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The UnAwards

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5 THINGS YOU LEARN AT THE UNAWARDS AND WHY THEY'RE A FORCE FOR GOOD

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Judges awarded the innovative Comms Unplugged event both a winners spot and a highly commended tag at the UnAwards18. That’s some achievement for two people delivering it in their spare time. As always there is plenty of learning to share…

by Sally Northeast

In my second year of attending the UnAwards I’m not sure I’ve earned the right to call myself a ‘regular’ yet (hat tip to those five people who’ve been to all five events – I salute you!)

But I’ll admit I’m hooked.

This isn’t just any awards ceremony. I went to one earlier this year for my day job – my team was short-listed and I travelled to Manchester with my comms manager where we were assailed by an extremely glitzy, slick and expensive affair. It was enjoyable enough, but I’m not sure it had much heart.

The UnAwards have heart in spades. They also have friendship, they have ‘cool’ (the Everyman cinema is a genius place to hold an event) and they have talent and hard work.

So here are the five things I either learned, or was reminded of, at this year’s fabulous UnAwards.

  1. Keep trying: In 2017 Georgia Turner, Darren Caveney and I were fresh from our very first Comms Unplugged event and thought we’d chuck in an award submission for something we were genuinely proud of. We were ‘highly commended’ in the Best Small Team category which was a lovely moment. Following our bigger 2018 event, which gave us lots more evidence to back up our concept, we felt we had an even better chance of a win so entered six categories. To our absolute delight we won Best Small Team and were highly commended for Best Creative Comms, as well as being shortlisted for Best Collaboration. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

  2. Be proud: Whether or not you’re shortlisted, whether or not you win, entering the UnAwards is a chance to reflect on work you’re proud of. How often do we comms folk chuck out campaign after campaign, never really stopping to look back and think: “Wow, that was a great piece of work!” We’re busy moving onto the next thing (or being pushed towards it). I’m terrible for doing this so writing our award submission was a great discipline. When I sit and read it back now I think a) how the hell did we pull this off?! and b) what a brilliant thing. Enjoy your success – you deserve it.

  3. Learn every day: Keep learning is one of the five steps to wellbeing which we quote a lot in the unplugged world. And it’s true that there’s something to be learned from every new experience (and even from old ones!). There were 420 entries for the UnAwards and there will be something to learn from each and every one. Darren is gearing up to organise an UnAwards Winners Masterclass in the new year where the winners will share their tips for success – I look forward to being there as much to hear from others as to share the Comms Unplugged story.

  4. Dare to be different: I’ve said the UnAwards is not like other awards ceremonies. Equally Comms Unplugged, our winning entry, is not like other events. In both cases I think the organisers set out with a clear vision about the ethos of what they were trying to create. Darren always says he worries no-one will enter or attend the UnAwards. We thought the same about Comms Unplugged in the first year. Because it’s different to other conferences it took a while for people to get on board. But when you have a few ‘first followers’ you’re on your way. If you build it, they will come – even if it takes a while.

  5. Make friends: Comms Unplugged and the UnAwards have more in common than the ‘un’ bit. Here’s where we come back to heart. There’s a lot of positivity at the UnAwards and genuine pleasure at the success of others. It’s great to see good people being recognised and everyone is behind their comms colleagues from many different organisations. Comms Unplugged shares that positive vibe and has helped to create what I know will be long friendships among some of the unpluggers. You need to have a special bond if you’re going to share a compact Airbnb apartment with seven other ladies – and that’s what we did in Brum last week for the UnAwards. It was great fun and my trip to Brum was 48 hours I know I won’t forget in a hurry.

Finally, a massive thank you to Darren Caveney for giving us all the opportunity to share and celebrate our successes together with colleagues from across the UK and from a huge range of organisations. If you didn’t enter this year, start thinking now how you’ll measure that campaign you’ve just started so you can share your success at next year’s UnAwards. I’ll see you there!

Come to Comms Uplugged 2019 – it will take place on 5-7 September in beautiful Dorset. You can find out more here. And connect on Twitter at @CommsUnplugged

Sally Northeast is an organiser of Comms Unplugged and deputy director, communications and participation, at Dorset Healthcare

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DIE HARD + CHRISTMAS + CREATIVITY + FRIENDS = THE UNAWARDS18

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As the magic dust settles on the UnAwards18 I’ve been reflecting on what I think was the best UnAwards yet.

by Darren Caveney

There are too many highlights to savour and people to thank in just one post but I wanted to share some reflections as I sit here at home supping on a nice fresh coffee post-event.

As I mentioned at the ceremony, I don’t get nervous speaking at events or hosting events. It’s not a boast, I just don’t. But because the UnAwards is so personal and because I want everyone there to have a fabulous day - win, lose or draw - I have in previous years been a tiny bit tense on the day.

This year I did not. I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. It was relaxed with a room full of superb people.

If you were there, I hope you enjoyed it too.

So many highlights

There were many highlights for me amongst the winners. Think about a council like Northamptonshire, so often in the news these past twelve months because of the situation they find themselves in. Imagine how difficult it must have been for their comms team at times. To come through that and win an UnAward shows immense skill and character.

