10 things I learnt at my first CIPR East Anglia conference

by Amy Maxwell

Last week I attended the Best Practice Conference delivered by CIPR East Anglia. It was the first conference I’d gone to since becoming a CIPR member, so I was very intrigued to see what was in store. The impressive programme didn’t disappoint. I emerged from the day feeling incredibly motivated and fortunate to be part of such a fascinating and relevant line of work. With so many ideas and memorable pointers buzzing around my head, I have compiled my major learning points here to refer back to.
  1. We have a lot in common
The conference was an eclectic mix of content creators and strategy makers from all over the comms spectrum. I met freelancers, consultants, and agency workers – as well as fellow communicators from the public sector. Within that was a real variety of perspectives and experiences to share. And yet, despite this, we all had so much in common. Shared passions, priorities, and – as demonstrated by ‘comms face palm bingo’ – shared frustrations! There is something so reassuring about hearing your peers’ facing similar challenges and asking questions that were on the tip of your tongue too.
  1. Promoting the strategic value of PR – it’s our job!
Why belong to a body like CIPR, commit to continued personal development and seek professional qualifications? Because we know important great communication is to a business and don’t want it to be in the wrong hands, explained Emma Leech – CIPR President-Elect. What better way to demonstrate the value of our discipline than by formalising it with some sort of accreditation.  The conference was sponsored by Cambridge Marketing College, and it was really beneficial to talk to people in the know about the range of flexible options available. I even got to meet the chap who tutors for long distance learning – so watch this space!
  1. The importance of being agile
Most of us have heard of ‘agile working’. To be honest, I thought it was a bit of gimmick designed to glamorise IT teams! I was delighted to be educated on how wrong I was. Rachel Picken illustrated how agile principles can be applied to our roles in PR – as well as in our daily lives. I particularly liked the sound of:
  • daily stand up meetings instead of monthly meetings that can go on for hours
  • the use of kanban boards to visually and efficiently manage our bulging to-do lists
  • working closely with the client at each stage throughout a project, rather than at the start and end.
  1. Brand building is a fine art
Most of us aren’t blessed with the marketing budget associated with a global mobile phone company, so it was quite a treat to have an insight into the possibilities you can explore. It’s not just about money though, Fiona Hughes’s overview of H+K’sjourney from brief to campaign demonstrated the importance of originality, attention to detail and collaboration required to make a success of such an ambitious mission. Linking a tech company with cultural brands such as Vogue and Saatchi got me thinking about the ways I can generate some less obvious collaborations in my own work.
  1. Networking doesn’t have to be awkward
I like chatting. I like meeting new people. I like refreshments. But combine the three and call it ‘networking’ and my natural instinct is to run a mile. Something about networking at this conference felt natural and easy. Maybe it was the format – the beauty of a half-day conference means time is the off the essence. There were no long, awkward gaps between the interactive sessions. Perhaps it was the quality of speakers – each sparking ideas and conversation points. Possibly it was because comms people tend to be lovely – and we love to talk! And, as always, the conversations continue on social media and buzz generated on the day resonates still. This positive experience has definitely given me more confidence to attend the next CIPR East Anglia Connect event in my area.
  1. Giving back is an opportunity for us all
It was great to hear from Rebecca White of Your Own Place, this year’s charity chosen by GiveBack to receive PR support on a pro-bono basis. Your Own Place is a unique local charity, supporting young homeless people to obtain tenancies and live independently. The support they provide is real and long term but their resources are tight. I’m looking forward to meeting with them and other CIPR EA members to help them explore more ways to get their message out there.
  1. It’s social media, not corporate media
It’s can be easy to tie yourself up in knots when crafting a response to a negative social media post, and equally tricky to pitch your tone even when sharing positive news. Hel Reynolds’s liberating advice is to be bold and brave, and to free ourselves from those corporate chains. She also reminded us of the importance of earning trust with your social media content, a consideration I intend to build into my next campaign or response.
  1. Rules of engagement in the age of the influencer
The enigma of influencers…. I’ve had limited professional dealings with social media’s pet marketing tool, despite my hometown producing the likes of Tanya Burr, Pixie Woo and Carly Rowena in recent years. Scott Guthrie generated a fascinating discussion about the merits of commissioning influencers with different levels of influence. Micro-bloggers tend to have a more loyal following than the big hitters, so are likely to have a greater impact on their audience. They’re probably less expensive too! Scott was also keen to advocate investing in long term relationships with influencers and seek genuine buy-in from them – authenticity is priceless!
  1. Don’t forget to innovate
Technology, changes to the media landscape and the power of social media; all part of the fast paced landscape we work in. PR people should be at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship, according to PR powerhouse Ronke Lawal. Ronke pointed to recent examples of entrepreneurial communication by the likes of Starbucks and Wetherspoons and looking at ways we can learn from their high profile moments.  To sum up; let’s not rest on our laurels and make sure we’re taking notes from the constant supply of case studies around us.
  1. Spoilt for choice – the FOMO is real
I was pleasantly surprised to be offered an impossible choice of breakout sessions, and equally curious to know what I missed in the topics I didn’t select. I’ll be following up on these topics via social media to see what I missed! On this occasion I am extremely satisfied with the choices I made, but with so much content on offer it is important to make sure you consider where you’ll think you’ll get most value. For now, I have to live with the regret of missing sessions from:

Amy Maxwell is a communications officer working in local government, and secretary for CIPR East Anglia.   @mrsamymaxwell www.amymaxwell.co.uk