Category Archives: Good content

Commscampnorth faces: Q&A with CIPR Local Public Sector’s Mandy Pearse



This year #commscampnorth will be held in Bradford and we’re pleased to be joined by the CIPR Public Sector who will be supporters of the event.

Mandy Pearse is chair of the body and is standing for President of the wider CIPR body. There are two candidates and you can find more about them here.

In the first of a series of Q&A posts we thought it a good idea to chat about where she thinks events like commscampnorth and commscamp fits into the wider landscape.

mandyQ: Commscamp is free and an unconference. What kind of role does this play for shaping the future of public sector comms?

A: I love having variety in events. As someone who started in market research and engagement unconferences are a great addition to the mix. I’m never convinced anyone wants to attend a conference to be talked at all day. I want people to be comfortable to be candid about what didn’t work and how they fixed it. You learn more that way. I’ve been calling as CIPR Chair, Council and Board member for greater engagement with members and to try different approaches. It’s one of the reasons I’m standing for President to get more for members especially those not based in or near London.

Q: What’s your public sector experience, Mandy?

I’ve spent over 20 years working in-house in local government. I’ve worked in rural districts, new towns, regional capitals and unitary city councils with a lot of partnership working with CCGs, acute health trusts, police and fire as well as working across tiers with town and parishes & county councils. I started out in engagement, research and marketing but then moved into corporate PR and public affairs. I’ve managed teams both big and small and supported a lot of solo practitioners.

More recently my work has focused on training PR folk as well as delivering basic comms skills for service managers and politicians. I also work as a consultant with senior leadership helping them to see the value PR adds and get it resources properly.

Q: Tell us how the CIPR can help.

A. One of the biggest benefits of being a CIPR member is the access to local events and learning sessions organised by the volunteers in the regions, nations and sectoral groups. The other key benefit is the access to  accredited learning (both training and qualifications) and a pathway through CPD to becoming Chartered. I want to put more resource and emphasis on these areas.

Q: You’re standing for election for President of the CIPR. What will you do for public sector comms people?

I have a vision and six pledges all with a detailed plan underneath on my blog page

I feel it’s all relevant to public sector but I’d really highlight the need to get CEOs to understand the value of PR, modernising to make access to training at a time and way that’s suitable for busy people who have family lives, more support for the volunteers which provides more local network and learning opportunities and the getting more for membership.

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out in public sector comms?

Ask questions, read widely and never be afraid to ask for help from colleagues across the UK. We all come from different backgrounds and we need to continue to learn whatever level we are at as we work in a rapidly changing environment.

Q: What advice would you give to someone a bit jaded by the difficulties of public sector comms?

A: I can reassure people that the challenges are not all exclusive to the public sector. I have heard people in the third and private sector’s working in-house raise similar issues of not being able to get a seat at the top table, being just seen as tactical and not being given the support to really deliver. I’ve also heard agency and freelancers talk about the difficulties of getting clients to do think wider than just media and do proper evaluation. What is different is the financial pressure on the public sector. I’ve written about some of this for #Futureproof . However, the one thing I will say is you will never have such a diverse, fast paced, exciting environment where every day is new as working in the public sector.

Q: As you know, the sessions at commscampnorth will be chosen on the day. What’s the one topic you’d most like to see happen and that you would pitch?

A: My session would be on personal resilience. It’s far more than just talking about mental health. I want to look at the really practical things we can do to build the personal resilience of both ourselves and our teams. I have ideas on this having faced huge challenges in both my working and personal life.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge to public sector comms people? Brexit, a lack of budget or the pace of change?

A: The pace of change in our industry, the media landscape and in society is the big one for me. The public sector is known for its extraordinary creativity on minuscule budgets and Brexit is a moment in time but being flexible and adaptable to survive in the PR world is key. Artificial intelligence (AI) is already employed to write news by both Reuters and PA. Current estimates suggest in 5 years almost half of the activities we do will be capable of being done by AI. We have to skill up now and focus on the strategic bits and very human stuff like reputation, managing stakeholders and engagement.

