, hope ebbed away.  Then luckily for us and after a lot of relentless determination, we managed to get a consultation at the Christie Hospital.  

The Christie in Manchester is one of the top cancer hospitals in the UK – it’s a registered charity but also one of the largest treatment centres in Europe. I’d asked for a referral while at another hospital as I knew they were one of the best in the country and also that they were at the cutting edge of new cancer treatments undertaking infinite amounts of research.

Kidney cancer unfortunately doesn’t respond to chemotherapy like other cancers so there were limited options available to us. Luckily for us after meeting one of the amazing consultants at the Christie, they decided to take Richard on as a NHS patient. 

When you’re going through cancer, you rely so much on the professionals that care for you, treat you and advise you. Our new consultant radiated hope. She was honest but at the same time spoke to us in the most straightforward way.  She was not only an expert in her field but she also had excellent communications skills and talked through our options in the most caring and easy- to- understand way. While she was factual, she also incited optimism and drew on stories based on experience to help get us through.  She had a brilliant sense of humour putting us at ease whenever she could. In short, she is one of the best communicators I’ve ever met.

Communications were and continue to be excellent from the hospital. Whether it is phone calls or letters or other contact, you always feel that nothing is too much trouble and that stroke a chord with me and what I do for a job.  Not only because it’s our lives but because when you’re having a really hard time, you want – and need – things to be simple to comprehend and for people to really be in your corner fighting for you every step of the way.  And that’s what the Christie does. That’s why I think it’s a perfect fit as the nominated charity for #CommsCampStaysHome and I’m delighted that my lovely co-organisers agree.

Richard was placed on immunotherapy treatment – a treatment that had only been licenced in April in the UK a couple of months after he was diagnosed and we waited to see what next. Luckily for us, his response has been amazing and scans just before Christmas showed that his tumours have gone.  He’s our very own Christmas miracle.  

The treatment’s for life and every three months we have check ups and scans – the scanxiety is currently high as the MRI scans are in the next couple of weeks  – and we hope and pray that long may it continue so that our lovely family unit can stay together and we can achieve that dream of growing old and grey together. No-one has a crystal ball but we take one day at a time and are forever grateful to the Christie for what they’ve done.  I also know any donation you make is extremely appreciated because it helps families like mine in a way you can never truly grasp unless you’re unlucky enough to go through it yourself.  And I hope truly for you and yours that you never have to but be reassured that if you do, the Christie Hospital and its excellent staff are there for you. Thanks for all your help and support.

Emma Rodgers

At every commscamp event we bake cake and attendees make a donation in return for a raffle ticket. This year we’re asking attendees past and present to make a donation to the charity that Emma has suggested – The Christie. You can do that here and Emma and the rest of us would love it if we did.

Well done if you got a ticket, don’t despair if you haven’t

Well, that went well.

The first ticket release saw `150 tickets go in nine minutes and the second and third weren’t bad either.

Day 1 of #commscampstayshome will be August 20 and Day 2 will be August 25.

Both will be online to ticket holders.

If you got a ticket

Well done. You are a sharp kiddy who is going to go far. If you can still come don’t forget to add it to your calendar. We’ll be emailing you and posting here to tell you how things will shape up.


1. Put the date that’s on your ticket into your calendar.

2. There’ll be a social online the night before. Put that in your calendar, too. More to follow. 

3. Follow us on @commscamp on Twitter and the commscamp Facebook group.

4. Let us know if plans have changed and you can’t come. That way we can re-release the ticket to someone on the wait list.

If you didn’t manage to grab a ticket

Don’t worry if you’re after a ticket

As time ticks on people hand their tickets back and they will be passed to the waitlist.

You can add yourself to the waitlist by heading to this page and navigating to the Day 1 and Day 2 eventbrite.

Any questions, just shout.

Big thanks to our super main sponsors Touch DesignGranicusCouncil Advertising Network and Brand Stencil.

Thanks to our co-sponsors Dan Slee and Birdsong Consultancy.

Thanks to our supporters: Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum and David Banks Media Law.

We have some good news for you just when you need some… there WILL be a commscamp this year.


Over the past few weeks a crack team has been testing platforms and we think we’ve got a proposition.

Here’s what we know:

  • It will online.
  • It will still be a safe space to discover, learn and shape ideas.
  • It will still be a place to meet new people.
  • It will still involve cake.
  • It will  still be a welcome respite from [waves generally] all them but also a respite from [all that, too].


  • It won’t be crap.

What is commscamp?

It’s an unconference for public sector communicators. This means the agenda gets chosen on the day by the attendees themselves.

Where can you help?

We’ve been shaping some ideas and approaches and we’ve got a platform but we’d like to hear what you think.

We’d like you to spend two minutes on this surveymonkey link telling us what you’d like to see. That will help refine our thinking when we make the full announcement.

Where can you keep up to speed?

You can keep up to speed with announcements through this site but also through our email list that you can sign-up to here.

We can’t wait.

We hope you can’t, too.

