Inspiring Communicator Awards 2016

CharityComms Inspiring Communicator Awards 2016

Congratulations to our winners!

What turns a communicator into an inspiration to those around them?

The judges of CharityComms’ Inspiring Communicator Awards 2016 have a string of examples as long as your arm after assessing this year’s entries.

Our winners demonstrate a stunning mix of talents and attributes. However, one priceless quality is abundantly evident in every one of them: dedication. A degree of dedication that can overcome the toughest personal hardship, or turn a professional interest into an obsession, or become a whole-life passion that dissolves the boundaries between work and play – all for the sake of the cause.

This year’s winners are staff, directors, campaigners, volunteers, CEOs and consultants. They are a mix of experts, all-rounders and amateurs. Our Awards recognise and celebrate each one of these amazing people as a uniquely inspiring communicator. 

Well done to all our winners and thanks to the nominators who were inspired to share their stories.

Adam Cormack
Senior communications manager, The Wildlife Trusts

Adam Petrie
Director of communications and marketing, Shooting Star Chase

Ben Brooks-Dutton
Ambassador, Grief Encounter

Ciara Lawrence
Campaigns support officer, Mencap

Clare Skelton
Marketing and communications manager, FoodCycle

Dama Sathianathan
Communications officer, HelpAge International

Gemma Ellis
Senior communications officer, Bliss

Keith Wilson
Marketing manager, Naomi House and Jacksplace

Kirsty Marrins
Digital communications consultant

Michael McGrath
Chief executive/founder, The Muscle Help Foundation

Phil Bindon
Volunteer, RNLI

Steve Ford
Chief executive, Parkinson’s UK

Adam Cormack
Senior communications manager, The Wildlife Trusts

When he is not in the office managing national comms for The Wildlife Trust or supporting comms work for the trust’s 47 local charities, Adam Cormack is out identifying orchids or foraging for fungi – or he’s on Twitter extolling the magic of nature.

He leads with commitment, energy and imagination

He organises regular nature walks for staff and runs team meetings outside on sunny days. A genuine wildlife champion, colleagues say he has taken comms for The Wildlife Trust “from zero to hero” in his 10 years so far on the job.

Adam played a leading role in establishing 30 Days Wild as the UK’s first month-long nature challenge. Determined to deliver the campaign on a shoestring budget, he helped design the creative concept as well as shaping the brand as something fun and accessible and driving a new approach to communicating the challenge. From 2015 to 2016 the number of people signing up – to do something wild every day for 30 days – doubled from 12,500 to 25,000 and #30DaysWild was used over 105,000 times.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Adam somehow found the time to be a lead author on a peer-reviewed paper that conclusively proved 30 Days Wild has a long-term positive impact on people’s everyday health and wellbeing. It is a piece of research that now underpins The Wildlife Trust’s wider communications.

Adam is a natural leader, a popular speaker at national conferences and someone whose passion for wildlife shines through. He is widely recognised for his inspirational dedication, and also for his modesty.

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Adam Petrie
Director of communications and marketing, Shooting Star Chase

Adam Petrie has taken communications to an inspirational new level of expertise and vision in a few short years at Shooting Star Chase. His comms team say they have never worked with a director in his league.

Adam is a communications legend

Joining the children’s hospice charity partway through a challenging rebranding process, Adam identified the Friendlies – a family of friendly thumb print characters reflecting the unique care and support given to each family – as the strongest part of the concept. He brought them to the forefront of the revitalised brand, rejuvenated the charity’s relationship with the agency that developed them and drove through a highly successful and award-winning rebrand.

However, Adam’s tendency to push the boundaries of creativity and innovation in the pursuit of excellence applies as much to organisational process and practice as to core comms work. His excellent interpersonal and communication skills come to his aid in his efforts to secure buy-in for changes of all kinds. His rethinking of staff structures recently saved the organisation £60k in agency costs and secured a promotion for a comms team member.

The organisation’s perception of communications has been transformed under Adam’s leadership so the comms team is now seen as an integral and essential asset. As a result, communications has become a standalone department for the first time, with Adam’s directorship ensuring representation at board level. He is invited to speak at charity forums and was a judge in the Third Sector Awards 2015. Staff describe him as a brilliant leader who fosters team spirit and deflects kudos to others. In short, they say, “Adam is a communications legend.”

