It ain’t grim up north: My take on the CIPR Northern Conference 2018

When I first pursued a communications career, initially as a journalist, I was repeatedly frustrated by the assertion from many people that a move to London was inevitable. It was a similar story for my other half, who also works in the media. Perhaps the point’s immaterial these days as in today’s connected digital world, geography’s less relevant than it once was. And don’t get me wrong; I love London, and did live elsewhere in my early career, but we’re both proud to be successfully established in the vibrant North East region.

I had high hopes therefore for the strong line-up at the CIPR’s Northern Conference 2018, which was held in Newcastle and put together by the CIPR North East committee, assisted by their colleagues in the North West group, and in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Admittedly, I’m probably biased as I’ve spent much of the last few years as a volunteer serving on the North East committee myself, so I know how much work was put in. But the breadth and variety of speakers and workshops on offer drew an audience that had travelled from across the north and further afield.

I love a takeaway

As well as a decent choice of workshops on topics ranging from neuroscience to audience development and artificial intelligence (AI), the day offered a rare chance to speak with fellow professionals from outside the immediate local area and gain insight into the differences and similarities between us and the various markets in which we operate.

I was disappointed not to be able to make the national AGM the previous evening, held at the same venue. It featured ex-cabinet minister and former chair of the social mobility commission Alan Milburn, who warned that a lack of social cohesion is the greatest challenge currently facing UK society, but more on that another time.

The choice of daytime workshops was so strong that more than once I was in two minds which to attend, so it’s a nice touch to receive a USB flashdrive with most of the presentations from the day to take away.

Take care of your team

Before that though, the opening keynote was by Laurie Bell, Director Communities and Communications at Wiltshire Council, who’s still dealing daily with the Novichok poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury. She stressed that we should never underestimate our ability to influence at the highest level, and stated that working together, a group of professional communicators can achieve anything. What really came across was how much Laurie valued all her team members and their individual well-being, a lesson so many organisations still fail to get right, to the detriment of their resilience to crises, and their reputation.

“Do not ever think communications is not fundamental to an organisation operating effectively.” – Laurie Bell, Director Communities and Communications, Wiltshire Council, CIPR Northern Conference 2018

It was also great to hear from luminary Bob Leaf, whose anecdotes from a career spanning more than six decades surprised and amused in equal measure. But the standout presentation of the day was from Paul Irwin of Trylife, an interactive drama game for young people. Driven entirely by the desire to help young people make positive choices, Paul’s work literally has life-changing consequences for individuals on both sides of the pond.

It’s too easy to trivialise or dismiss PR and communications, but if the power of stories such as those told by Paul and by Laurie don’t convince you of its value, your reputation will inevitably match your efforts.