Think about the daily pressures front line NHS comms teams are faced with. To see so many shortlisted and some go on to win warrants huge credit.

And think about university comms teams under so much pressure to satisfy multiple stakeholders and now also help turn a profit too. Hats off to them for their shortlistings and wins.

Seeing teams like Warwickshire County Council win big at the UnAwards18 after years of trying shouts perseverance and that is to be applauded.

Three organisations picked up two UnAwards – Tower Hamlets Council, Loughborough University and Bradford Council, including Albert Freeman as best comms officer this year. One UnAward win is great, two is a little bit special.

Then there are teams like South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service winners for the second year on the trot. That isn’t a coincidence. It’s a great team full of ideas delivering consistently. Well doe to Alex Mills and the team.

A word about the private sector and a well done to Rebecca Roberts, owner of Thread and Fable, a woman who has left in-house behind and set up her own businesses which is now picking up awards.

And a shout-out for Sally Northeast and Georgia Turner - the people behind Comms Unplugged - who literally deliver something amazing in their spare time and on top of their regular and busy day jobs. That’s passion, creativity and desire all rolled up into one and I was very happy to see their hard work rewarded.

I was impressed with so many of the shortlisted entries. If you made the shortlist for best social media account and best social media campaign you are delivering truly exceptional work.

If you made the shortlist for best low cost comms work then congratulations. That’s where real creativity shines through. Bravo to you.

As it’s Christmas, when we do things in twelves, here are my top 12 key reflections…

1. It’s Christmas

The UnAwards now officially marks the start of Christmas for our comms community. As Paul Masterman put it “The UnAwards is the comms equivalent of the switching on of the Oxford Street lights”

2. Ever presents

There were five people in the room who have been to all five UnAwards. Wow. And six if you include me. I should give you all an UnAward for good attendance 😊

3. Local Government fights back

Local Government where the biggest winners this year picking up eight of the 18 awards. NHS, Police and Higher Education picked up two apiece.

4. We must learn from the winners

I will endeavour to find the sponsorship to put on another UnAwards Winners Masterclass in the new year where I’ll ask the winners to come and share the lessons of their winning work (please shout me if you’re up for supporting this) As always, it will be free to attend, true to the ethos of the UnAwards.

5. Truly UK-wide

Attendees came from far and wide across the UK – from Scotland, from Wales, from Yorkshire, the North East and North West England, from South West and South East England, and from the Midlands and Brum itself.

6. Making people feel good

Winners, smiled, laughed and cried. That’s a special thing to be able to enable.

7. Let there be music. Cool music…

If you want to listen to Ben Capper’s awesome #UnAwards18 playlist go here

8. Lifetime achievement

Huge congratulations to Dionne Mayhew, Rachael Shaw, Antony Tiernan and Jayne Surman for being nominated in the Lifetime Achievement award. That is a special accolade and one you should be really proud of – good people with huge skills. In the entire history of the UnAwards only 18 people have been nominated, and only five people hold the title. So it really is a unique band of communicators.

Well done to Jayne Surman who just pipped the other three.

9. Get your diaries out

A diary date for you – the #UnAwards19 will take place on Friday 6 December 2019 when we can do it all again and I can spend three month’s worrying about film choices.

10. The importance of giving

This year I wanted to have an official UnAwards charity and chose one close to home. Thank you to everyone who donated on the day to St Basils, who do amazing work for homeless young people in Birmingham. I shall give an update on what we collected on the day asap but if you would like to donate online you can do so here.

11. Die Hard IS a Christmas film

Strangely for such a film anorak as myself I’d never actually watched the whole film before. And never on the big screen. I thought it was brilliant and it’s my new favourite Christmas film. (I know, I am exceedingly late to that party)

12. Gratitude

I’m so grateful to get to run and host the UnAwards but even better than that is the chance to spend the day with a room of amazing people, some who I have come to value as friends. Thank you for making this the best UnAwards yet.

Some final, special mentions…

Luke Williams, Ben Caper, Adrian Stirrup and Nigel Bishop thank you for all of your help. You are a pleasure to work with and a talented bunch.

To the attendees, thank you for giving up a Friday in December. As Adrian Stirrup put it “what’s not to like about spending the day laughing with friends, recognising excellence, and watching Die Hard”

To everyone who submitted the record-breaking 420 entries thank you for allaying my annual fear that on one will enter because you’re all so busy.

The UnAwards remains a not for profit event and I am so grateful to the official partner Granicus, and the official sponsors Orlo, CAN, NUJ PRCC, the Local Government Association,  Alive With Ideas and Perago-Wales - without your kind support the UnAwards would not be possible.

A shout-out to Dave Worsell of Granicus, a supporter of the UnAwards from year one, but who couldn’t be there this year.

A shout to my buddy Phil Jewitt. You know why.

And finally an extra special mention to the lovely Caroline Roodhouse and Alan Oram of Alive With Ideas who sadly could not attend. You were very much missed.

Until next year…

p.s. if you were there and have any feedback on the day please shout me. And if you’re interested in being involved a sponsor for the UnAwards19 please shout – I’m on darrencaveney@gmail.com

Darren Caveney is organiser of the UnAwards, creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

image from Joanne Ford

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