Ben Campbell on negative feedback and the death of conferences

Ben Campbell on negative feedback and the death of conferences
Ben Campbell chats with us all about the importance of negative feedback for getting outside of your echo chamber and predicts the death of large conferences on the horizon.

Ben Campbell, Communications Manager at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, chats with us all about the importance of negative feedback for getting outside of your echo chamber and predicts the death of large conferences on the horizon. 


Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

I'm ashamed to say that communications hasn't always been my passion, but working in organisations that make a difference to people around them has always been my passion. Working in communications was my route into the third sector, and having a varied skill set has been crucial for me.


What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular? 

I think one of the best personal attributes is to be eager and enthusiastic about learning new things, especially if you're in a small organisation where you will likely be tasked with things outside your comfort zone. Embrace that and learn by doing, even if it means you might get it wrong.


What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out? 

Running campaigns on a shoestring budget has been very challenging, and especially when we have exclusively moved to digital campaigning over the last 18 months. I think there's only so far you can get with 'pro bono' work, and eventually, you have to bite the bullet and pay the going rate for an agency to help with materials and even your website. A cheap website might mean you spend more time on the phone with your hosting provider than with a journalist or producer.


What one thing would make your working life easier?

Being able to do physical campaigns with attention-grabbing visuals at events would certainly make my life a lot easier - and fun! Creating stunts and photo opportunities is one of my favourite parts of comms, and while working from home has been beneficial, I miss events greatly.


How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation? 

Everyone in Transform is part of the comms teams, and they all see the value it adds to everything we do primarily due to how small a team we are. Over the years, it's become clear how communications can enhance and help fulfil the charity's mission by getting our message to the right people and seeing those people empowered by our work on drug policy.


What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications? 

Always look for inspiration in what other people are doing. I am constantly looking at what actions adverts ask you to do, and most importantly, whether it works. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try anything new - if you have a good idea, try it out! I highly recommend reading 'Steal Like An Artist' by Austin Kleon, which explores the idea of taking inspiration from other peoples' work.


At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

One of the worst measurements is probably the overall number of people reached - it makes you feel good, but doesn't actually show how many people you persuaded or inspired.

It ultimately depends on what goals you've set at the beginning of a project and stick to those for honest feedback. Qualitative measurements such as the number of new MPs signed up to a campaign is key for Transform. 

Negative feedback can also be quite beneficial, and a good indicator that you're reaching outside of your 'bubble'. During one of my first TV interviews on the BBC, I received plenty of positive feedback and negative feedback. But all of the responses repeated what I said during the interview, meaning I successfully got my message across. You can't expect everyone to agree with what you say, but you have to make sure they have heard it.


Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications? 

The death of big conferences. I hate to say it, as events are one of my favourite things in comms, but big corporate conferences will become a thing of the past in favour of smaller physical events with a much more targeted audience. Zoom has completely changed the way we do events and has enabled us to have international speakers without flying them halfway across the world. Digital events, or a hybrid approach, will replace big conferences - thankfully!