Many talented and effective communicators are at work in UK charities. But every now and then, in the course of our dealings in the sector, most of us will come across someone special.
So, what qualities make a comms person inspiring to others?
Clearly this question did not present too much difficulty to those who nominated colleagues and associates for the Inspiring Communicator Awards 2015. The eloquent, heartfelt tributes we received at CharityComms, reflecting a full spectrum of roles, responsibilities and communications disciplines, were an inspiration in themselves.
Of course, there is no template for an inspiring communicator. It might be about technical brilliance, a degree of dedication, or the simple human touch or kindness that can sometimes move mountains. Judging from our 2015 winners, it is often about a combination of these and other qualities.
Congratulations to all our winners and thanks to our nominators for taking the time to share their stories with us.
Head of marketing and communications, Blind Veterans UK
Head of public affairs, RSPCA
Director of engagement, Friends of the Earth
Director of development, brainstrust
Advisory panel member and volunteer, Young Women’s Trust
Media and communications manager, Save the Children
David Bassom has taken communications at Blind Veterans UK to a new level of excellence. His razor sharp instincts have allowed him to search out great ideas and run with them. He consistently strives for innovation but, critically, he looks for fresh ways to achieve corporate objectives rather than innovating for innovation’s sake.
His handling of the charity’s centenary this year demonstrated his goal-driven approach. David was clear from day one that the centenary celebrations had to provide a platform for Blind Veterans UK to achieve its current objectives – raising awareness of and trust in the work of the charity today.
His inspirational efforts for the centenary and in delivering a clear marketing and communications strategy were instrumental in generating the charity’s highest-ever awareness scores in 2015, among key target audiences and the general public alike.
In June 2015, Blind Veterans UK also scored its highest-ever recorded level of media coverage. And, benefiting from David’s input, the ‘No One Alone’ campaign delivered the highest level of beneficiary recruitment in the charity’s 100-year history.
David made a conscious move into the charity sector following a successful career in journalism. Working with charities including Barnardo’s, Tommy’s the Baby Charity, the NSPCC and Girlguiding UK before taking up his current role, he has become a keen advocate for the sector. He shows exceptional commitment to his work at Blind Veterans UK – making himself available 24/7 and regularly working overtime and weekends without complaint. David is recognised as a supremely conscientious, collaborative and reliable comms professional.
Colleagues describe David Bowles as a passionate, informed and constant communicator for the RSPCA. His knowledge of animal welfare issues and the charity sector are immense and he draws on this expertise to tackle any interview or communications challenge. He has promoted the RSPCA message with great success to a wide variety of audiences, including MPs, government bodies, other charities and the media.
David often has to defend the RSPCA in debates and has an extraordinary ability to remain calm in hostile situations where others may lose their focus. He is a good listener and quickly understands the thrust of an argument, so his answers are pertinent and informative.
He will travel anywhere, any time to talk about the RSPCA – and to protect its reputation when necessary. If something needs doing, he just gets on and does it, never passing the buck to someone else.
Internally David has improved communications by bringing groups from different departments together and by encouraging staff input. Known as a kind and caring colleague, he communicates directly with people and avoids a hierarchical approach. It is clear he really values staff as individuals, and takes a sincere interest in their happiness and development at the organisation.
After 20 years with the RSPCA, David’s enthusiasm and drive are undiminished despite some tough times for the organisation. He remains an inspirational ambassador for the RSPCA’s work to protect animals. Certainly, the press and social media teams at the RSPCA are inspired by David’s example – albeit a little envious of his constant energy and enthusiasm for the cause.
In Emma Guise’s four years at Macmillan Cancer Support, she has transformed the media team from a unit of 15 staff to an impressive 27-strong body, delivering high-quality, innovative and integrated campaigns that achieve daily, impactful media coverage.
Under Emma’s leadership, Macmillan’s media work has grown in reach, strength and confidence. National correspondents regularly come to Emma and her team for the analysis of new health data, the interpretation of external stories, and for expert perspectives on whether various issues are important for people with cancer and should be covered accordingly.
