Posted by: alexswallow | March 14, 2014

An amazing conference about Digital and the Charity Sector

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Recently I was invited to attend a Charity Comms Conference called ‘PR in the Digital Age’. It was one of the best conferences I have ever been to and I came away totally inspired, so I wanted to tell you about it.

A Storify of the event can be found here,  and the slideshows are here– well worth looking at.

After arriving and being irrationally excited that the self-service coffee machines had flavouring shots next to them (this stuff means a lot to me- I once spent another conference practically camped beside a Nespresso machine), the day kicked off with a speech from Vicky Browning, Charity Comms Director (and fellow Top 30 Social Chief Exec). I find Vicky really inspiring and her enthusiasm for her work and her belief in the importance of good comms for charities is plain to see.

Adam Stones then spoke about ‘Media in the Digital Age’. He told us about how newsrooms are changing and what we have to think about to get our stories out there. He also emphasized though, that sometimes, that old-fashioned method of communication- the phone- works best and that building relationships with journalists remains critical. I found it really useful to hear from someone who has such ‘inside information’ in this area.

Next up was Nic Seton from Greenpeace. He led on the Digital side for the most-talked about single-charity event I can think of: #iceclimb- the climb up the Shard. It was fascinating to hear how the day developed for him and his team, especially as he shared some of the difficulties they encountered as well as their obvious successes. It really struck me how much effort had gone into the event- all incredibly worthwhile but clearly a lot of planning and hard work was involved. The media reach was astounding- they trended globally on Twitter multiple times,  and it resulted in 75,000 sign ups.

Rounding off the first session was Deborah Alsina, Chief Exec of Bowel Cancer UK, and another top 30 Social CEO. Deborah talked about her experience of working out how best to behave online as a Chief Exec. I loved her beneficiary- focused approach on Twitter, a good lesson for us all. By speaking about the things that she had found hard as well as the successes she has had online, Deborah really helped us to understand the problems that a  leader grapples with in the new digital space and how to overcome them.

After a break and the chance for me to try out all the possible flavour combinations for the lovely coffee, we went into our first seminar sessions. Mine was with Esther Freeman and she was phenomenal. As a novice who hasn’t even been blogging properly for a year, it made a real difference to me to be able to learn from an expert. Esther spoke about the difference between bloggers and journalists and how to engage with bloggers and build your own communities. I managed to get in two questions from the audience- and I could have asked her about twenty more.

Unfortunately I then had to leave due to a evening commitment in Portsmouth (I’m going to name-drop here, it was with the Second Sea Lord of the Navy and I promise I’ll blog about it). But catching up with the tweets later it was clear just how well the whole day had gone, and how much the participants had got out of it.

I left the conference feeling so inspired. It wasn’t just that the speakers were so good- and they were amazing- but that my fellow participants were clearly really passionate about these topics too. As I am at a small charity, I don’t often have the chance to specialize in any one area as I am juggling so many things at once. But anyone who knows me will know how passionate I am about digital communication and how I think it is something that all charitable organisations should think about, even the absolute tiniest.

I’d also just like to make sure that I mention the Charity Comms Sole Communicators Group, run by my Trustee and Digital Comms specialist, Kirsty Marrins. The Group is for lone comms professionals in the charity sector. I wish I had been able to go when I was the lone comms person (among other roles) at a small charity a few years ago. It’s really worth checking out.


  1. Fantastic article Alex and thanks so much for mentioning the Sole Comms group

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