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Ben Brooks-Dutton
Ambassador, Grief Encounter

In his role as ambassador, Ben Brooks-Dutton puts his personal experience of grief to the service of bereaved children’s charity Grief Encounter.

He conveys with honesty and openness what those who have been bereaved too early feel

Ben’s beloved wife Desreen, the mother of his young son, was knocked off the pavement and killed by an out-of-control vehicle in late 2012. Battling his devastation and grief, Ben began a blog, Life as a Widower, which quickly gained a devoted following, and wrote a bestselling book, It’s not Raining, Daddy, it’s Happy.

The language of grief and death is hard to articulate for both children and adults. Ben has been able to champion Grief Encounter’s cause by communicating with honesty and openness the grief of partners and children who are bereaved too early. This has made a powerful contribution to the charity’s awareness and fundraising work.

He continues to give media interviews, offer speaking engagements and cultivate celebrity contacts on behalf of Grief Encounter. His support has also extended to making an appeal film from scratch, running the London Marathon and working on a major new communications project for the charity.

As a communications expert in his professional life, Ben understands the need to fit medium to audience and has achieved tremendous results by doing so. Grief Encounter says that by challenging the myths and assumptions that surround death, Ben has helped to make the subject less taboo.

Photo by Dolly Crew.

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Ciara Lawrence
Campaigns support officer, Mencap

As campaigns project support officer for Mencap, Ciara Lawrence is a driving force in Mencap’s work. One of just six per cent of people with a learning disability who have a job, Ciara is a key figure in the charity’s campaign for inclusion.

Ciara is a real driving force in Mencap’s work

She recently led a campaign objecting to the use by a dating site of derogatory questions about people with a learning disability, which sparked considerable media interest. She has spoken to ITV employees about the need for more representation in the media and met with the production team at Coronation Street to discuss the inclusion of a character with learning disabilities – while also making sure to have her picture taken outside The Rovers Return, of course.

Ciara has been instrumental in encouraging other people with learning disabilities to find the confidence to become spokespeople. At the same time, she works with the communications team to help Mencap increase its use of spokespeople with a learning disability. She is an incredibly adaptable communicator herself, engaging with any kind of audience to get her message across. The key, she says, is conveying the core message while speaking from the heart, using her own personal experiences to illustrate her point. According to her colleagues, it’s an inspirational combination.

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Clare Skelton
Marketing and communications manager, FoodCycle

Clare Skelton’s passionate enthusiasm for promoting and supporting the work of FoodCycle’s army of volunteers is both infectious and inspiring. Indeed, it is the essence of her communications strategy.

Clare is the golden thread that ties our volunteers together

Rather than micromanage and control comms outputs to the nth degree, Clare prefers to devolve responsibility to volunteers, giving them as much ownership as possible of their local communications. She believes volunteers are the people best placed to talk about their work, and by allowing them to do so, she ensures FoodCycle’s communications are rich, varied and exciting.

However, far from leaving volunteers to manage on their own, Clare spends many hours each week devising worksheets and training presentations, and advising volunteers on how to deal with the press. She’s always ready to offer warm words of encouragement to help people find their voice and the confidence to speak out on issues they care about.

She dedicates herself to recognising, publicising and celebrating the amazing work of her volunteers. Yet Clare is what one colleague described as the “golden thread” tying volunteers together and supporting them to achieve incredible things for their communities. This is why she herself is an inspiration.

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Dama Sathianathan
Communications assistant, HelpAge International

Dama Sathianathan is an all-round comms champion, a digital innovator, frontline grafter and team player who is keen to share the insights she has gained.

Dama is a true champion of comms at all levels

She works relentlessly to understand and make full use of HelpAge International’s beneficiary data, unpicking and transforming it into meaningful comms projects. Her documenting obsession has also encouraged HelpAge to map data from its project partners into a multimedia network helping both the comms team and programme staff to spot and fill data and content gaps.

In May, Dama supported HelpAge’s Humanitarian team with advocacy for the World Humanitarian Summit. Older people are disproportionally affected in disasters and conflicts and Dama’s work helped ensure older people were profiled across social media and through visual storytelling.

Often spotted at charity digital events, Dama is a knowledge seeker keen to learn about new trends. At the same time, she travels regularly to support comms work on the ground with HelpAge International’s partners. She is currently involved in a project to consider the best ways to communicate with disaster-affected communities.

