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The UnAwards18

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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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