Our commitment to Inclusion & Diversity

In October 2020 we hosted an event to look to the future of the comms profession and hear from a panel of expert speakers. We also celebrated Black History Month and took a moment to recognise the importance of having diverse voices across our industry.

You can download the speakers’ key takeaways and tips on maintaining mental health during a crisis here:

IABC BHM 28.10.2020 event handout

Attendees at our Black History Month 2020 event.

As a starting point to demonstrate our commitment to Inclusion & Diversity, the IABC UK & Ireland 2020-2021 board has pledged to live by the following statements:

Diversity of panels

We commit to always have someone from a minority group on our panels, where we have more than one speaker.

Diversity of images

We will ensure the images we use reflect our members, the communications profession and the communities we all work in.

Diversity of thought

We will highlight a range of voices through our UK&I blog.

Diversity of cultures

We will mark dates of significance via our social channels or through events, e.g. International Women’s Day; Black History Month; International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT).

We will be reminding ourselves of these commitments on a regular basis, and would also ask all our members to hold us accountable.

Thank you.

Sarah Harrison

IABC UK&I President 2020 – 2021

Event: The Changing faces of Crisis Comms: A COVID-19 Retrospective

We’ve just launched a retrospective whitepaper that investigates the COVID-19 crisis from a comms perspective.

About this Event

IABC UK & Ireland and Halston Marketing have worked together to consult with some of the UK’s leading comms professionals at the heart of our countries core industries to understand how they implemented an effective strategy during this unprecedented event.

Download whitepaper here for free and get your questions for comms specialists ready!

The whitepaper includes 10 separate accounts from leading comms professionals working for multinational organisations like PPG, John Lewis Partnerships and AXA, partnered with a comparative look between the various contributions and how their strategies differed, helping us understand how reactive they were and when they experienced their peak in output.

On 22nd October 2020, our online event will give communicators the opportunity to pose questions to the whitepaper contributors on their implemented and successful strategies.

Sign up here to book a free space to the event and hear from our expert speakers.

Confirmed speakers:

Laura Desert, CityFibre

Howard Krais, Johnson Matthey

Ann-Marie Blake, Tier One bank

Rachel Tolhurst, Amey

Ken Armistead, PPG

You can download our latest whitepaper here for free ahead of our event.

Communicating in times of uncertainty with Neurocomms

By Suzanne Ellis, Head of Communications for Change and Transformation at Lansons

Today, we are living in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

  • We don’t know when we’ll see the Covid pandemic end
  • We don’t know if our jobs are safe, as we enter into recession
  • We don’t know what the result will be of ongoing Brexit negotiations.

Our brain doesn’t like anything we can’t predict or control, which is why we don’t like uncertainty.

This is where ‘neurocomms’ comes in.

Neurocomms is the application of neuroscience to communications strategies and activity.

By applying the study of the brain – neuroscience – to communications we can be more effective in reducing or managing uncertainty.

And this is important because uncertainty causes anxiety and stress, which in turn is affecting our mental health. Already, many observers are predicting a spike in mental illness whether that’s from uncertainty surrounding Covid, the financial crash or Brexit.

All we need to do is look at recent headlines:

  • “The recession is here. Get ready for the mental health pandemic”; Independent, 15th September
  • “UK experiences explosion of anxiety”, Guardian, 14th September
  • “Coronavirus will cause global ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems worse than that of financial crash”, Telegraph, 26th September

So, it’s timely that countries and organisations will be marking World Mental Health Day.

And it’s why I’ve chosen to write my blog about how applying Neurocomms can help us communicate more effectively.

‘Neurocomms’ was formed together with Dr Helena Boschi, a psychologist who specialises in neuroscience, and author of our recently published book – Why We Do What We Do.

You may now ask: How is Neurocomms different?

Traditional communication is typically based on logic and rational thought.

Neurocomms recognises that our brain works by a set of rules that are illogical and emotional. The communication is personal, sensitive and authentic. We reassure and we engage.

This is necessary in times of uncertainty when we are feeling a lack of control of our life and a loss of our familiar and ‘safe’ routines.