In typically generous spirit, Dama has been using her spare time to document the many useful online tools, services and resources she has encountered while working in the charity sector, a free service soon to be launched as Charity Catalogue.

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Gemma Ellis
Senior communications officer, Bliss

At Bliss, the charity for premature and sick babies, Gemma Ellis is seen as an inspirational champion of internal and external comms alike.

Gemma is a brand ambassador for the organisation

Described as the go-to person in her comms team, she builds and nurtures internal relationships, listening to colleagues’ needs and adapting processes accordingly. And she is known a brand ambassador for her charity, ensuring integrity and consistency are maintained at all times.

Externally, she has been responsible for transforming the charity’s Little Bliss magazine. She surveyed hundreds of readers to find out what they want and need in their magazine and developed a strategy for the magazine’s future. She continues to liaise closely with an interest group of parents, and manages an internal magazine working group. On her watch, the magazine has become a clear and engaging publication based on the insights of its readers, and has significantly increased its circulation.

Her outstanding can-do attitude has helped Bliss develop its communications and reach out further to the families it exists to help.

Nothing is ever too much trouble for Gemma. Recently, she volunteered at a local hospital to support the parents of a premature baby, valuing the opportunity this experience gave her to better understand parents’ needs. Professional, proactive and always keeping the families who need support at the front of her mind, she delivers high standards, regularly exceeding a project’s objectives.

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Keith Wilson
Marketing manager, Naomi House and Jacksplace

The sky is not the limit for Keith Wilson when it comes to his dedication to Naomi House and Jacksplace hospices for children and young people. According to his colleagues, he would go to the moon and back.

He has a knack of getting straight to the crux of any story

Driving external comms forward with inspirational zeal, he exploits his knowledge of social media, marketing techniques and the marketplace to reach and captivate huge audiences. At the same time, he is always relaxed and informative in his manner, whether meeting with colleagues, senior managers, royalty, celebrities or TV reporters. His aim is always to share with honesty and integrity the stories of families that use the hospices.

Quick thinking, imaginative and resourceful, Keith thrives on dealing with crisis comms or other high pressure situations, and his professionalism and interpersonal skills inspire confidence and trust among stakeholders. The same skills ensure he can persuade senior management and trustees of the need for new, innovative and unconventional marketing approaches that keep attracting new corporate supporters and fundraisers.

He will also plunge into fundraising himself, having run marathons, skydived, been covered in paint, and taken the zip wire challenge – and many other wacky challenges besides – for the cause.

Regularly approached for marketing advice by other charities, he is only too happy to help, just as he supports and encourages his own staff. They appreciate his preference for a non-hierarchical approach, encouraging high standards by being approachable and available. They describe him as a fantastic manager, a font of knowledge, and an inspiration.

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Kirsty Marrins
Digital communications consultant

Warm, knowledgeable and possessing a wicked sense of humour, Kirsty Marrins is a well-known and popular figure in the charity social media scene. She is always generous in her advice to others and brings people together from across the charity sector to learn from each other and share inspiring content.

She brings people together in a way that nobody else does

Among her many enterprises, Kirsty moderates the Facebook Third Sector PR and Comms Network, a highly active community of 3,000 charity professionals. Kirsty ensures things stay clean, moderates all posts, manages job adverts and essentially allows one of the most important online communities in the sector to keep going.

Kirsty shares her knowledge on the latest trends through regular columns for, among others, the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, Third Sector and Civil Society. She’s also known as the “Storify queen”, collating the best tweets and pictures from events for people who didn’t attend to access so she can spread the learning far and wide.

She delivers training, both paid for and for free (via the Small Charities Coalition). Either way her knowledge and friendly style always secure top ratings from her trainees. Her lively but down-to-earth social media presence shows her practising what she preaches in terms of being an authentic version of yourself online.

Countless people have gained skills, knowledge and inspiration from Kirsty. She deserves recognition as an inspiring communicator.

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Michael McGrath
Chief executive/founder, The Muscle Help Foundation

Michael McGrath co-founded the Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) in 2003, aiming to deliver transformational experiences to children and young people living with muscular dystrophy and similar conditions. His vision is that a dream come true can inspire beneficiaries to develop a sense of purpose and hope for the future despite the restrictions of their muscle-wasting disease.

