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were stored in a central place, but people were frequently saving them locally onto their desktop and thereby using out of date templates.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.

WEBINAR: Creating Accessible and inclusive digital content

At this year’s commscampstayshome we welcomed texthelp as sponsors for the first time. They’re a company who supply good software to organisations who want to improve people’s lives. They also want to help you get to grips with imminent accessibility legislation.

by Lisa Smyth, texthelp

September 23, 2020 is the next deadline for digital accessibility regulations in the UK. So it’s more important than ever that you ensure you’re going above and beyond with digital inclusion.

On 17th September Daniel McLaughlan, Accessibility and Usability Consultant, Abilitynet will be joining Sarah Richards, Founder of Content Design London and the creator of GOV.UK website content strategy, and Donna Thomson, Marketing Manager at Texthelp for a webinar with easy, practical advice on accessibility and digital inclusion.

Shaping truly inclusive experiences

Inaccessible graphics, videos, and social media content clearly hinder accessible user experiences. Now more than ever, it’s essential we open up every piece of digital content, so that everyone has the chance to consume it and is given the same welcoming experience as you have intended. Included:

  • Overview of web accessibility legislation and forthcoming deadlines
  • Creating accessible graphics, videos and social media content
  • Creating content which contributes to the inclusivity and accessibility of a website.
  • Live panel Q&A
  • Register to attend live or receive the post-webinar recording and slides.

If you are working to improve your digital communications, boost your brand reputation, and build more inclusive marketing and digital experiences please register to attend live, or to receive the recording and slides.

Register now for ‘how to create accessible & inclusive digital content’.

The hashtag is #a11y

texthelp are sponsors of #commscampstayshome.

CONFUSED at how to join the event? here’s an explainer video

If this is your first unconference then welcome.

If this is your first online unconference then welcome… its ours too.

We’ve taken some broad proven principles that work offline and we’re experimenting with them online for commscampstayshome.

We are together on a voyage of discovery.

We’ve been busily testing platforms and we’ve settled on QiQochat after a tip from Lloyd Davis. It’s a platform that works with Zoom but gives some added flexibility.

Have you a ticket?

Tickets sold out very rapidly. If you do have a ticket for Day 1 it means you’ll get into Day 1. If you got one for Day 2 you’ll get into Day 2. If you got them for both you are very lucky. They joining links will be sent individually for each day.



A video explainer

This should answer your questions as to how to join the event and how to move between rooms. Stuck? Sweyn Hunter is onhand sweyn.hunter@hotmail.com before and during the event.

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.

announcing the commscamp cookbook for you to bake award-winning cakes

by Kate Bentham

Cake has always featured heavily at any commscamp up and down the land. Lovely people bake and bring cake for others to eat throughout the day, until you reach the point you feel sick and think you’re never going to eat another piece of cake ever again, but you will. How could you not?

Commscamp is a little different this year, but that doesn’t mean that cake is off the agenda, even if there were an agenda. Cake will still feature and #commscampstayshome

There’s still a cake baking contest, so if there are any star bakers out there, prepare the tins.

It’s also OK to still eat cake throughout the day, these are the Commscamp rules, I haven’t just made these up.

And as a special little thank you for being such lovely supporters, we’re offering you a copy of the first edition of the official Commscamp cookbook, packed with recipes from some of our previous star baker winners and regular bakers. We wouldn’t have been able to pull this together without their help, so a big thank you to:-

  • Phil Morcom
  • Kate Bob Vogelsang
  • Kelly Quigley-Hicks (Star Baker winner Commscamp Birmingham)
  • Albert Freeman
  • Carolyne Mitchell (Star Baker winner Commscamp Bradford)
  • Jude Tipper (Star Baker winner Commscamp Sheffield)
  • Josephine Graham (Star Baker winner Commscamp Manchester)

The cookbook can be found in the files section of the Commscamp Facebook group for you to download for free, but you can also donate to the Commscamp charity this year, The Christie. You can find out more about why we’ve chosen this charity here.

We hope you enjoy making the cakes in this book, don’t forget to tweet a photo of your creation, and tag in the baker who kindly shared their recipe.

GOOGLE DRIVE: https://bit.ly/katescakesrecipes

WE TRANSFER: https://we.tl/t-KcWPAbeUva

You can donate to our charity appeal and read more about it RIGHT HERE.

