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Academy 2021: United in raising standards and showing comms’ caring side

It’s not often we have the chance to contemplate why we do what we do and appreciate the many incredibly talented colleagues we work alongside in public sector communications.

The 2021 annual Public Service Communications Academy encouraged delegates to take stock and look forward. In sessions covering subjects cross cutting our industry today, speakers shared ideas and showcased a wide range of incredibly powerful communications.

Organised by LGcomms and the Government Communications Service (GCS), Academy brings together industry leaders to share insight and knowledge.

The theme – Partnerships, Performance and People – proved relevant and inspiring

Partnerships

Collaboration is key. The benefits of maintaining partnerships at all levels were referenced in every session. New alliances formed through necessity during the Covid crisis should now stay together through choice for the good of all. This is true whether we’re working at local, regional, national and international level.

Performance

Simon Baugh, GCS Chief Executive, set the tone with his Opening Address when he shared his vision for raising standards and the importance of accredited qualifications in our profession.

As Simon so eloquently said: “This is a moment for our profession to lift our eyes to the horizon and determine who we want to be and how we want to be seen in the future.”

Sessions throughout Academy covered areas of development that will make us fit for the future, including setting strategic communications; effective use of insight, analysis and evaluation; developing practical skills; and building a successful communications team.

People

At the heart of all we do are the people making it happen. Improving diversity and inclusion rightly continues to be a priority. Our sector demographics do not always represent the communities we serve.

Mark Webb, Shift.ms Head of Communications, shared the communications lessons we can all learn from his personal journey. His insightful message was delivered with wit, honesty and few home truths.  

An open conversation about mental health and wellbeing focused on the importance of culture change to enable us to look after ourselves and our teams as we continue to face the physical and emotional challenges of working in a pandemic.

As always, Academy also offers the chance to reflect and appreciate the year gone by and get ready for the future.

We’ve seen incredible professionalism in our industry over the last year and much kindness too. This mix of professionalism and kindness has shone through in the Academy sessions we’ve been part of over the last two days.

This was highlighted at the annual Awards which showcase the best in communications from the year gone by. Being part of the judging panel for this year’s awards was a privilege and fun, so many quality campaigns!

Congratulations to everyone who took home a bronze, silver or gold award. The gold winners in each category were:

Skilled: GCS Professional Standards team for their GCS Curriculum

Diverse and Inclusive: South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue for Choose to Challenge

Unified: Health and Safety Executive for the Work Right on Covid in Yorkshire and Humber campaign

Digital: Hertfordshire Health Protection for their Save Our Summer campaign

Direct: Companies House for Finding Your Passion at Companies House

Data-Driven: Nottingham City Council and partners for the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Vaccine Hesitancy campaign

As reflected in the award topics, the pressures of the Covid response on public sector communications are still being felt strongly. And there is definitely a shared understanding of how very tired all communicators are right now, having been leading on pandemic communications flat out for more than 18 months. There’s no doubt we’ve just been through another tough year facing the challenges of working in an ongoing pandemic, supporting our communities, and helping to save lives.

Yet, while Covid continues to impact on all we do, we also heard how communications to tackle climate change and support Afghan refugees are driving positive change.

The enthusiasm, strategic approach, expertise and forward thinking demonstrated by all speakers is a huge credit to our industry. This was matched by the engagement from delegates, with comments, conversation and questions shared in the chat areas bringing the event to life.

We’d love to hear more about your experiences of Academy 2021. We’ve been looking out for posts on social media, please use #CommsAcad and we’ll be able to see them. Please also take a few minutes to fill out our Academy delegate survey to help us plan future conferences.

On a similar note, we’re also interested in gaining a deeper understanding social media management and needs in the public sector. If those issues are relevant to your role, please have a look at SoCrowd’s survey on this issue.

We’re extremely grateful to our sponsors for supporting Academy 2021, including presenting and delivering sessions. A big thank you to:  JCDecaux, Royal Mail MarketReach, SoCrowd, Texthelp and Liquid PR. Please check out the sponsors page to find out more about how these innovative organisations can make a difference for you.

On a final note, a huge thank you to everyone involved in working so hard to bring Academy 2021 to the virtual stage. There are too many to name, it’s a major team effort from many busy professionals giving time, skills and energy to make an excellent event like this happen.

And especially a huge thank you to all our delegates, to all of you who found time to book tickets, come along and take part in making this year’s Academy an inclusive and supportive learning environment.


Alix Macfarlane (@AlixMac) is the Chair of LGcomms and the Head of Communications & Engagement for West Sussex County Council.

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