On the one hand Emma is fiercely protective of Macmillan’s reputation, as recently demonstrated in the way she managed the media scrutiny of charity fundraising methods. However, she is also prepared to push the boundaries and challenge the organisation’s thinking. Macmillan’s recent Isolation Box initiative to highlight loneliness among cancer patients was Emma’s brainchild, and really helped put Macmillan on the map as a challenger brand.
In the past year, Emma has put social into the heart of the media team and it is now delivering truly integrated campaigns. Her success lies in the strength of her relationships and her ability to inspire others to think smarter, push harder and aim higher. She is an incredibly busy woman but makes time for everyone.
Holding sector-wide roles as a mentor and a PR Week judge and recently appointed to Macmillan’s marketing and communications leadership team, Emma is an emerging leader in the charity sector, and an absolute credit to Macmillan.
When Molly Hodson joined the Trussell Trust seven years ago, most people had no idea that their neighbours were going hungry in the UK. Thanks to her inspirational efforts to get the real stories of those facing hardship out there in the public domain, the word “foodbank” now appears hundreds of times daily in the media and is discussed at the highest levels among leaders and politicians.
Molly refuses to allow negative perceptions of those using foodbanks to go unchallenged. She constantly reminds her colleagues that the real goal is to communicate about the person behind the foodbank figures – the single mum who can’t afford to feed her children on a low income, the nurse who faces high rent and debt, the dad who lost his job and has to wait weeks for his benefit to come through.
She works tirelessly to expose food poverty in the UK to those who have the power to speak out about it. The Radio 4 Appeal, The Guardian, Independent and Huffington Post are just some of the channels she has used successfully to this end.
Building the charity’s internal and external communications from the ground up, Molly has made sure that the media and public alike can turn to the Trussell Trust for accurate, detailed and compelling information about UK poverty. Each day she demonstrates how to be an excellent communicator, and why communication matters in realising the Trussell Trust’s vision of eradicating hunger in the UK.
Joe Jenkins is an inspiring, audience-focused storyteller, who puts people at the heart of his communications approach. He believes in improving standards through support and reward, rather than rules and sanctions. And his guiding vision for engaging supporters is to make internal integration the foundation of a more coherent, better-quality supporter experience.
Joe has driven Friends of the Earth to become a high-achieving digital operation and brought radical innovation to its products and initiatives. Under his leadership, Friends of the Earth has collected a string of comms and marketing awards, moved into the top handful of charities using social media and attracted a huge increase in website users.
As a leader, Joe is accessible, visible and hands-on – someone who leads by example. He is an advocate of crowd-sourcing ideas and giving staff, volunteers and supporters an opportunity to shape the organisation’s work. He makes time to get involved in all sorts of activities – from dressing up in a bee costume for a stunt, to reading more than 3,000 feedback letters from supporters.
Outside Friends of the Earth, Joe is a sought-after speaker, and is active both on the Institute of Fundraising Convention Board and as a trustee of Refugee Action. In recent months he’s played a leadership role for charities as a whole, responding openly and professionally to media attacks on fundraising techniques, and putting Friends of the Earth at the centre of the debate. He has been described as a beacon of hope for the sector.
Will Jones is a great communicator – dependable, eloquent and highly creative; his mastery of language and communication is second to none.
He has to walk in so many pairs of shoes at brainstrust – some of them tricky to wear. But he always steps up to the mark. Whether it is dealing with a patient who has just been given a terminal diagnosis of a brain tumour on the phone, encouraging a volunteer to shave their head, enticing a company to support a brainstrust event, writing a job advert, developing strategy or addressing the board of trustees, Will knows exactly how to pitch his communication.
He has created an unstoppable force with braintrust’s Patient Information Portal for the brain tumour community, which has now been adopted by Cancer Research UK to be rolled out across the cancer community. This was no mean feat. It took Will’s superlative communication skills to win the hearts and minds of a highly disparate group of stakeholders and make this resource – through which patients can access their cancer medical records – the huge success that it is.
brainstrust is a relatively new organisation and a bit of an underdog among UK cancer charities – but Will’s tireless efforts have helped to ensure it is a feisty underdog, with influence.
