15 things I’ve learnt so far from LG Comms Future Leader Programme

I am on the 2017 LG Comms Future Leader Programme and I’m very glad I took the time to fill in the application form. I followed the journey of the previous cohort and knew I’d get a lot from the scheme. I didn’t quite realise how much value I would wring from this opportunity already.
To kick the programme off, there were Best Practice days in London last month. These were two of the most valuable days of CPD I have done in the last five years. We heard from some awesome people in our industry, and we also had the space to consider what sort of leaders we want to become. It left me with a lot to take on board.

We spent day one at London Councils with Heads and Directors of Comms, experts in leadership, and social media, and finance colleagues too.

Day two consisted of spending the day in one of the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms learning about the incredible Government Communications Service (GCS) led by Executive Director for Government Communications Alex Aiken.

I’m grateful to LG Comms, the Local Government Association, GCS and all the speakers who took time to see us in September, as well as my line manager Emily for her support.

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PR Week: So, you want my job?


Earlier this year I took part in PR Week’s ‘So, you want my job?” feature, to give an insider look at my role within the fire and rescue service.

The original article was published on PR Week.


Sarah Roberts


Comms Manager, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service

Starting salary/salary band for the job: 

£35k upwards

What qualifications do you need? 
A degree or relevant equivalent experience. A professional qualification does help and shows commitment to continuous learning – I completed the CIPR Diploma and this was a fantastic foundation to build upon and my next step is to become Chartered.
What level of experience do you need? 

A strong understanding of what makes people tick and how internal communications can drive employee engagement is a must, particularly through periods of massive change. And in our world, the pace of public sector reform is not slowing.

Is previous experience in a public sector comms role necessary/useful? 

While I don’t think it’s necessary, I do think an appreciation of the political dimension and how this affects decision-making is helpful. New perspectives from people outside the public sector are useful to challenge our thinking.

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PR Week: Empower emergency service employees to take over social media for added authenticity

So far this year we’ve learnt that trust in government institutions, media, businesses and NGOs has plummeted to an all-time low.

Set against this backdrop, change is coming thick and fast in the public sector. Devolution, digital transformation and fire service reform are all on the horizon, and comms professionals, more than ever, need to think about how they are going to keep pace.

At a time when budgets are falling, leadership teams’ expectations of what comms departments need to deliver have never been higher.

And what’s clear is that it’s not just about doing more with less; it’s about being more impactful with what you’ve got.

It’s up to communicators to get beneath the skin of what the change means for the future delivery of public services and determine who it’s actually affecting. When it comes to the crunch, communicators must focus attention where it matters.

The Policing and Crime Bill will receive royal assent imminently, enabling Police and Crime Commissioners to take on the functions and duties of fire and rescue authorities.

While this is big news for fire, for the general public as long as blue light emergency services respond in their hour of the need – whether that’s a firefighter extinguishing a fire or a paramedic responding to a cardiac arrest – people aren’t concerned with changes in governance and scrutiny arrangements.

Internal communications, however, will be essential in the months to come, for both police and fire.

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2016 Book Challenge in the bag!

So 2016 is up and I’ve managed to complete the 52 week book challenge. Overall I’ve enjoyed most of the books I have read this year – I discovered Bernard Cromwell – who is a compelling historical fiction writer and I have been utterly moved by the words of Alice Walker in the Color Purple. I finally got round to reading Harper Lee’s classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and I’m glad I read it at this time in my life as I think I appreciated it more than I would have in my teenage years.

Here’s the 52 books I read this year:

  1. Rose of Sarajevo – Ayse Kulin
  2. Before I go to Sleep – S J Watson
  3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  4. The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom – Dalai Lama XIV
  5. Mr Mercedes – Stephen King
  6. The Bees – Laline Paul
  7. The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  8. Katherine – Anya Seton
  9. Secrets of the Sea House – Elisabeth Gifford
  10. 1984 – George Orwell Continue reading

Unmentoring: How four simple conversations have changed my year

unmentoringFor the last five months I’ve been taking part in LocalGovDigital’s Unmentoring scheme, which is an unconventional approach to mentoring using Spark Collaboration technology. Every month I’ve been randomly matched to another person taking part and so far I’ve had many valuable conversations with colleagues from across the UK.