Q: Lastly, and most importantly, what’s your favourite cake?

I’m a coffee and walnut fanatic.

Mandy Pearse can be found on Twitter @mandypearse and on LinkedIn here. You can also find the CIPR Local Public Sector group on Facebook and Twitter. You can find out more about the CIPR here.



The 9 types of session that take place at commscamp


Always, the build-up to commscamp has been exciting and this year is no different.

At commscamp, there is no agenda. This gets set on the day and it is always fun to see the ideas emerge.

Of course, what gets kicked around ahead of time is not always what appears on the day but it can be a good indicator.

When commscamp first started in 2012, the focus was on platforms and tools. As time has gone on, this has shifted.

What types of session are there? Here’s my take.

The channel session

These focus on a particular channel and trying to understand how to use it better. Home to the old favourite: ‘Is anyone using Snapchat? Because I don’t even begin to understand it.’

The channel sub-genre session

Not content just to be using a rarely used platform this session fits around a real desire to see how a particular platform can be used for a particular audience.

Like: ‘Can we work out how to use Instagram for dog walkers who don’t pick up after themselves?’.

Or ‘Can we use Twitch for realtime CCTV monitoring.’ (Answer: probably not).

But I always think the four people who congregate around a particular topic are among the happiest of campers. They’ve found their tribe. It may only be four. But they have a love that endures and we will never understand.

The therapy session

This one is a belter. It is the AOB of commscamp and exists to be a safe space for venting your chest. Chatham House rule applies. If you are in it, it feels so much better to unload about an issue that’s bothering you and know that others have been in the same boat too.

The horizon scanning post 

This session sees a discussion around something new and different. Most people won’t be up to speed on the topic but it deserves some of your attention as you’ll find out about something. Going back a few years, I first heard about WordPress as a website and infographics at one of these sessions. We did virtual reality last year. I try and go to at least one of these to expand my knowledge.

The sharing the sweets post 

This session sees someone do something quite well and share how they did it. It’s rarely a 45 minute spell of someone holding court. It often starts in one direction and moves somewhere entirely unexpected.

The punch-up

Some of the best sessions I’ve ever been to have involved borderline raised voices and tempers. It’s never quite spilled over into a discussion on the car park, I have to say. The session about press releases being over from one of the early commscamps was a thing of beauty.

The specialist session

These sessions are run by experts in their field and can cut through months of anguish. I’m thinking here of David Banks, the media law expert. Or Andy Mabbett on wikipedia.

The plea for help session

These ones start with a request for all hands to the pump. The session proposer is bailing out in a sinking boat and wouldn’t mind a hand. These can bring surprisingly good results as people rally round. In the early days of social media, the plea was often to try and understand it, which feels slightly archaic.

The non-digital session 

While the focus for commscamp has been digital we’re not against the idea of people talking about some good old fashioned analogue issues. Like should we have a council newspaper. Or whether posters are always a good idea (A: not always, but they can be.)

The corridor session

These are gems. These are what makes commscamp beautiful. The chance conversation that leads to a wider discussion with someone you may or may not have met. They can take place in the corridor, during a lunch break or sat by the pool (actually, the canal).

Qualifications you need to pitch for a session yourself at commscamp

You need a ticket and a pulse.

That’s it.

We find that anything more just complicates things.

You can see the ideas emerge for sessions for commscamp in our Facebook group here.

Picture credit: Nigel Bishop.



How to create a more creative approach


by Jonathan Cross, Touch Design

Is creativity a gift that some people have and some people don’t? Are some people ‘naturally creative’ or are you someone ‘who does not have a creative bone in their body?’ The simple answer is that we are all creative. And we are as creative as we allow ourselves to be.

