In February this year, my esteemed colleague (and former university cohort) Sharon Whittaker (@WHITTonTWITT) and I were accepted on to the Northern Ireland Committee of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) at their annual AGM.
Part of the reason for dedicating our time to this group was to further the interests of Communicators, like ourselves, who work in the local Voluntary and Community Sector.
Well it’s our belief that there are specific industry issues for PR and Communications in this sector, which is large in the scheme of Northern Ireland. Last year’s report for DETI by PWC identified 3,821 organisations employing just under 30,000 people, excluding volunteers, which is equivalent to around 4% of Northern Ireland’s employees.
Most charities now hire someone in the areas of PR,Marketing, Communications or Public Affairs (more often, a mixture of all skill sets) and often underfunded organisations will require someone who isn’t specially trained to conduct stakeholder and social media communications of some sort in line with their other duties.
So if that’s you, how do you become skilled? Or if you were trained, how do you keep your skills relevant?
Sharon and I had access to and knowledge of the CIPR from early on in our careers, having completed a degree course that was Chartered by the Institute (and which maintains close links to this day, with our Student Ambassador scheme), however we know that not everyone in the sector would be aware of the CIPR, considering membership, or even partaking in events, guidelines and Codes of Practice available to non-members.
And so, today’s event was born.
The event sold-out within 48 hours of going live, with a waiting list managed until the day itself when we were still stretched over capacity, showing the interest and thirst in the sector for professional development and information on the Institute itself.
We focussed on some networking to begin with (always useful in a sector that is continually required to collaborate and work jointly by government and funders). Although I think I may have lost my voice doing the five minute call-outs - they were a talkative bunch!
Then Tara Mills from BBC Newsline (@TaraMillstv) kindly facilitated a session on engaging sector issues with the local media. She had lots of helpful tips on how best to network with journalists and producers, when and how to pitch stories and reinforcing their strong commitment to guidelines and ethics when it comes to telling the personal stories of real people (our service users).
Our NI CIPR Chair, Chris Love, also attended to inform everyone about the benefits offered to professionals by the Institute, including free training, Meet the Media events, access to case studies and industry experts who are specialist in every industry sector.
Judging by informal feedback (Twitter hashtag #VCScommsNI) and our evaluation forms, the event was a great success (*cue Leanne and Sharon wiping their brows*) but it doesn’t end there.
We are working closely with the CIPR and the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action (NICVA) to continue to offer these learning opportunities to further develop Voluntary Sector Communications as an industry, as an art, as a profession and to support those many one-man bands and resource-stretched small teams doing a sterling job communicating difficult human issues and fundraising in the cash-strapped economy!
Our next event is a Meet the Media with BBC TV, radio, production and online in Belfast on 29th September, available to both members and non-members of CIPR.
Tickets available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/meet-the-bbc-tickets-12951525361
Be there or be square!