ICED JOY: 27 things I learned at commscampnorth in Bradford



I’m writing this in the cafe of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford the day after commscampnorth.

I have a cup of coffee on the desk in front of me and on the wall silent films are playing and I’m reflecting on the event the day before.

I have headphones on and Elbow has dropped into my Spotify.  Don’t tell me algorithms can’t read your mind.  It’s been 15-months since the last comms unconference and I’m so glad we’ve got back into the habit.

I’m a quarter of the organising team, a thirtieth of the volunteers and one hundred and fortieth of the attendees who made the event work.

Before the day slips through my fingers, I’m capturing a list of a few things I learned.

  1. Bradford is amazing. This sandstone city is built on hills, wool, friendliness and a lack of bullshit. It loved being Victorian, didn’t like the 1980s but is evolving and reviving and quietly likes it when visitors fall in love with it like a spritely old couple who grow prize-winning geraniums in their back garden.
  2. Kala Sangam is amazing. Our venue for commscampnorth was a sandstone General Post Office converted into a South Asian arts centre whose mission is to bring everyone together through the arts. A friendlier set of venue staff I’ve never met in 10 years of running events.
  3. An unconference is made by the attendees. The agenda is decided on the day by the attendees.
  4. It would be great to have a day of #RealLinkedIn. Ditch the show boating. Just for a day post what your day is really doing.
  5. Every unconference has an underlying theme. For this one there was a feeling of not just doing something because its new and shiny but concentrating on the purpose and the results.
  6. Facebook groups have become mainstream. The idea of connecting with a group seemed revolutionary a few years ago. It isn’t now.
  7. Wellbeing in comms has momentum but the danger is that it becomes lip service. I’m hearing  lots of organisations talking about how its okay not to be okay. If that’s the case, its okay not to expect your staff to answer emails after 6pm and to have enough staff to do the job. I’ve read some utter bollocks from organisations who behave in diametrically opposite ways to the one love way they claim to be.
  8. Imposter syndrome is a real issue in comms. When this was floated in the Facebook group before the event there was a real groundswell towards it. The session was also popular. There was a shout for Clare Josa’s book ‘Ditching Imposter Syndrome’ here.
  9. Change comms comes back to ‘what this means to me’ not how shiny it will look on someone senior’s LinkedIn profile. It’s so easy to forget that.
  10. Audience insight beats habit and gut feeling every time. This was a strong undertow this year.
  11. Better email marketing is achievable.  But it still remains a bit Cinderella. Probably because its less visible and shareable as a really eye-catching social campaign.
  12. Social media has been growing in an organisation for 10 years. While there’s an argument for giving people the tools and sharing the sweets there’s also an argument for taking a rain check to see what’s working and what’s not.
  13. David Banks knows his stuff on media law. You can find him here.
  14. Bright people are leaving the public sector to do more things in the public sector. The trend towards the gig economy that started a few years ago is increasing. I get that.
  15. A commscampnorth or commscamp without a cake stall would be like Christmas without Santa. And Kate Bentham is perfect at the job of running the stall. Well done to those who donated and to sponsor Nick Hill for donating £200. The man is great.
  16. It is always wonderful to see first timers at the event. My own aim is to give people the space and permission to think differently. Its important that job descriptions are left at the door. In the intros we accidentally forgot to include where people were from and I was quite struck how that made people people rather than organisations.
  17. But I do worry that we don’t open the door enough for first timers. We trialled a buddy system this year ahead of the event on Facebook. I don’t know if this worked but I’d like to see how we can make it easier for solo first time attendees.
  18. Trust the process. To make unconferences better, I always go back to a podcast between Dave Briggs and Lloyd Davis.
  19. Accessibility regulations are difficult to enforce. The government hasn’t set out penalties as GDPR did. So, people just shrug and ask for their pdf to be uploaded that can’t be read by blind people. The idea of building connections between organisations who are trying to do it well is a really good one.
  20. One danger prospective heads of comms need to remember is that they’ll be doing less comms.  This may be a good thing but it is a true thing.
  21. I love the idea that people can run something as part of the event. The lunchtime run – or runch – works for those who love the running and Albert’s walking tour of Bradford drew 60 people. Carolyne’s tap dancing was also a fab idea.
  22. If you are using creative commons images read the licence and abide by it. If they ask you to credit the photographer then do so. Or else you may get a bill.
  23. A good team. Albert Freeman, Bridget Aherne and Josephine Graham are good people to organise an event with.
  24. Working with good sponsors is good. Bravo MusterPointTouch Design, Granicus and CAN. I hang my hat on all of them.
  25. There was huge love in the room for Emma Rodgers who usually organises these things. I’m glad we raised more than £500 for MacMillan Cancer the cause she suggested.
  26. In the big question of the day, Who was is the best Bradford entertainer Kiki Dee or Tamsin Archer, it was Kiki Dee. Well done, Kiki.
  27. An unconference is a simple idea. You get the right people in the room and when it ends is the right time for it to end. They talk about how you can crack the problems we face TODAY.

If you’d like to be kept up to speed on future commscamp events you can sign-up for this email list here. I’ll blog again on hows to run an unconference and again once the ace Nigel Bishop finishes editing pics from the day.

Lovely stuff.

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