Twenty six year-old Sophie Kathirgamanathan joined the Young Women’s Trust advisory panel last year and has become one of its most active members. She is a dedicated champion of young mothers, the unemployed and those who have suffered cultural stereotyping and discrimination – having experienced all these things herself.
Sophie uses social media avidly as a platform for highlighting imbalances in the media at large, galvanizing young women to tackle inequality and promoting the Trust’s work. She writes regularly for the YWT blog, using her personal experience to inform political debates and share insights about being a young Asian woman today.
In February this year, she spoke to corporate partners about the barriers and discrimination she faced as a young mother, seeking employment after graduating. In June, she met with Gareth Thomas MP, relaying the unique challenges of raising a family as a young, unemployed woman. This led to communications with Harrow Council and the NHS to further discuss YWT campaigns and issues relating to childcare.
Sophie recently attended a meeting with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to talk about pregnancy and maternity discrimination and suggested innovative ways to engage young mothers about their rights. She has also discussed childcare costs and the types of support needed for working parents on BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire Live show.
She has established two local groups – a young mums support group in Harrow, and a Brent and Harrow youth branch for the Women’s Equality Party. She is also launching a local YWT network group to engage more young women in the charity’s work.
Sophie is an inspiration to all who know her. She communicates with the utmost professionalism and is a fantastic advocate for young women.
Bev Kirk is the epitome of an inspiring communicator. As Save the Children’s media and communications manager for Scotland, based in Edinburgh, Bev has dedicated the last nine years to promoting the work of the charity in Scotland and highlighting the impact it can have on children’s lives.
Her innovation and creativity know no bounds in her pursuit of exciting ways to showcase the work of the Scotland team. For example, she brought a childcare campaign to life by hiring the robot babies used to teach young people about the responsibility and hard work of becoming a parent.
Bev persuaded Members of the Scottish Parliament to parade around Parliament with the robot babies and even got one MSP to take a baby into Chamber, where she spoke about the cost of childcare. The stunt was a huge success and demonstrates how creativity can help charities to engage audiences with vital messages.
Working in a satellite office can be difficult, as most of Save the Children’s media team is based in its head office in London. But Bev goes out of her way to get involved with the team and develop excellent relationships. She is an inspiring colleague, always willing to have a chat and talk ideas over. Energetic, enthusiastic and extremely proactive, Bev puts passion and dedication into everything she does.
Emma Lawton is a 31-year-old creative director of a leading digital agency, and a huge inspiration to the communications team at Parkinson’s UK.
Two years ago, just as Emma’s company was redesigning the Parkinson’s UK website, Emma was diagnosed herself with young onset Parkinson’s. She approached the devastating news of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in the most positive way – using her communications expertise and creativity to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s UK.
Emma talks from the heart about how having Parkinson’s makes her feel, in ways a wide audience can relate to – and particularly a younger audience, who might not normally think Parkinson’s is relevant to them.
She has been a brilliant media spokesperson for Parkinson’s UK – for example when she was featured in an open and engaging article in Cosmopolitan that reached out to young women. She’s a pro on social media, using Twitter to raise awareness of young onset Parkinson’s and to fundraise. This year, she also created the brilliant Emma’s Army, inspiring people to join her on a fundraising walk in Greenwich to “show little p who’s boss”.
Emma launched the Army using her own social media, and Parkinson’s UK promoted it on theirs. Not only did Emma’s Army raise £4,000, but the concept inspired and motivated Parkinson’s UK’s social media audiences, including lots of other people with Parkinson’s. It also secured Emma a slot on London Live News – another chance she took to raise awareness of young onset Parkinson’s, her fundraising and the charity.
As if this weren’t enough, Emma finds time to run her own creative business and has written a book about the impact of being diagnosed young with Parkinson’s, which she’s currently crowdsourcing funding to print. As far as Parkinson’s UK is concerned, Emma is a superhero.
Sarah Marl is an experienced, dedicated and passionate communications professional, who leads her marketing and comms team with flair, imagination and insight.