Organising team: Bridget Aherne, Kate Bentham, David Grindlay, Sweyn Hunter, Arlene McKay, Emma Rodgers, Dan Slee and Kate Vogelsang.


commscampnorth: public relations, pregnancy and promotion


by Rosemary Davenport

 I work in housing. I’m six months pregnant. And I’ve just been promoted.

Shocked? You shouldn’t be. But it’s been interesting to see how many people are. When I’ve mentioned this to friends and colleagues they’ve had a variety of responses:

  • “Did they know you were pregnant when they interviewed you?”
  • “I’m really surprised they’d promote you when you’re off on maternity leave in a few weeks”
  • “Wow, that’s great. It would never happen at my place”.

The resounding sentiment is that this is still an unusual state of affairs, even in the era of #MeToo. I should be surprised at the reactions. But I’m not.

I’ve heard shocking stories from my housing industry comms colleagues. Of senior leaders routinely using sexist language in the office, of females being humiliated and then told ‘calm down love, we didn’t ask you to take your clothes off’, and of a male CEO repeatedly talking to young female colleagues about his previous sexual conquests.

Sound like scenes from Mad Men, don’t they? A show, let’s not forget, set 60 years ago.

I consider myself very fortunate to have a (male) feminist boss. He wears this on his sleeve, as he should. My pregnancy was a complete non-issue when applying for the job.

In fact, the only time it was brought up was when he checked if there was anything additional he could do to support me – or minimise the stress of the interview process.

And even before I started with the organisation, I know he robustly challenged a retiring male boss who questioned the wisdom of employing a recently married woman in her thirties. “She’ll only get pregnant you know”, this individual said. “Good. I hope she does, if that’s what she wants”, my boss replied.

 The housing industry, and the PR industry, has a lot to learn from this. An approach that should be normal, not one I should feel ‘fortunate’ to have encountered.

 We all know that communications is dominated by females; we make up 64% of employees according to the PRCA.

 The gender pay gap in our industry is 21%. That’s 2.6 percent higher than the already appalling UK gender pay gap, which ranks 25th out of 30 in Europe.

 And while there are fantastic female leaders out there, the top tier of our profession is still dominated by men.

 But what can we do about this? Well, we all need to take responsibility for developing talent – and our male leaders need to particularly take this on board.

 Things like CommsCamp, which I recently attended, help. The format of this means everyone has a platform to seek advice, learn from others and be cheered on by colleagues across comms.

 It’s not just the top tier on panels. In fact, there aren’t any panels, making it more egalitarian. Anyone can pitch a session – and I ran one on ‘what makes a great head of comms?’.

 It was great to gather wisdom and insight ahead of my interview – and a number of senior men (and women) went out of their way to congratulate me when I got the job.

 And it felt appropriate that my session was followed by one on imposter syndrome. There were plenty of men there, indicating that while men may be more frequently represented in the ‘dominant coalition’ of organisations they are also, like many women, not terribly comfortable with it!

 People regardless of gender in comms are generally seen as good listeners, empathetic and, from my experience, the first port of call when senior folk are seeking advice. I guess this is obvious really. After all, we’re all used to focusing on audiences, gathering insight, listening to concerns, honing key messages and responding to nuance.

And if this is true surely the men amongst our ranks who are already at the top table of organisation, are some of the best to tackle the problem of workplace sexism, ingrained attitudes and plateauing progression for women.

I recently read an article in the New York Times that talked about (and challenged) the common view that women need to be pushier and ‘lean in’ to salary increases and promotions. Essentially, we need to improve ourselves; be more like men.

No we shouldn’t. Don’t make this our problem. Make it yours.

I’m glad I have a boss who recognises this and is doing something about it. How are you going to follow his lead?

Rosemary Davenport is Head of Communications at Homes England

round-up ‘what I learned from commscampnorth’


One of the delights of any event is the ideas that are kicked around.

So, this page aims to capture some of the writing and blogging that emerges in the days and weeks after the event.

BLOG: ‘Commscampnorth and campaigns‘ by Ian Curwen

BLOG: ‘27 things I learned at commscampnorth‘ by Dan Slee

BLOG: ‘On Wednesday I took part in commscampnorth in Bradford‘ by Josephine Graham

BLOG: ‘Public Relations, Pregnancy and Promotion‘ by Rosemary Davies.

Check back and see what has been added.

blog: 8 things we learned from commscampnorth


by Grace Conlon and Rosemary Davenport

This post was a round-up of ideas that emerged from commscampnorth and was written by two Homes Endland attendees.

