Like many other professions we sometimes get hung up on qualifications and experience. But when someone has talent, passion and commitment it can top trump anything else.
by Claire Whitelaw
I was lucky enough recently to attend a talk by the amazing Sue Black OBE, technology evangelist and campaigner, for International Women’s Day.
Sue joined Durham University last year as a Professor in the Department of Computer Science.
She was instrumental in the successful campaign to save Bletchley Park, the World War Two code-breaking centre.
Yet she started out with no campaigning or public relations background. She was simply an academic pursuing an overwhelming passion.
In her talk, she explained how engagement with traditional and digital media played a key part in saving Bletchley.
An early adopter of Twitter, she once described it as ‘rubbish’. And yet through that channel she gained the support of influential celebrities like Stephen Fry, whose involvement took the campaign to a stratospheric level.
After the talk I downloaded Sue’s book about the Bletchley campaign. What could PR professionals like me learn from her leadership of this successful campaign that raised millions of pounds and saved Bletchley for the nation?
Although the campaign ended a few years ago, I believe the lessons are still relevant to campaigning today.
Sue was ahead of the curve. As an early ‘Tweeter’, she spent hours teaching herself to use it, even on her family holiday. She quickly realised that engaging with communities, in addition to sharing her views, was important to build widespread support.
She seized opportunities, especially with celebrities. Stephen Fry was stuck in a lift and tweeting for help when Sue messaged him and asked for his backing. The next day he tweeted his many thousands of followers urging them to support the #bpark campaign.
She came up with tonnes of ideas. These were thrown out to the Twittersphere to see what would gain traction. Not all were used – but it all helped to boost interest and sense of excitement.
She owned her own space online. Sue started the first Bletchley Park blog which went from a modest number of hits to a readership of thousands. It became a core channel for the campaign.
She was utterly persistent. She spoke to as many people as she could, in various ways, about her cause. Her book notes the number of tweets she sends every month, in the many hundreds and thousands. All alongside a full time job and raising four children!
She built a community and gave it wings. People who wanted to help the campaign were told the big picture goals and then left to get on with it – resulting in a passionate and diverse community of tweeters, bloggers and letter writers.
She was focused and true to her values. Sue is all for championing women and technology. She started her Bletchley campaign to preserve the stories and contribution of the 5,000 women stationed there – but as others got involved it became so much more than that.
She kept up the momentum – which continues. Once the campaign ended, Sue used her community and contacts to launch schemes like the successful #techmums, teaching mums to code for free.
All of this could be taken from text book campaign management but Sue learned through trial, error and a lot of hard work and passion.
I’ve since been following Sue in the media and Twitter and its clear why she enjoys such a groundswell of support and goodwill.
She is authentic; her personal story is part of who she is. She takes time to engage, say thank you and follows her supporters back. She has a great sense of humour.
Her book is as much about those who worked with her on Bletchley as her own contribution; she namechecks and credits their involvement.
Her latest campaign? Standing for London Mayor for the Women’s Equality Party, news which gained a massive thumbs up online. I’ll be following it all with interest.
And by the way, I don’t actually think Sue is an amateur. Not by a long chalk.