Mark Sadler on the pandemic's effect on national park comms

Mark Sadler on the pandemic's effect on national park comms
Mark Sadler, communications manager at Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, joins us to chat about the flood of new National Parks visitors at the start of the pandemic and how the comms team had to adapt.

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

I have an enduring passion for Radio and been privileged to enjoy a 25-year career working in front of and behind the microphone. I love the ability of Radio to reach and engage with audiences instantaneously, and everything I’ve learned through working with talented broadcasters, producers, and journalists I have been able to bring to my relatively new role leading the communications team at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. I recognise that some might consider a career transition from Radio to National Park to be a somewhat unconventional one, but the approach to delivering comms is the same: understand the audience, know where to reach them and deliver relevant engaging content to provoke a response. And I get to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world. 

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

Storytelling is essential to effective communication, so great storytelling skills are important, as is the ability to unpack complex themes and ideas and present them simply and succinctly. Attention to detail, good listening skills, the ability to be concise and an understanding of the value of plain speaking are all important attributes in a world where people’s attention spans are diminishing.

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

My team are responsible for communicating the work we do in the Yorkshire Dales to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Park and to promote opportunities for the public understanding and enjoyment of our special qualities. This work is more important and more urgent than ever when you consider the climate emergency, the impact and repercussions of Covid-19 and the country’s nature recovery ambitions.

For example, in 2020 more people than ever arrived in UK National Parks. Our own visitor profile was suddenly younger and more diverse, with many people arriving here for the first time to enjoy the restorative power of nature and the landscape. And while we have never been more pleased to welcome them it has required the team to move at pace to deliver messaging and assets to help them make the most of their visit and inspire them to return.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Definitely more hours in the day, and more financial resource from central Government to support our climate, nature recovery, and people and place ambitions. 

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

My team’s work through the pandemic was recently described as exemplary by Members of the National Park Authority. I think that demonstrates the culture of recognition that exists within the organisation and how much our work is valued and respected by the board and senior management team. Communications is an ever-evolving specialism, and the team responds positively to change and the different approaches we must take to engage the different audience groups we have. I know this approach is valued by the various sections and directorates we provide comms services to. We’re in a good place in that respect. 

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

Less is more, humanity in our communications, and a team that works well together, understands its purpose and is honest is about what will work and what won’t.   

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?

We share a daily media summary with senior management and have developed a digital dashboard to report web traffic and social media reach and engagement on a weekly basis. This helps us understand how well content is landing and how we can evolve our messaging. There’s a lot of data that can be extracted right now, so we’re keen to really focus in on engagement as a key performance indicator. 

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

The rise and rise of video and the rise and rise of TikTok. The importance of internal communications in a post Covid-19 hybrid working world. Getting internal comms right is going to be critical as hybrid working evolves and we all start to learn to live with Covid-19 and work in a different way.