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.

Clare Salmon – March 2016
Key learning: Manage expectations through reducing budgets

After a successful first Unmentoring session I was matched with Clare Salmon, Corporate Strategy, Policy and Intelligence Manager from Cornwall Council.

Clare and I were able to draw similarities from our working lives around how we translate often complex and nuanced things in meaningful ways for our publics. I’m sure this is something most communications professionals on some level have to handle – but it was so lovely to hear from Clare this was the case – we are all in the same boat!

We also spoke about how we handle expectations placed on our respective departments and I think bloggers Comms2point0 phrased it nicely in their recent post – “You can’t do more with less. You need to be realistic with the size of the boat you’ve got.

Lucy Knight – April 2016
Key learning: Be empathetic of those who hold back from adopting new technology

My conversation with Lucy Knight, Policy/Strategy Officer at Devon County Council focused on empowering and connecting people through digital.

As Lucy is well versed in the latest technology, I asked her about how she has successfully managed to get people to adopt new systems and ways of working. I took away a good lesson that while some people are ready and willing to adopt, other people may hold it back, but not for reasons you might think. Perhaps it doesn’t fit with their life or work flow – and moreover some people may not want to do digital. We need to have empathy for what it is like for them and offer encouragement on a different level.

I also took away a super idea of a rumour board which I’ve begun thinking how it could be used in my organisation – where people use an open forum to ask questions about anything in the workplace they have heard to get the right information following hearing a rumour. How awesome is that?!

Stewart John – May 2016
Key learning: It’s not what you do, it’s how you’re doing it

John Stewart is a new Communications and Engagement Manager at the DVLA in Wales and I enjoyed our conversation as I felt we were both at similar points in our organisations -relatively new with a passion to make a difference.

I loved John’s approach around getting more things done by focusing on the positives. We spoke a great deal around perception – it’s not what you do, it’s how you’re doing it – and this is something that I personally pride myself on. You choose your attitude, and whilst you often can’t change the circumstances, you can change how you react to them.

I also thought John’s approach to making sure there is an evidence base for change was great. We need to get our communications internal clients to gather the evidence to justify why they need to communicate rather than it just being opinion based.

You can sign up for Unmentoring here.

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 amazing gems the other person has hidden.

Watch it for yourself and try out her 10 tips – they’re definitely something to try and live by.

TED description: When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don’t converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. “Go out, talk to people, listen to people,” she says. “And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”

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):

  • Rose of Sarajevo – Ayse Kulin
  • Before I go to Sleep – S J Watson
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce
  • The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom – Dalai Lama XIV
  • Mr Mercedes – Stephen King
  • The Bees – Laline Paul
  • The Color Purple – Alice Walker
  • Katherine – Anya Seton
  • Secrets of the Sea House – Elisabeth Gifford
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  • A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
  • A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
  • Bricking It – Nick Spalding
  • Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
  • The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell
  • Thoughts on Life and Advertising – Hugh Salmon

I’m currently reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, which I’m devouring at great speed.

What else should I read to help to 52? I’d be interested in hearing your book recommendations, so drop me a comment

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.

CIPR Diploma CRT Assignment 1

After working non stop over the Easter holidays, I have received my mark back from the 2012 March CIPR Diploma Critical Reasoning Test and am so pleased to have gained a Distinction! One question I was given a merit and the other a distinction, so I’ve decided to post my answer to this one.

Question 4: Argue whether or not the advent of social media can assist public relations to act as a force for good in modern society.

Feedback: There is an excellent critical analysis of the different definitions of social media, drawing on a range of sources to provide contrasting perspectives. The inclusion of the ‘conversation prism’ model  and subsequent discussion is also very good. This answer demonstrates an outstanding grasp of the relevant PR theories and these are discussed clearly in relation to social media. For example, the critical analysis of Shannon and Weaver’s linear communications model and Grunig’s Excellence Theory is of a very high standard. There is an excellent analysis of how social media has altered PR’s control of messages and there is a high level of critical analysis of the need for ethics and transparent conduct in online conversations.

Areas to improve: Although this answer is arguing the case for how social media can assist PR to act as a force for good it would be useful to reflect more on the challenges social media presents PR practitioners, including an analysis of how practitioners might overcome these. 

The landscape in which public relations operates has changed radically over recent years. PR practitioners have actively tried to embrace the ever advancing technology which has created endless new communication opportunities to build relationships with audiences on an unprecedented scale (Kaplan and Haenlein: 2010). Many academics are in agreement that the face of public relations (PR) will never be the same, having become more open and collaborative, which has largely been driven by changes to the way that people access their information and the increasing amount of people with access to the Internet across the world. As of 31 December 2011, it is estimated that there are 2,267,233,742 users of the Internet all over the globe (Internet World Stats, 2012) resulting in public relations practitioners now having to think not only strategically, but globally about an organisations communication messages (Grunig, 2009). The fast pace of communication on social media has helped shape a culture of 24/7 news provided by not only journalists, but ‘citizen journalists’ who use the advancements in technology to record and share breaking news with the rest of the world. This is a world where governments have been brought down by their publics, aided by the strength of communication in social media.
In essence, the focus of communication has shifted to having conversations directly with the consumer and building trust through relationships as a result of the discourse between an organisation and these individuals. Simon Clift, ex-CMO of Unilever highlights this progression explaining that “brands are now becoming conversation factors where academics, celebrities, experts and key opinion formers discuss functional, emotional, and more interestingly, social concerns” (Ad Age, 2009).
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Starting the CIPR Diploma

So it begins. Ten months of studying, writing assignments and scouring endless sources of information to gain the CIPR Diploma. It will be worth it in the end, knowing the theory behind what I do day-to-day will certainly make me feel more confiden in my PR role.

It was with a mixture of excitement and nerves that I entered Fitzwilliam House, thankfully I was put at complete ease by the great PR Academy staff.

I was really pleased to see the emphasis placed on critical thinking, which is something that has been instilled in me since University.

An interesting journey it will be and hopefully a successful one!

7 Common Marketing Mistakes Made by Schools

During my time spent as a PRO in the education sector, I’ve learnt a few things and I want to share my top seven marketing mistakes that schools make.

7. Lack of a Marketing Strategy

Some education providers engage in Marketing and PR at key times during the year e.g. between May and October in the run up to an open evening. This is great as your efforts coincide with peak times that students are looking to apply to colleges. However many schools do not integrate this into a series of meaningful Marketing activities over the course of the year resulting in an adhoc and often ineffective approach to recruiting students.

Solution: Put some thought into producing a Marketing and PR Plan. It can even be as small as one side of A4. The key is to focus your efforts and take some time to define your overall goal. You can then consider the message you want to be heard and the different Marketing avenues you can use to make sure that it reaches your audience.

6. Not embracing Social Media Continue reading