  1. ‘Unconferences’ work! CommsCamp is set up unlike any conference either of us had attended before. There’s no agenda and no planned sessions. We were a little baffled by this initially, but it worked really well. Dan Slee invites people to pitch sessions, you grab a mic and then attendees clap vigorously if they like your idea. There were 30 sessions in total across 6 rooms (and fortunately 30 pitches!). If you pitch an idea, you ‘host’ that session and facilitate the conversation. Essentially it means people get to talk about what’s on their minds and you can draw on the expertise in the room.
  1. It can be lonely at the top. I (Rosie) pitched a session entitled ‘What make a great Head of Comms or comms manager?’. It was really well attended and we picked up lots of tips. We heard how it can be lonely at the top, and you have to be prepared for that as you progress in your career; you have a different peer network and you have to learn personal resilience in a different way, which is worth preparing for. But the overwhelming sense in the room was that you don’t have to stop being yourself just because you’re more senior. We also covered how one of the best things you can do to help your team is either saying ‘no’ on their behalf, or empowering them to say no to unnecessary work – ensuring they can concentrate on priorities. We also heard tips on how to hear what your team need from you – anonymous surveys were hailed as a way to get honest feedback – and how ‘moving across to move up’ means you gain a breadth of experience. As you progress in your career, it was also noted that you do less comms – which is worth considering if this is where you want to get to.
  1. Developing audience insight is key. I (Rosie) went to a session on developing ‘personas’ for different audiences; essentially ‘what does the archetypal member of this audience look like’ to aid understanding. There was a lot of debate in the room about whether this was a useful exercise (as audiences are rarely just one homogenous group; they’re much more nuanced), but the broad thrust was that the more you dig into your audience, the richer your understanding will be and you’ll be better equipped to communicate with them. I asked about how people ‘banked’ their insight and shared across the team / org – someone from the Department for Education said they had a ‘Knowledge Hub’ that was easy to tap into.
  1. We’re all suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Well, maybe not all of us (honestly, well done if you’re not!) but the sheer amount of people attending a session about this (from the most senior to the most junior) indicated that there’s a real issue on this in our profession. The room speculated on why this might be – is it because there’s often a view in organisations that ‘anyone can do comms’ or ‘we don’t have proper jobs’? No-one could really put their finger on it, but there were great tips for managing it – and Clare Josa’s book ‘Ditching the Imposter Syndrome’ was recommended (one for the Comms book club!).
  1. Networking is brilliant. CommsCamp is excellent for linking you up with people in your (broad) area. Our LinkedIns have been going crazy since the event, and we’re following lots of wise new friends on Twitter. The event definitely highlighted to me the value of being candid and asking your peers for support. After asking the room in Rosie’s session for any tips or guidance for junior members of staff looking for development, I (Grace) ended up having a great conversation about a potential mentor relationship. It proved in short, you can’t beat a bit of strategic networking to keep bringing in fresh ideas and learning from a broad range of folk.
  1. Change is constant. I (Grace) pitched a session on ‘How to create positive engagement surrounding change and transformation’. Given that it’s a new area of work for me, it was a bit of a plea for people vastly more knowledgeable to provide me with some hints and tips as I dip my toe into the world of internal comms. It was fascinating to hear the shared experiences and similar struggles people have faced across different organisations. A shared feeling was that ‘change is constant’, things are altering and updating all the time, and without regular and suitable forms of communication staff enthusiasm can become diluted and engagement can become challenging. ‘Think about your audience’; have an understanding of how change and transformation will affect them. The further the change is from them and their drivers, the less engagement you will gain. Show staff how transformation will work for them and make their life better. Be honest; tell people the truth, if nothing is happening, tell them why.
  1. Managers are your greatest communicators, equip them with the right tools. Another thing I (Grace) learnt from my session on transformation was about which tools are best to communicate this type of message. A resounding response of ‘face to face’ echoed from across the room. When discussing this form of communication, we also shared the combined struggles we have faced as communicators when the tone of our messaging is dulled in Chinese whispers across an agency. How do we combat this and how do we make our managers into skilled communicators? Equip them with the tools – We shared tips about management conversation packs, slide decks and supplementary videos to relay key messages from senior leaders, along with testimonials from fellow colleagues to create the ‘peer voice’. With all this, we can make sure our messages are landing with the impact they need.
  1. Cake, Cake, and more Cake. A comms version of the Great British Bake Off. Need I say more?

Grace Conlon and Rosemary Davenport work in communications for Homes England.

commscamp faces: first time attendee Nick Moore

180427-CCN-160In the latest in a series of Q&As with people who will be at commscampnorth a first time attendee.

Hello, Nick Moore, what do you do?

I’m a ‘Digital Development Officer’ and what my actual role entails is managing a social media team within customer services. I spend all day working with social media and all things digital while making sure my team deliver a first class customer services experience over Facebook and Twitter.

Is this your first time at commscampnorth?

It is indeed, hopefully first of many.

What session are you thinking of pitching about?

What’s new? There are so many tools/websites/apps out there, and many which haven’t stood the test of time. Recently I was told that something called ‘Nextdoor’ has 33,000 subscribers in Leeds. Should we be using this? What does everyone use to communicate with their communities? What don’t they use? What would they use if they had more time?

What session would you quite like if someone pitched?

Anything similar to my idea really, or something about video.

What’s the best thing about working in the public sector?

The people. We’re a lovely bunch.

What’s the worst thing?

Having to find a workaround for…everything? Forced to use substandard equipment because there’s no budget. I end up buying so much of my own stuff because it’s easier/quicker to do that than write a business case for why I need a £10 tripod for my mobile phone.

What’s your favourite cake?

Lemon drizzle

What’s your favourite digital platform?

Dare I say it? Facebook.

What’s the one thing you’d do to make the public sector better?

Work better as a team. Stop internal departments trying to charge each other for work or help.

Unconferences for public sector comms people