November member newsletter

Dear member,

As we’re locked down for a second time, everything may feel a little bleak. When I think about the last lockdown, I reflect on how much my IABC membership got me through those months. The Virtual Networking Drinks were both light-hearted and great for sharing insights during that crazy time. Plus knowing that I had access to a global network of peers in the industry made me feel connected and part of a team (even though I was self-employed and working from home for the first time in my career.) I wholeheartedly urge you to stay connected and make the most of your membership in the coming weeks – we have lots of great things to help you keep progressing, even when everything feels like it’s standing still here in the UK & Ireland.
25 November Future Fit 2020: How Communicators Can Seize Tomorrow
Finally it’s here! We had to postpone our annual Future Fit event back in June, but we’ve taken the decision to deliver this flagship event from IABC UK&I, virtually, on 25 November. So far, our line up of speakers includes Futurist Matt O’Neill and DE&I expert Katrina Marshall. Our speakers will share their unique insights on future trends in PR, DE&I, Crisis Comms, Neurocomms, where AR is taking the communicator and much more. An event designed to help communicators seize tomorrow and stay Future Fit. Book your free member place here. 
12 November Virtual Networking Drinks
As I mentioned above, the IABC UK&I Virtual Networking events kept me pepped-up during the last lockdown. So grab a glass of something you love and log in on 12 November at 6pm, to chat with your peers and hear from an inspirational speaker. It’s friendly and fun, I promise! Register here.
Inclusion and Gender Webinar
Last week, IABC EMENA Region hosted the first in a series of events on Inclusion. I found the discussion fascinating as the panelists shared from their own experiences so candidly and they explored some really inetersting angles. As Gloria Walker described in her blog“The webinar focused on inclusion from a gender perspective, particularly how women are affected in their careers generally and in the communication field specifically.” Panel members were Ann-Marie Blake from London, Alex Malouf from the UAE, and Dr. Ana Adi from Berlin. Watch the recording of the webinarhere.
Who’s Listening?
You may be familiar with the great work on Listening for Communicators by IABC UK&I Board members Mike Pounsford and Howard Krais, alongside Kevin Ruck. They aim to take their exploration even deeper with this next tranche of research, beginning with a survey for IABC members to complete:
Please do complete this if you can, it’s designed to discover how organisations listen to their employees and should take around 10 minutes to complete. To catch up with the research so far you can find the two Listening Reports that this team have already produced, here:
Does Your Work Reach the Gold Quill Standard?
Another gentle reminder that the Gold Quill Awards are open for entries now, with the deadline being 20 January 2021, more detailshere.
State of the Sector Report
Lastly, are you familiar with the annual Gatehouse State of the Sector report? It provides extremely useful insights into trends in our industry, which will be shared with us from February next year. In the meantime, they need your help in providing the data. Their survey takes around 15 minutes to complete, but if you could that would be great, as we all get to benefit from the results! Find it here:
Looking forward to staying connected with you, please do get in touch with your comments and ideas!
Best wishes
Sarah Harrison
President IABC UK&I

The last leg of our listening journey: the global survey

I remember kicking this whole thing off. IABC’s Euro Comm event in Copenhagen in the spring of 2018 (remember when we could travel?). It was the Open Space session and I wanted to talk about listening. I wanted to talk about whether communicators were listening to their audiences or were we increasingly just getting stuck behind our desks, ticking off items on our ‘to do’ lists?  I had no idea at that point what I was getting into. 

Surprisingly perhaps others were interested in the topic too. Back in London, together with Mike Pounsford, my predecessor as IABC UK President, and Dr Kevin Ruck from the PR Academy, we decided to collaborate on some work around listening and see where it would take us. 

What we found has been fascinating. We’ve explored topics such as psychological safety and social justice, introduced a listening spectrum and reinforced beyond doubt the strong correlation between listening and employee engagement, trust and well being; and indeed better business performance. 

Two things in particular have stood out for me. Firstly that this work has resonated with so many people. Communicators from across the world have attended our events, contributed to our research and generally taken an interest in the work. I hope it has helped them. Secondly I have had the chance to work with two real pros. Mike and Kevin have frequently taken on much of the ‘heavy lifting’ without complaining and certainly helped me manage through the challenges of the day job and I thank them deeply for that. 

It’s been quite a journey and investigating the topic of listening has opened up a world of interesting opportunities. Two reports (download the first one here and the second one here) and a number of events later (including this year’s virtual IABC World Conference), we’ve arrived at possibly the final phase of this journey. Not wanting to finish quietly we are working with the IABC Foundation to undertake a global listening survey, with the kind support of the CIPR Inside and IoIC organisations in the UK.

With this survey we are looking to better understand attitudes towards listening, to compare practice across different regions and to deepen our understanding of how listening supports better outcomes.

So please help us. Please take this survey – it should only take 10 minutes and you can find it here. And if you and leave your email address then we’ll send you a copy of the following report.  

Are we really approaching the end of this work? Will this be the final piece of the listening project? Maybe – I’m sure we’ll listen to what you tell us. 


Howard Krais

IABC UK&I Past President

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.