Nine comms lessons from the #UnAwards masterclass

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Last year more than 400 public sector comms teams applied to win an award for their work supporting organisations to connect with their publics and achieve their objectives.

Only a handful would be successful and win an UnAward which are designed as a no-fluff, anti-corporate recognition scheme for the best work and to act as something of an antidote to the unusual glittering, mainstream ceremonies.

Some of the winners met in Birmingham to look through the anatomy of a successful communications team and share some of the campaigns and pieces of work that had been celebrated.

Credit to Comms2Point0 for an excellent day and here are some of the key themes that I took away from the session.

#1 collaboration
While it sounds obvious that the public sector should collaborate more, and people on the outside probably assume we already do, it can actually be very hard to achieve. Navigating competing objectives, organisational boundaries, egos and priorities can often hamper effective collaboration around comms and marketing. Collectively we need to get better at it because as budgets shrink further and organisations change, this will probably become the norm for all public sector comms people.

#2 The power of stories
In a multi-channel, ever changing landscape the power of emotive or individual stories shouldn’t be underestimated. Being able to tell a powerful, interesting or engaging central story seems to be at the heart of so many successful communications teams. Often the most powerful of these stories comes from our own frontline staff.

#3 Emotion
As we’ve seen in recent elections and referendums, emotion has been the driving force in public relations – maybe it’s always been that way and it’s just become more obvious in the digital age. It seems the way messages make us feel is the important factor in cutting through. Organisations who can make people relate with their stories are doing well.

#4 frontline comms
More than ever strong communications teams are at the heart of operational issues for areas like fire and police services. Connie from Greater Manchester police explained the important role of comms during the arena bombing. The first tweets were posted six minutes after the police were called during that terrible attack and the comms team were central in the overall police mission to preserve and protect life.

She also offered a fascinating window on how dealing with these horrific situations affect the real people working within an organisation or handling the frontline communications.

#5 Welfare
Reflecting on things like mutual aid and burn out has always been an issue but how is the 24 hour, always on culture of the internet feeding into this? As an industry and a community we seem to be pretty rubbish at wellbeing.

#6 Self doubt
It strike me that self doubt and imposter syndrome seems to affect the best comms people. Food for thought perhaps.

#7 Keep it simple, stupid
The very best ideas seem to be the simplest ones, but simplicity can be very difficult to do well. “Life is simple but we insist on making it complicated” as someone once said.

#8 Humour
Many of the speakers used really funny stories to engage the audience and I think there’s something important about keeping a sense of perspective and not taking yourself too seriously (even if you do very serious work).

#9 Real outcomes
Vanity metrics can look good and be part of the story but they are rarely important. Hard measures linked to organisational objectives and priorities are what really mark out successful communications work.

For full disclosure I was talking about our QE Angels campaign as one of the speakers but don’t let that put you off.

Image from Tyne & Wear archives

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