We were recently given a brief by East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) who wanted to show the benefits of working at EMAS to student paramedics due to graduate. One of the biggest issues facing the NHS, locally and nationally, is the ability to recruit and retain staff. We played around with images and then we played around with words… ‘EMAS is an amazing place to work’ became ‘EMAS is amazing’ which became ‘EMAZING’. Often there is enough complexity in organisational structure and mission that our job is sometimes just to make things simple. #EMAZING is spreading around the organisation, invoking real pride in the job and inspiring colleagues to spread the word.

Is this itself inspiring creative or is it simply just us doing our job. The job that we’re paid to do. What is ‘being creative’? Is it a trait that is assigned to some, and not allowed for others? Do we all have the permission to be creative?

Creative sometimes means taking a step back from the norm. There are many tasks in our everyday working lives that we have done countless times before. It is easy to replicate what we did the previous time. It saves time, money and effort. But taking a creative approach can reinvigorate a piece of work, add a new dimension, and spark a light on a new way of working.

One thing we’re sometimes asked is ‘how can I be more creative?’ or ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ We can provide some hints and tips but there’s no one answer. You have to give yourself permission to be creative. You have to find the time to be creative. And you have to believe you have the ability to be creative. Given time and an open mind, ideas will flow. And where there are enough ideas, there will be a good idea.

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? None of these approaches are likely to produce the campaign you need but they will help you gain different perspectives.


  • Play with an issue – and have fun. Here at Touch we like to have fun with our work. A brief came in yesterday for a falls awareness campaign and there’s now a doodle of a banana skin on the desk pad. That’s too throwaway for a serious campaign – the campaign needs not only to be fun but functional and suitable for the audience – however, it gives us a starting point. And who knows where that will take us to? At the last point that banana sketch had been safely disposed of in the bin and transformed into ‘Steady Eddie’ – the wise cartoon man who knows all about how to prevent slips and trips…


  • 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. We’d love to talk through your ideas. Something #EMAZING may well result.


This post was written by Jonathan Cross of Touch Design as part of their support for #commscampnorth. They are good people. Very good people. Seek them out at the event where they are looking to pitch a session on creative play. Or via @teamtouchdesign on Twitter.

All 143 past commscamp and commscampnorth sessions set out in a great big lovely list


There’s been a frankly staggering 143 sessions at the seven commscamp and commscampnorth events since they started.

Each one has lasted up to 45-minutes and has at times generated rather heated debate.

New ideas have been shaped.

Old ideas have been trashed.

If traditional events with slides are what someone thinks people want to hear of past achievements then the unconference is a chance to tackle what is next. There’s a space for both.

Since they started 800 attendees have come along, pitched a session, met new people, baked cakes and learned things.

But what would a list of all the sessions look like?

I thought it high time to look back at the sessions to see what they looked like. So here is that list.

What strikes me is that I’d love to have been to lots of the sessions on the list I never got chance to get to.

Who wouldn’t want to go to a session called: “How to avoid looking like a Nazi”?

I’ll bet the small team comms session was good but I think I caught the last 10 minutes.

Reading through makes me excited for the two events planned for 2018. If you are coming you can add to that.

How great is that?

A list of sessions

Here’s a snapshot of previous topics. The list has 2013 at the bottom and as time passes the most recent sessions are towards the top.