Having spent over 15 years championing disability sport, Sarah has nurtured a wide range of media contacts and calls upon them regularly to help secure coverage for the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) and the various organisations and projects it supports.
In the past 12 months her team and management responsibilities have increased, and she has taken to her expanded role like a duck to water. She is seen as an inclusive, friendly, approachable – and demanding – manager.
As a wheelchair user herself, Sarah brings a pertinent perspective to much of what EFDS tries to communicate. She has been a wonderful champion of the EFDS Inclusive Communications Guide – a key project for the charity that aims to address the main communication barriers experienced by disabled people taking part, or wishing to take part, in sport and physical activity.
Sarah travels tirelessly round the country delivering the guide’s findings and answering people’s questions and concerns, encouraging them to adopt measures that could impact on the lives of millions of disabled people in the UK. She is so in demand for presentations that she has to ration what she commits to doing – a sure-fire sign that what she’s doing is worthwhile.
A professional, enthusiastic, encouraging and supportive comms manager, Sarah is helping EFDS to do great work. The organisation would certainly have a lesser impact and presence without her.
In two years of managing the small but respected press team at Anthony Nolan, Emily Rosselli has transformed the media profile of this blood cancer charity and spearheaded a new way of working with its supporters to help save more lives.
In 2014, the charity saw its media coverage soar with almost double the number of national print stories secured in 2013. In 2015, coverage has been greater still. Many stories concern big patient appeals and Emily’s empathetic approach has been instrumental in contributing to their success.
Her strength lies in taking a personal and supportive approach to working with patients, encouraging them to design their appeals as they choose. Over the last year she has worked directly with patients to develop viral, grassroots campaigns about their search for a donor. Some memorable campaigns include Shake4Mike, Give Our Dad a Bone, John Underwood, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, #SaveBobbysMum, Luis and Kian King and HelpHollie.
Widespread national media coverage of these campaigns included two front pages, large spreads in all the national newspapers, and broadcast coverage on the One Show, Good Morning Britain, This Morning, BBC Breakfast and more. However, Emily is also committed to empowering and supporting less newsworthy case studies with their own press or fundraising.
Internal integration has been key; Emily strives to understand other teams’ needs and talks through all the different ways patients can get involved with Anthony Nolan from the first phone call. Every channel is maximised from digital to fundraising, and colleagues on the front line are informed and ready for big spikes in donor applications.
Emily’s passion, professionalism and sensitive communication has made a real difference in encouraging the right people to join the Anthony Nolan register, and ultimately help to save more lives.
Jenni McCartney rises magnificently to the challenges of communicating with the Samaritans’ 21,200 volunteers and representing Samaritans to the media. As a longstanding and active listening volunteer herself, she is in touch with volunteers’ concerns and every aspect of what they do. Hence she is able to articulate their experiences and insights, both succinctly and in detail, to external or internal audiences as required.
She writes a regular blog for Samaritans’ internal website, sharing messages about current issues and campaigns with a light, natural and entertaining writing style. Volunteers know that she “gets” them and understands exactly what it is like to be a listening volunteer.
Jenni also delivers major speeches twice a year at the Council of Samaritans to 280 branch directors, regional officers and other Samaritans volunteers. She speaks at branch AGMs, leads the board of trustees and makes year-round visits to Samaritans’ 201 branches to spread the word.
She has taken on a number of challenging external media interviews, including for Radio 4 Women’s Hour and a variety of local and national newspapers, broadcasters and websites. One that particularly stood out this year was her interview with Radio 4’s The Listeners series in July, which examined the power of the human voice.
Among other things, Jenni told listeners about the way she was trained, how to listen without visual clues, why non-judgemental listening is key, how being a Samaritans volunteer has affected the way she listens and what she has learned from it. She was able to convey what Samaritans work means to her, with the kind of passion and sincerity that makes listeners remember and reflect on what they have heard.
Strategic marketing consultant and CharityComms chair of trustees
Head of fundraising and communications, Refugee Action and Inspiring Communicator Award winner 2014
Deputy director of brand and content, Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital and Inspiring Communicator Award winner 2014
Chief executive, Carers Trust and CharityComms vice chair of trustees