Comms Academy 2020: key takeaways

More than 600 communicators across the UK public sector attended the Public Service Communications Academy between 24 and 26 November 2020.

The wide array of Academy speakers and panellists highlighted how during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the communications profession across the public sector has been further elevated.

Over the 3 days, the Public Service Communications Academy offered more than 20 virtual discussion panels. It was organised by the Government Communication Service (GCS) and LGComms, featuring communication experts across the Civil Service, local government and the private sector, including Royal Mail and AMEC, the International association for the measurement and evaluation of communication.

This year’s Academy focused on 6 areas of professional practice, key for public sector communicators to be more effective:

  • unified
  • digital
  • direct
  • data-driven
  • skilled
  • diverse and inclusive

These were also the categories for the awards.

Attendees also used social media to engage throughout the event, with more than 300 individual tweets and LinkedIn posts shared during using under using #CommsAcad. 

GCS colleagues Kerry Sheehan, Fellow Chartered Institute of Public Relations (FCIPR), and Michal Ratynski share their thoughts on their 8 key takeaways from Comms Academy 2020.

Woman smiling with man smiling on the right hand side
On the left, Kerry Sheehan and on the right, Michal Ratynski

1. Safeguard your mental health

“Be aware of your mental health and that of your team/s. It can sometimes literally matter of life and death, so it is vital to talk about your wellbeing, especially when things are not right. Making time to think about something other than work and the pandemic is absolutely essential for your and your team’s mental health.”

Read Matt Dolman’s blog on why it’s key to talk about mental health.

2. Accuracy and reliability are crucial

“We need a data-first direct approach to communication to deliver vital, accurate and reliable information to combat misinformation, encourage safe behaviour and drive people to positive action.

Communicators should ensure data-driven direct communication is part of their communications tool kit and also upskill into data and artificial intelligence in their own roles as they advise and guide.

Artificial intelligence (AI) was used to support the national response to COVID-19. Data insights will help communicators to target the spread of particularly challenging disinformation and fake content online.”

Interested? Want to find out more? Read our introductory blog on data, automation and AI.

3. Extend your reach

“Comms plans should consider highly scalable digital communications which extend the reach, improve engagement and re-establish and enhance trust with the full range of diverse communities and partners public sector organisations serve.

Digital communications on social media can be very powerful when it comes to the breadth of our audiences. The total number of followers on the UK Government’s Twitter accounts have more followers than the BBC News Twitter accounts.”

Explore our Academy resources on digital communications.

4. Measurement and evaluation must improve

“Measurement and evaluation must further improve across public sector communication. It is not a nice to have, it is an integral part of communications and marketing and practitioners must measure better.

The new reality of communications departments and services means we are operating in the age of accountability and measurement and evaluation must be part of the licence to operate and prove communications impact.”

Read more about the GCS evaluation framework.

5. Diversity and inclusion is integral to our future 

“Diversity and inclusion is an integral part of everything we do. We need to continue talking about diversity and inclusion at work to make real change. However, increasing representation is not necessarily the main answer as diversity is not just what we see visually. It’s also about having different experiences and valuing the contribution those differences will provide and to ensure we are representative of the people we serve.”

Read Poli Stuart-Lacey’s blog on what diversity and inclusion means in practice.

6. Accessibility matters

“Accessibility must be incorporated across all public service communications. We must comply with the accessibility regulations so public sector websites are accessible to all users, especially to those with disabilities.

You should also ensure that you publish accessible social media content. Accessible content is not just a matter of fairness. You’ll be able to reach your audiences better, providing impactful communications for all and achieving outcomes.”

Watch our webinar on digital accessibility for government communication.

7. Internal communications insight motivates

“Internal communication has been a discipline which has elevated its place in the communications profession during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It’s really about making a lasting impact, not about ‘sending stuff out’.

The best internal communicators not only use sound judgement, intuition and humour but also are courageous, tenacious and resilient against adversities. These traits will really motivate and enhance your workforce for improved outcomes.”

Find out more about our resources on internal communications.

8. Leadership requires empathy

“Communication leadership has come to the fore alongside active listening of colleagues and stakeholders.

Empathetic leadership, while also being a transformational leader of high performing impactful teams, is a must. Building and maintaining trust within teams and your organisation, having each other’s backs and looking out for each other,  is also imperative and part of an authentic leader’s licence to operate.”

Read more about leadership in the GCS Academy.

In case you missed it, read our blog on Comms Academy, written by Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communications.

    Image credits:
  • Kerry Sheehan (1)
  • Michal Ratynski (2)