  • Income generation.
  • Dealing with viral social media posts.
  • How to live stream.
  • Comms and professionalism.
  • GDPR: WTF???
  • How to avoid looking like a nazi.
  • Media monitoring.
  • Creating a social calendar for staff.
  • Re-branding.
  • Non-profits seek public sector partners for love and comms.
  • Help and positive stories co-production, please.
  • Supporting non-comms to use social media.
  • Image banking
  • Data story telling.
  • Ideas for your next campaign.
  • Writing a design brief.
  • Applying games technology.
  • What have we learned about emergency comms this year?
  • Video and virtual reality.
  • Inclusive and accessible comms.
  • Team welfare.
  • Motive people to tell stories when change is all around them.
  • Place marketing.
  • Open data.
  • Facebook groups.
  • The press officer is dead long live the press officer.
  • How to make joint campaigns work
  • Therapy.
  • Blogging platforms and tips.
  • The skills and confidence to change sector.
  • Nudge.
  • How do we do our jobs ethically?
  • Middle manager comms.
  • We need to talk about transformation.
  • How to show colleagues how busy we are.
  • Elections group hug.
  • Photography top tips.
  • Employer engagement.
  • Agile and digital: what can we learn from it?
  • Tiny teams.
  • Social media in a crisis.
  • Customer segmentation: sharing best practice.
  • GCS: What it is and what it can do.
  • A get things off your chest session.
  • Social media resources and evaluation.
  • How to handle trolls.
  • Creating a culture of staff advocacy.
  • Infographics.
  • Digital collaboration.
  • Comms for budget consultation.
  • Evaluation and impact.
  • Legal and trolling.
  • Councils doing stupid things.
  • Kinder comms.
  • Social media and algorithms.
  • One person or small team support group.
  • Internal comms.
  • Change what you are facing at the moment.
  • Social media management.
  • Communicating across health and social care.
  • Engaging in a fractured landscape.
  • Reviewing internal comms.
  • Integrating social media.
  • Brexit and PR. Discuss.
  • Bullying.
  • Video comms.
  • Therapy.
  • Digital advertising.
  • Universities and other comms working together.
  • Comfortable communications.
  • How to manage comms in uncertain times.
  • Practical tips of prioritising.
  • Snapchat.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Saying ‘no’ to Twitter.
  • Comms and Pokemon Go.
  • What do you need to lead?
  • How are we doing?
  • Therapy.
  • Communicating with a single voice.
  • What are the big comms priorities?
  • ‘And another thing…’
  • How do we engage?
  • WhatsApp.
  • My intranet is worse than yours.
  • Video beyond YouTube.
  • Is Facebook dead?
  • Media law and comms.
  • DIY comms.
  • Innovative ways of listening to lesser heard services.
  • Failcamp. What failed and what I learned. Chatham House rule.
  • Instagram and the local community.
  • What would you do with £500,000 for a social media campaign?
  • Periscope? What is it for?
  • Influencing the top bosses.
  • Paid social media?
  • Comms planning.
  • Evaluation GCS performance framework.
  • 40,000 people to engage and no money to do it with.
  • Collaboration in crisis scenarios.
  • Online community management.
  • Legal advice.
  • To video or not video.
  • Environment Agency flooding comms tips.
  • Data visualisation.
  • How are we doing?
  • Nudge and behaviour change.
  • Should we be using new channels like Snapchat?
  • Doing the intranet with comms teams.
  • Making content work harder.
  • What digital skills do we need?
  • Content marketing?
  • Strategies for engaging.
  • Communicating with businesses.
  • Change Cambridge.
  • Online newsrooms.
  • How to transform internal comms.
  • Sharing creative campaigns.
  • Digital budgeting for policy.
  • Wikipedia.
  • CPD for comms.
  • Thunderclap and digital campaigns.
  • Working with the voluntary sector.
  • Geographical hashtags.
  • Working with the voluntary sector.
  • Any WordPress questions answered.
  • Networked culture change.
  • Twitter is pointless. Discuss.
  • Better strategic planning.
  • Are comms the blockers?
  • Social media listening and monitoring.
  • What can I do now my team has been slashed in half?
  • Managing comms risk.
  • Culture change.
  • Future comms.
  • Quick agile web user testing.
  • What we need isn’t a comms plan.
  • How to tame your dragon.
  • Lone comms people.
  • Change and your community.
  • Comms teams under stress.

Want to hear about commscamp and commscampnorth info and ticket releases? You can sign-up to the email list here.

Picture credit: Nigel Bishop.