I like nice things. I adore my Frank and Green coffee cups, yes, I have more than one, I need choices as I do my bit to save the ocean. I love my Aldo boot collection because it’s the only shoe shop that seems to have stylish footwear that fit me and I cherish my Marks & Spencer granola slices. As much as these things make me sound like a snob, these small luxuries all fall neatly into a modest budget, that my salary bracket can accommodate.
What does, however, make my eyes water is the cost of industry conferences. I am very passionate about professional learning and development. I think that communications and Public Relations pros should be given the opportunity to network, share ideas and develop authentic in-person relationships. Recently I wrote two blog posts, with the title ‘Broke Girls Guide to Professional Development in Communications’ and as I begin thinking about part 3, I am struggling to suggest conferences, because of their cost. There is an undercurrent of rumblings which is calling our industry to do better in many areas, but it is time our professional bodies and the influential voices began to holding organisers to account, on the cost, content and location of events.
While I understand that on this subject I speak from a place of privilege because I now work for a company that has a rather forward-thinking view on learning and development. I believe that I would not have this job if I hadn’t been given professional development opportunities. That is why I care about how much things cost and content. Why throw the ladder down at those coming up behind you, when you have climbed to the next level, a nugget I got from Dr Rosena Allin-Khan at the Marie Claire’s Future Shapers event 2018.
The glaring lack of young voice on conference line-ups is worrying. As we fix our crowns and halos with our International Women’s Day glow still fresh, can we address our industries failure to do anything that celebrated or acknowledged the outstanding young women in our space? While I respect the graft of those who have gone before me and sit at their feet, we need more peer to peer support and a space that encourages this. Apprentices, communications assistants and junior executives of all genders, races and backgrounds need to be able to see themselves and know it is possible. Are we an industry that celebrates them now, or only after 20 years in.
An example of this is at last year’s Granicus Summit in London, the outstanding Connie Osborne presented Crisis Comms - Managing Manchester's Darkest Hour. It’s a testament to the leadership of Amanda Coleman, the Head of Corporate Communications at Manchester police who is one of the most respected people in public relations, and it is clear to see why she encourages younger people in her team to shine. Please note that when I say young, I don’t merely mean in age, I also refer to industry experience or role. I am only a year into specialising in internal communications, but I too have something to add to the discussion, an award shortlist in my first year. Which is why I am grateful for platforms such as the Institute of Internal Communication’s FutureNet initiative. Comms Unplugged is a pioneering event that is extremely well run and has all the elements of what makes a conference great. As someone shared in the Comms Unplugged what’s app group recently, “Give me a pizza and a night in a tent for a fraction of the price over a gala dinner and a night in the Hilton any day”. The popularity of the Comms Hive dinners being organised by Advitia, the Chair of CIPR Insider is evident that we need inclusive alternatives. It was cheaper for me last year to see Bruno Mars in VIP, Ed Sheeran at Wembley and Kevin Hart in San Francisco combined than one ticket to many industry events. It put the guilt I have about living my youth into perspective.
In case you missed the news, on the other side of the aisle, our counterparts in the public sector are grappling with austerity. High conference fees are unjustifiable when it comes to balancing the budget at the end of the year. As one senior professional in communications shared, it would cost her almost £900 for a day conference and expenses. While many would willingly dip into their own pockets and are, for the benefit of their own careers. What example does this set for future generations, the best events are reserved for the high rollers? I applaud the LGComms Future Leaders Scheme and mentoring programmes such as BME Pros, but places are limited. We need sustainable solutions that can accommodate a wider audience and encompass pros at all levels. While I also argue that not everyone has their sights set on being a director of Communications or being a consultant, opportunities for growth and development should be accessible regardless of their career ambition for their current or future roles.
Throughout my entire career, I have been lucky enough to find a way to network and interact with people who have influence and have the power to make a difference. From Terri White, Hugh Muir, Sam Baker, to the wonderful men and women I have informal mentoring relationships with today. But a lot of these relationships were formed because I was in the right place at the right time. A room I paid to be in, at times.
We are an industry that is rewarded to craft narratives, but what story are we telling about ourselves when our flagship events fail to reflect the vibrant, inclusive industry we wish to see.