Below are three top Neurocomms tips to help you manage the impact of psychological uncertainty – whether it’s because of Covid, financial recession or Brexit.

#1 Nullify the threat response by listening & co-creation

Today’s threats are very real: Will we lose our jobs? Will we catch Covid? Will trade drop in Europe?

Dr Boschi talks about how a ‘threat doesn’t even need to be a real one; it’s how we view the threat that affects the way our brain responds to it.’

When we feel threatened our ‘fight-flight’ mechanisms kick in. And our capacity for rational thought reduces. This is heightened when we have no personal control of the threat.

The best thing businesses can do, is to listen. When people feel they’re being heard, they’re more likely to listen in return.

Already, many organisations have invested in surveys to listen to their employees about their feelings and experiences staying home which in turn, is helping to inform decisions they take.

After listening, the next best thing to do is to allow people to get involved in decisions with co-creation. Fundamentally, we want to have a say in the things that impact us.

If we’re not offered a ‘say’, our threat response is triggered. With some say in decisions or choices, we become more motivated and positive.

Dr Boschi goes so far as to say that ‘we only need to feel that we have a choice to ignite our motivation’.

So, in summary, listen to your people and give them opportunities to have a say about choices that impact them.

#2 Build trust with vulnerability & being specific

We know there’s going to be lots of job losses.

Dr Boschi talks about how “we do a great deal to avoid loss”. When we think we are at risk of loss – loss of our job, loss of the skill we’ve spent years mastering, loss of our reputation – we become anxious.

She continues to say: “when we’re anxious it can spread like a contagion across our social groups.” So, our anxious state can influence and exacerbate the states of those around us.

There’s two things we can do.

First, we can all build trust by sharing vulnerability: acknowledging fear, discomfort or not having all the answers. By doing so, we will be seen to be more relatable, honest, transparent and trustworthy.

We’ve already seen a great shift in leadership communications as a result of Covid – from a traditional polished and perfectionist front, to a much more informal and empathetic tone by leaders.

Secondly, we must be specific.

We’ve seen our UK government get criticised for lack of clarity and ‘contradictory’ advice.

In contrast, Italian and Swedish governments gave clear guidance. So, despite offering very different strategies, they communicated clearly to their citizens and said how they were expected to act.

Specific information is essential to give us certainty. It stops us worrying so much.

When a situation is ambiguous, we feel uncertain and anxious. And, as Dr Helena says, “we’ll do whatever we can do to fill in the missing parts with our own assumptions, opinions and interpretations”.

This is when rumours and myths happen.

In summary: we have a strong need to feel informed, involved and included. Tell things as they are and demonstrate a real understanding of people’s perspectives with empathy.

#3 Use language that creates a sense of certainty

“Language creates our reality and forms certainty in our world. We love being in control and some language will help us feel in control,” says Dr Boschi.

One of the most important words is ‘Because’….. since our brain just needs a reason – and often any reason will do.

We are more likely to accept an unfavourable or unpopular decision when we are given a reason. We just need to know ‘why’.

‘Together’ is important as we need to feel we belong and less alone. And we love personalisation….so use ‘you/your’ or people’s names.

Some words we should avoid or use with caution.

We’re hyper-sensitive to negative language – such as ‘don’t’ or ‘no’ – because they’re a threat to us. So, with Covid, the language of war to ‘fight’ the virus has increased anxiety rather than reduce it.

We’ve also seen the phrase ‘NEW NORMAL’ be actively used when we thought we were resuming our lives.

Dr Boschi points out that this phrase is in fact contradictory since the two words are conflicting.

“New plays to our novelty bias. Normal plays to our normality bias of what’s familiar to us. We can’t have both ‘new and normal”, says Dr Helena.

In summary, chose words carefully and think about the impact words have.

For World Mental Health Day, we’re offering a discount when you buy 4 copies, get the 5th for free.
Simply use the code: WWDICF45 when purchasing here.

The Changing Face of Crisis Comms: A COVID-19 Retrospective

We are proud to announce the launch of our Crisis Comms Whitepaper in association with Halston Marketing – ‘The Changing Face of Crisis Comms: a COVID-19 Retrospective’ 

From the first glimpses of COVID-19 in Wuhan, no-one could have possibly imagined the extent this pandemic would impact people around the globe. It is a prime example of how quickly a crisis can escalate and how it can dominate for months on end.  

