In this special feature in our interview series, we were delighted to catch up with Darren Caveney - creator of comms2point0, owner of Creative Communicators, founder of the UnAwards and organiser of Comms Unplugged. Read on to learn more about Darren’s dynamic work in the comms arena.
So, Darren, you’re clearly passionate about the comms profession and comms professionals. Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications, and could you tell us more about comms2point0?
Well the real start point was joining the PR degree course at Leeds Business School back in 1993 with the great Anne Gregory. From that I went straight to work on the Euro 96 football tournament as an assistant venue manager with a PR remit, which was a fantastic experience to get right at the very start of my comms career. I very fortunate with both opportunities and they really set my career up.
Back in 2011 I felt there was a gap for where comms and PR professionals could share lessons, experiences, case studies and offer support, especially across the public sector. We’re often all doing very similar work and I felt there was an opportunity for us to be smarter so I created a free online resource for the community to make use of, be a part of and add to – comms2point0.co.uk, which will celebrates its 10th birthday this summer.
I also wanted to just generally fly a flag for communicators and recognise the amazing work they and we do each week, each month, and each year.
The site has over 1.5k blog posts, case studies and resources now and it an absolute treasure trove of comms and PR learning. Free resources – such as my essential comms planning guide, which has had over 5k downloads – make it a good place for comms pros to look to support their own work and development.
What I love most are the very personal posts which shine a light on important topics such as mental health, bullying and equality in our profession. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have contacted me to thank me for hosting these posts and for the positive impact they’ve had on them in realising that they are not alone in sometimes struggling with the impacts of these issues.
What sort of challenges do you face in your role supporting hundreds of organisations and in-house comms teams across the UK?
It’s a fascinating mix of communications consultancy, training, mentoring and support. That can be anything from supporting an organisation with their communications strategy and narrative, or helping a head of communications with a learning and development programme for their team.
Much of my work had previously been face-to-face training, consultancy and events so of course it’s been affected by Covid. Fortunately I have remained really busy, which I am very grateful for, and felt like I have really been able to support teams and individuals during a really difficult 12 months for them.
Now it’s about very tailored consultancy and training requests to support the individual and specific needs of organisations. For example, helping lockdown councils reframe their communications strategies so that it recognised the demands and impacts of Covid and gave them at least a chance of protecting their mental health and wellbeing in what, was becoming clear, was a long-term crisis. Other examples are creating new narratives with organisations, helping NHS Trusts and others with a social media reviews, and delivering training on everything from strategy surgeries to supercharging your social media.
Like everyone else I have adapted and found tools like Zoom a game-changer for how we work.
And they have enabled me to run online training and consultancy and launch new events like Creativity Lab which has 200 sign-ups.
I’m a big believer in safeguarding the mental health and wellbeing of teams since helping to create Comms Unplugged in 2017 and so I have been doing a lot of work with individuals and teams to work on this. I think this is the number one challenge for all comms teams (and wider organisations) now. It’s something I’m passionate about and the mental health first aider training I undertook last year has helped me understand the issues and support solutions much better.
How do you think the comms function is perceived internally within organisations?
Ooh what a great question. I believe the truth is it’s a really mixed bag. It ranges from strategic, business critical, leading the organisation’s narrative, values and direction. In others it can be seen as a more tactical and reactive team, which we in the industry know is wrong and can be damaging.
I have seen this mix throughout my career so clearly there is still more for us to do here. However, I do feel that Covid has really crystalised the importance of effective two-way communications in many organisations, and the brilliant work of public sector comms teams has created both recognition and appreciation.
At React & Share, we live for helping comms teams to measure what matters and demonstrate the value of their work. What do you think comms teams should be measuring in 2021?
Wow – another great question. I really like to see case studies used internally – to show where a campaign or communication has worked, and also where it hasn’t. It can do so much to create good practice and understanding internally, and of course metrics and insights are a really important part of this.
I enjoy investigating data and insights from social media, from email and from web usage. They can tell a real story and give an indication as to the success or otherwise of our work. But of course we always want to measure the outcomes and impacts of our work. That’s where the real value lies. What did people do as a result of our communications? This is measurement and evaluation gold and the bar we set.
What advice would you give to comms professionals seeking to justify their seat at the table?
I would hope that comms pros no longer have to justify this. But it does follow on partly from the previous question – demonstrating our worth with evidence, showing where our teams make a real impact and difference, and regular evaluation, review and reporting back monthly is so important. I believe that the foundation for this is crafting effective strategies with clear priorities, SMART objectives, and strong narratives.
If we do this consistently then we won’t have to justify anything. In turn, we need our leadership teams to be very focussed on the organisational priorities and agree that comms will support the most important ones. And by ‘ones’ I mean the 5-6 of biggest, not 28 priorities.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?
Right, I need a second coffee and I’ll ponder on this one…
I’m back. I like to list things in threes so here are my top three:
- Always be learning. None of us knows it all and communications constantly evolves so remaining open minded to new approaches is important.
- Fundamentals count. The core basics of effective comms haven’t really changed since I was doing my PR degree all those years ago. A strong approach to communications strategy has and always will be the most important thing in shaping our work. If we’re not strategic we won’t be taken seriously. But allowing the space for creativity within this is also critical.
- ‘Work hard and be nice to people’. I have this quote from Anthony Burrill as a print on my kitchen wall and I think it’s a good way to live your life.
There aren’t many tools on the market to help comms professionals achieve success. From your experience, how do you see React & Share supporting and enhancing the comms function?
Gaining customer feedback is crucial in improving what we do isn’t it. And websites are no different in this respect.
My comms2point0 website is almost 10 years old and has gone through several revamps during that time. It’s currently experiencing record traffic but actually now is really timely to ask again and see what visitors think and want.
So, I’m looking forward to embedding React & Share onto the site and enable visitors to give feedback on their experience. And of course, I’ll have a whole new dashboard to mooch through, enjoy and utilise to help improve the site. That has to be on the wish list for any comms person.
Darren Caveney is the creator of comms2point0, owner of Creative Communicators and draws on expertise gained in 25 years in communication, PR and marketing. He has been named twice in the Digital Leaders 100 and has delivered in-house training and consultancy for well over 150 organisations and has spoken at over 100 events in the UK, Europe and the Middle East.
He also runs the unique UnAwards, co-organises Comms Unplugged and co-hosts the Talking Comms Podcast. You can find out more and say hello at @darrencaveney @comms2point0 firstname.lastname@example.org and comms2point0.co.uk.