What I learned from ComsAcad 2014

I’m a postgraduate PR student at Manchester Metropolitan University and I was lucky enough to attend day one of the recent Public Sector Communications Academy 2014 in Manchester.

At a time when public sector communicators are challenged to do more with less and change is at every turn, it was a terrific opportunity to learn more about issues facing the industry.

Hardly a session went by without discussion of digital’s role in communications, illustrating its importance that is set to increase in the future. But what does that mean for communicators? Here are six things I learned:

  1. Senior leaders expect communicators to innovate. Mark Rogers, Chief Executive Birmingham City Council, President of Solace, said staying ahead of the trends and knowing how to communicate most effectively with people is essential.
  2. Social media is changing the expectation gap. Simon Clifford, Head of Communications, Somerset County Council, spoke of how the local community used social media to find their own solutions in the early stages of recent floods. At times of crisis, the challenges for often-cumbersome local authorities are to move quickly, increase visibility and build relationships with communities from the outset.
  3. There’s no substitute for good media relations in a crisis. Chief Executive of Peterborough City Council, Gillian Beasley’s account of how she and her comms team handled the child sexual exploitation trial earlier this year was testament to that. Building relationships with print and broadcast media early, preparing well and using strong communicators and other voices to tell compelling stories pays dividends during crises and beyond.
  4. The networked society is changing democracy. Catherine Howe, Chief Executive Public-i, described how the barriers between elected representatives and the public are being stripped away thanks to online networks. This presents new challenges for local government communicators looking ahead
  5. The future is about user experience. Kate Reynolds, Head of Communications and Engagement Sanctuary Group, set out five digital trends for improving online engagement: listening more, personalization, smarter data collection, improving accessibility, and improved digital inclusion.
  6. It’s not about digital versus traditional communication. Rather, as Dan Slee, Comms2point0 said, it’s just about good communications.

I’m currently working on some research about the role of digital media in crisis communications within local government, police and fire services, so the Comms Academy gave me plenty of food for thought. Thanks for having me!


Posted on 18th June 2014