Changing the face of the communications sector

by Martha Salhotra

December 2, 2019 

On Friday 29 November the first ever BME PR Pros conference was held in London. To say it was a success is the understatement of the year and here at CIPR Inside we just had to get the inside knowledge on the key takeaways from the day. So a huge thank you to Martha Nahar who has captured the day beautifully in this insightful blog:

“Sometimes you have to create your own platform.” From the registration desk to the conference guide and presentations, these were the words that stood out at the first-ever BME PR Pros conference, which took place on Friday 29 November at the Amnesty International UK Human Rights Action Centre. Organised by BME PR Pros founder and PR Consultant Elizabeth Bananuka, the conference was themed around ‘Comms in a post-mainstream world’ and explored new audiences, new platforms and new communication techniques.

I can’t think of any other conference that has been so relevant and in tune with what’s happening around us right now. Not only was it the first time I’ve ever seen so many people from BAME backgrounds under one roof, but it was clearer than ever we all had one common goal: changing the face of the communications sector and earning our place at the table. Although the words ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ spring to mind, the conference was about so much more than celebrating difference in the communications sector.

Not only was I tasked with supporting social media engagement with the conference on the day (we trended on Twitter by the way), I was also taking far too many notes from the phenomenal breadth of speakers that gave keynotes. We were well and truly spoiled with what can only be described as a powerhouse of an agenda, with presentations from gal-dem magazine’s Liv Little on the growth and popularity of the publication, and a panel discussion on who female consumers are and what they want, featuring names including Tobi Oredein, founder of Black Ballad and Effie Kanyua, Director of PR and Communications at Hearst UK. The day ended with an eye-opening keynote from the BBC’s Samira Ahmed on reporting truth in a fake news world.

For me, the key takeaway was that the way brands communicate has evolved rapidly, and faster than we’ve been able to bat an eyelid. Traditional PR has gone out of the window and collaboration and newness is now king. All you need is an idea, as demonstrated by Liv Little’s presentation. She has grown gal-dem with a tone that is fresh, new and authentic and said that “community is the heart of everything we do.” A Guardian Weekend magazine takeover in August this year generated 1.6 million visits online and sold 7,000 more copies than the benchmark for that month. It was a poignant reminder to keep your communications fresh and to create content that either creates a new community or builds on an existing one – and according to Liv, a no-nonsense attitude has really helped them go far.

Mental health, workplace culture, masculinity and the ‘new man’, podcasts and crisis communications were also some of the subjects that were tackled throughout the day. And yes, that Prince Andrew interview did come up! One of my favourite breakout sessions came from podcast producer Leanne Allie. What I found insightful about this session was the idea that podcasting is not only one of the newer ways of communicating, but that it’s a channel that truly promotes freedom of expression in a way that is less controlled. I hadn’t thought about podcasts quite like that. Leanne made an interesting point about how podcasts can maximise the content you’re already putting out as it can encourage two-way engagement – you can get people listening to contribute their views and make them feel like they’re a part of your communications output. While podcast does feel slightly like newer territory and does require a large amount of work, it made me realise that there is a huge amount of value in audio, and that you can still make it visual using existing channels.

A conference highlight for me was hearing Pia Webley, who spoke about growing Channel 4’s social media presence from the ground up. Not every brand has as much content to work with as Channel 4, but Pia highlighted the importance of making what you put out relevant to your audience, and avoiding clickbait to really engage with what resonates with your target audience. One of the most interesting bits of social media Channel 4 are doing involve very interactive Instagram stories, such as creating murder mysteries that users can easily engage with, but also producing content that has an immediate hook, is punchy, makes people laugh and most importantly, which they will view and share with others. By doing all of these things, Channel 4 has achieved 71 million views on Instagram in 2019, and 8 billion views on Facebook.

The inaugural BME PR Pros conference gave a lot of food for thought and introduced a set of speakers that were bang on trend and know exactly how to communicate in what is a new era for PR. Thanks to Elizabeth for organising a phenomenal day!


Martha Salhotra is an Internal Communications Officer at Imperial College London. She has a background in PR and has previously worked for the NHS and Macmillan Cancer Support. This year she was a mentee on the BME PR Pros Mentoring Scheme. Outside of work, Martha loves travelling (she recently completed the Golden Triangle tour of India), social media, reading cheesy romance novels and trips to the theatre.