The report is an in-depth research piece that reviews the COVID-19 crisis comms strategies from a first-hand perspective. It includes accounts from leading comms professionals from a wide variety of UK industries. It covers all the multifaceted comms that were required and the huge variety of target audiences they had to accommodate.   

COVID-19 is definitely one for the history books and it was integral to understand how different businesses dealt with the crisis and what can be learnt from the situation. The comms teams are the heart of any business and are the interlinking component between all of the employees.  

The research includes 10 separate accounts from comms professionals, some of which are IABC board members and others are from our wider network. The report will follow a timeline, with each contributor given a dedicated time period for their account where they review their strategy during this point in time, including the mediums used, the messaging and delving into the challenges they were facing at the time.  

Then the piece will follow with a comparison between each of the accounts, understanding the differences and similarities between their methods and highlight any correlations between the impact on their sectors or when they experienced their peak in terms of output. It also explores predictions from the professionals in terms of their comms strategies and possible stories.  

If you would be interested in reading the whitepaper, then it is available to download on the Halston Marketing website here. 

Let’s Talk About Communications Measurement

I’ve noticed a wide range of confidence with measurement among the communications community.

Most of us know it’s important, but not everyone is comfortable and for some it’s a downright scary thing that’s always giving you the evil eye from your ‘to do’ lists. I’d like to help. I have a media degree and post grad qualification; I’m definitely not a mathematician.

In my view, measurement is less scary if you start to count outcomes and think about what the numbers are telling you, before someone challenges you. You may not have the time or the calmness of mind under such pressure if it’s a bit of a pet hate (you may also not have any of the numbers you need).

I recently joined the UK and Ireland Board of IABC to help me connect with others interested in the topic and general corporate communications.  Later this year, I’ll be taking part in an IABC networking event where we can share views about measuring communications. I hope to see you there.

  1. Look beyond vanity statistics

My point here is that we need to do more than just count clicks. Know what business outcome you’re looking for and what you’ll be saying to who. Plan beyond the number of impressions and engagements you hope to achieve. After all, we’re in businesses to help them achieve their objectives, not just to encourage likes of our posts. We need to measure in context.

To illustrate my point rather painfully, here is an example (it’s unlikely to be to everyone’s taste). Take a quick look at this short video and think about what they were trying to achieve:


This video achieved a reach of over 1.6 million views and 21,000 likes – hurrah you might think. However, they achieved eight pledges and no donations. The purpose of the campaign was to achieve donations from managers of sports centres and teams.

  1. Quantify outcomes to prove Return on Investment

Let me ask you a question: do you have plenty of budget and resources to deliver for the business?

If you’re feeling a bit squeezed, don’t despair! You can use measurement to not only justify return on investment in communications but also to consider what you may improve or even switch off.

For example, a cascade pack that takes 20 days’ effort across a team each month to create, which is opened by 15% of managers and clicked on by 10% of them. Even if all those 1.5% of your total manager population then onward cascade the pack, it’s clearly not worth the effort.

Save that time to focus on things that do have impact, like great story telling.

  1. Look at the bigger picture

What do the numbers actually mean and how do they correlate to campaign business outcomes? Where I work now, we’re a B2B business, so our focus is on how we want to be positioned in our markets rather than direct advertising and eCommerce with the public.

In my previous company, we were B2C, so the focus was really different. We had large marketing and media functions, with adverts across all platforms and a high street presence.

Tip: know your business type and its strategy and build your content strategy around that.


  • Media monitoring – measure share of voice, message reach, sentiment and key spokespeople.
  • Website and PR monitoring – what do people read, engage with, turn up to?
  • Social media – people trust ‘real’ people and subject matter experts more than they trust your company or top directors (search for Edelman Trust Index to find out more).
  • Internal digital – measure audience, engagement. What content do people like? Can you do more (if it’s of value)?

For a longer version of this article with many more tips and examples, click here.

Thank you.

Rachel Tolhurst

Head of Corporate Communications at Amey Plc