Day 1 of #commscampstayshome is August 20 and Day 2 August 25.

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 ForumCIPR Local Public Services, UK Govcamp and David Banks Media Law.

curry & quiz: what the social the night before will look like

by Kate Vogelsang

Ahead of each of the two days of commscampstayshome there will be a social the night before.

Of course, we’d love it if we could go along to a real curry house and sit down to a real curry on a table of old friends and new. In previous years we have enjoyed the delights of Manzils in Birmingham (with a bit of England losing to Croatia thrown in), Jinnah in Bradford, eastZeast in Salford, and 7SpicesBalti in Sheffield.

Is your mouth watering yet?

The curry night is a mainstay of CommsCamp and anyone who has a ticket is welcome. It’s a chance to catch up, chat to other comms pros, chew the fat, have a rant and enjoy a few beers/lemonades.

This year, we’re doing the whole thing virtually so it’ll also be a chance to road test the tech ahead of the big day so you’ll understand how it’ll work. 

Here’s the plan

Commscamp socials traditionally take place the evening before the big event in a local restaurant highly recommended. This year, curry will be coming home. While you all will have used Zoom over the past few months, we’re also using some extra tech called QiQo to replicate as much of the CommsCamp experience as we can. It’ll definitely be worth you joining us for a bit of the night, even if 7.30pm is way past your teatime and you can only join us for a drink, so you can have a play around in the commscamp virtual rooms. 

We’ll send ticket holders a link the day before that you can use for the curry. 

Here’s how to join in

Choose your local curry house. Needless to say, this is a BYO event. 

Place your order for delivery around 7.30pm on either Weds 19th August or Monday 24th August, or both, depending which day(s) you’re coming to CommsCamp. Make sure you order enough for breakfast the next day. 

Sit down at 7pm with the tipple of your choice and join the social online by following the Zoom/QiQo link. 

Find your way into the drinks room to say hi to the organisers and your fellow campers. 

When your curry arrives, make your way to the curry room. Take a picture of your dinner for social media and share what you have online – we want to see Naan sizes, curry colours and poppadom volumes. The bigger and brighter the better. 

8.30pm will be the commscamp quiz. You’ll need pen and paper. If you want to play along, you’ll need to be in the quiz room for 8.30pm.

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.

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

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

Thanks to our supporters: Public Sector Digital Transformation ForumandDavid Banks Media Law.

we’re staying home, we’re baking cakes and there’s a bake-a-long session

by Kate Bentham

So Commscamp is having to do things a little bit different this year. We can’t all meet and eat cake together, but that doesn’t mean that cake isn’t going to feature – it is after all what Commscamp is all about, not the comms, but the cake.

Here’s how this year’s cake table is going to work.

The cake baking competition is still on. Yay. Could you be this year’s Star Baker and winner of the wooden spoon? We will be asking our bakers to send a photo of their wonderful creations and the winner will be announced in the Prize Room at the end. Look out for posts closer to the day on how you can submit your photo.

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 blog post from Emma Rogers  on what this charity means to her and her family.

There’s still a raffle. This year if you donate you will be entered into a raffle, not to win top tat but to win cake. Actual cake. Through the post. What’s not to like about that?

There’s a special Commscamp cake cook book. We’ve been in touch with some of our lovely regular bakers and previous star bakers to ask them to contribute a recipe to a special Commscamp book and we are very grateful that they have. You can download the book and try your hand at baking some of the wonderful cakes. The cook book is free to download but there’s nothing stopping you donating if you can. Watch out for posts on how to download.

They’ll be a Commscamp bakealong. One of the sessions at #Commscampstayshome will be making some tiffin – you can join in, or if you want a bit of peace and quiet while you attend a session on actual comms, get the children to join in instead. If you want to take part, you’ll need these ingredients in advance.

100g Butter

200g Milk chocolate

3tbsp golden syrup

225g Finely crushed digestive biscuits

225g mint Aero, Maltesers or 4 broken crunchie bars

100g Melted chocolate

So, there we have it, a virtual Commscamp but still with a lovely slice of cake on the side.

Happy baking and see you by the cake table at #CommsCampStaysHome

Kate Bentham

Official Cake Monitor

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.


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.

Unconferences for public sector comms people