I’d like to give a summary of some of the amazing people I have crossed paths with and my key learning from the discussions we’ve had. It’s reminded me that every person – no matter who they are, or where they are from – offers a unique perspective on their area of work.

Carl Haggerty – February 2016
Key learning: Think, Share, Do

My first match was with Carl Haggerty, Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council. As this was the first time I’d ever taken part in the scheme, I didn’t know what to expect, and what struck me most was Carl’s passion and conviction for using digital technology for the greater good.

Something we both found common ground around was that during periods of massive transformation it’s important to create systems and a culture for engagement to prevail and not be reliant on individuals.

A comment that Carl said that really resonated with me was: “It’s about the sweet spot between humanity, technology and democracy. Which is not being represented in the conversation?”

He also shared with me a campaign around 100 days of change which captured stories from across his organisation. It was incredibly successful as it appreciated change is complex, but can also be good.

Instead of over-thinking, just get stuck in and involved. Continue reading

The TED talk I’ve enjoyed most in 2016


I don’t know about you, but I love a TED talk. The chance to hear a new perspective and gain insight into areas I know about, and more often than not areas I don’t know about, excites me.

I was fascinated to know what TED stood for – technology, entertainment and design – and I’d listened to many talks and only recently learned this.

The talk I’ve enjoyed listening to the most in 2016 is Celeste Headlee’s: 10 ways to have a better conversation. It’s an obvious one for me that communication is important in my line of work and I’m always interested in having more impact and strengthening relationships around me.
Celeste explains that in a recent study of 10,000 people, it showed we are more than ever divided by polarised opinions, and less likely to listen to one another. She says somewhere we lost the way to balance speaking and listening, and this is partly down to technology – though it’s not entirely to blame.

The quote I loved the most from Celeste was “I listen to be amazed”, which means we have to truly listen to seek out what gems the other person has to offer.

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18 down, 34 to go …


I never tend to make New Years resolutions, as I’m generally rubbish at sticking to them. Why set yourself up to inevitably fail and kick yourself when you do?
However this year is different.

I had seen a number of 52 week challenges in 2015 and I loved how they broke down massive goals into bite sized chunks a week at a time. This to me sounded like people had hacked resolutions – how awesome is that!

So this year is my first ever I have set a New Years resolution, well the first ever stuck to for longer than a week, and my aim is to read 52 books, averaging one a week.

I use Goodreads as a way of tracking what I’ve read, and it beautifully lets you know how far off your yearly reading goal you are.

I’ve managed to read my way through 18 books – some older, some newer books – and it’s striking what I’ve found. I’ve been changed as a person by some of these books and namely by the ones written in the middle of the last century. A Town Like Alice was such a beautiful tale – it showed me that a good story is a good story no matter when it was told.

I came across The Color Purple as part of Emma Watson’s ‘Our Shared Shelf’ feminist book club and I was inspired that the human spirit can endure and overcome so much.

Here’s the entire list of what I’ve read so far in 2016 (as of 29 April):

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PR Conference – What Journalists want, FE Sector

I’m excited to be attending the upcoming conference ‘What Journalists want, FE Sector’, organised by The Last Word Events & Training on 29 November held at Kings College, London.

The wide variety of guest speakers will make this an insightful and interesting event, in particular I am looking forward to hearing Jeevan Vasagar, former Education Editor for the Guardian session speak about the day in the life of a journalist and also Tracey Playle, of Pickle Jar Communications cover the role of social media in the FE Sector.

If this conference had taken place two months prior to the November date, it would have proved to have been even more useful to aid the completion of my CIPR Diploma final project which was consequently on the role of Social Media on Further Education!

All the same, it will be great to gather amongst like-minded PR’s attending the event and share best practice ideas.