A man filled with a gentle thoughtfulness who continually defies the odds

The launchpad for MHF was Michael’s own transformational experience. As someone who has muscular dystrophy himself, he achieved extraordinary success in leading expeditions to both the north and south poles. The first and only disabled person to have done this, he was recognised in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast in 2004 as a champion of “diversity as a strength”.

Since then, the charity has grown, picked up multiple awards and retained the loyalty of its supporters. It continues to draw on Michael’s formidable energy and skills as “chief muscle warrior”, inspirational speaker, business leader and catalyst for change. Fighting off illness and continually defying the odds, his physical limitations have neither impacted on his communications dexterity nor diminished his spirit of optimism.

With well over 200 “Muscle Dreams” already having been realised, bringing new hope and self-esteem to over 550 family members and partner charities, MHF is well on the way to achieving Michael’s vision of 657 dreams, one for every muscle in the human body.

Michael’s hashtag campaigns and clever use of social media have brought awareness and fundraising success to MHF. He is now adding to #powerof657 a new project helping young adults with muscular dystrophy to gain key skills and fulfill their career aspirations. His watchword is “inspiration” and so is his example.

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Phil Bindon
Volunteer, RNLI

Phil Bindon’s son Mike was just 23 when, standing by the shore on a fishing trip with a friend, he was hit by a freak wave and swept out to sea. His body has never been found. The loss of Mike devastated Phil and his family, yet Phil stepped forward to tell his story in support of the RNLI’s awareness-raising Respect the Water campaign. He has done this again and again.

Phil has bravely told and re-told the story of losing Mike, to help raise awareness of coastal dangers

On the campaign’s launch day in June 2016, Phil was determined to get through an emotionally-draining day of back-to-back media interviews. Returning to the spot where Mike was taken in January 2014, he also made a film for the campaign, which has reached over 1.5 million people through social media.

After the spate of UK drownings in mid-August, when 12 people died in one week, the RNLI began preparing another campaign push to raise awareness of coastal dangers and how to stay safe. The news of these drownings affected Phil so badly that he took time off work, yet he contacted the RNLI again to offer his help.

At a day’s notice, he made himself available for another round of media interviews, this time including BBC Breakfast, Sky News and Radio 4.

On top of his media work, Phil has been a great social media advocate for the campaign and he is now planning to volunteer in schools, offering water safety talks.

Phil is not a communicator by profession. He is an inspiring communicator because he has been articulate, sincere and selfless in supporting the RNLI. He has fought to overcome his personal grief in order to share the story of his loss, hoping that this will help save lives.

Photo by RNLI/Nathan Williams.

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Steve Ford
Chief executive, Parkinson’s UK

Steve Ford is at once a champion of digital transformation and someone who connects with people at a compelling, personal level. These two attributes have combined to help him transform the culture and strategic direction of Parkinson’s UK since he became chief executive 11 years ago.

He has transformed Parkinson’s UK – strategically and culturally

He takes pains to get to know his staff, engaging office colleagues in conversation and having introduced weekly Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) discussion forums to ensure home and community-based staff are included. He also hosts regular all-staff “Lync-ups” to provide updates across the charity.

On social media, he interacts prolifically and from the heart, leading him to be named as one of the top 30 charity CEOs on social media last year. It’s perhaps not surprising that, when recently seeking a director of digital transformation for Parkinson’s UK, he posted a video so that he could talk to prospective candidates directly about the charity’s ambitions for this role.

Steve is a popular guest speaker at local branch and support group meetings, helping to engender hope and determination about the work Parkinson’s is doing to find a cure and improve the lives of those living with the condition. And he can be relied upon to make an impact when chairing international research leadership forums, presenting at conferences and meeting with care professionals.

An inspirational communicator, Steve has been able to galvanise a whole spectrum of stakeholders to get behind the charity’s vision of uniting all those with an interest in Parkinson’s to work together.

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2016 Judges:

David Bowles
Head of public affairs, RSPCA

Emma Guise
Director of communications, Macmillan Cancer Support

Gail Scott-Spicer
Chief executive, Carers Trust and CharityComms vice chair of trustees

Hanif Leylabi
Communications officer at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and CharityComms trustee

Sarah Marl
Marketing and communications manager, English Federation of Disability Sport

Vicky Browning
Director, CharityComms


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