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I’ve just published my first communications annual report. “And about time too”, you might say. Reporting your work in any industry or profession is so important, but why is it something that many of us in communications don’t do regularly?

by Oliver Tipper

As someone who’s worked for many in house communications teams over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time telling other people’s stories. Such as those of the organisation, senior leaders, big change programmes, leading clinicians and other star performers etc. 

In 2018 I received some constructive feedback from a colleague. She said: “You need to get better at your own PR.” I wasn’t sure how to take this.

Then in 2019, we enlisted the help of our Continuous Improvement Team (now known as the Improvement and Knowledge Service) and one of the outcomes was that Comms needed to get better at telling our own story. Or, to use the ironic and grammatically murderous phrase, we need to “comms the comms”.

So here it is, the year that was 2020/21, a tale told from the viewpoint of the Trust’s Communications Team.  

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A year dominated by our response to the Coronavirus pandemic. A year during which, like many teams across the country, we didn’t see each other face-to-face at all.

Just think about that for a second. Rewind back to March 2020 and a fair few of us were thinking (a bit like in the comedy horror flick Shaun of the Dead) that if we hunker down at home for a bit it’ll all blow over by the summer. 

We’re now 14 months in and we’ve still not clapped eyes on each other in the same room. We’ve said virtual hellos and goodbyes to team mates. We’ve quizzed, played a few rounds of Quip Lash and Drawful (all good fun), and toasted each other with various beverages of varying strengths. 

Apologies, I digress – back to the plot.

This is about us telling our story of the year. We took this as an opportunity to showcase ourselves in the process – so as well as the report we’ve also put this cool little animation together to bring it off the page a bit.

As you’d expect it focuses on our contribution to the pandemic response. But here’s a headline number that stands out:

We attended over 160 Silver Command Incident Response meetings (also known as ‘sit reps’) and we issued an all staff briefing after every one of them. During the first two months of the pandemic, these meetings were happening daily.

I’ll be the first to confess these regular briefings were a bit of a grind. But when our pandemic communications were evaluated later in the year (as part of a wider staff wellbeing and culture report), we found that they were going down really well. The evaluation showed that 79% of staff were reading them, and of those, 91% said they were informative and helped them feel more connected to the senior leadership.

If you’re interested you can read our full report Your Voice Counts: Staff Wellbeing during Covid-19.  

Other ‘Covid Positives’

But it wasn’t all just a treadmill of briefings – we’ve come away with some real Covid positives (pun intended).

We launched our All Staff Zooms with Chief Executive Sara Munro. We ended up doing 40 during the year, with the light-hearted Christmas special being the most popular. Whilst the pandemic necessitated video conferencing, this is something we’ll keep going. And, when evaluated, it turns out that staff really liked them too, with one of our staff saying:

Many more common folk have seen Sara on Zoom and had a chance to interact. It is hugely empowering to know that senior leadership team is in touch with what matters to the frontline staff and responsive to our feedback.”

We also launched our staff Facebook Group, which, by popular vote, we named LYPFT Together. The group was designed to give staff the opportunity to connect in a safe space on any issues (in line with the group rules).

We also set ourselves a golden rule that we would not make it another corporate comms channel. Instead we focused the content on two-way staff engagement, health, wellbeing, celebrating success and boosting morale. By the end of March 2021 the group membership stood at just under 500 (around 15% of the total workforce), and was getting an average of 30 posts a month with an engaged audience of around 440 active members.

More than Corona

Covid aside, there were a number of other key projects and campaigns we continued to support or lead on. Here’s a few highlights:

The development of Red Kite View – our new £20m young people’s inpatient unit. As construction work didn’t stop during Covid, we had to regroup and find the resource to continue to lead the comms and engagement for this priority project.

Delivering the good old staff flu campaign in record time ahead of the Covid vaccinations. Using some fab pictures of our own staff plus the lure of goodie packs on offer we got a remarkable 78.3% uptake.

Developing our website to improve the user experience and ensuring it met new accessibility standards. These improvements saw us get up to 24th out of 211 NHS trust websites in the Silktide accessibility index.  

Launching a brand new mental health service for armed forces veterans. We worked with partners across the North of England to launch this in November 2020 and to date it’s helped around 150 veterans in crisis.

Oh yeah, and we were nominated as the Trust’s Team of the Month for December 2020 – Boom!

Our report is a short summary of all that work and more. It doesn’t do justice to everything we’ve done or achieved in the face of constant and immediate demands, the backdrop of fear and uncertainty, and the cultural and technological challenges of home working.

I’m proud of what we’ve achieved and I wanted to highlight the fantastic work of our great but sometimes slightly too modest team. I’m glad we’ve taken the time to pull this report and animation together. We have to be able to tell our own story, do our own PR, and ultimately “comms the comms”.

Oliver Tipper is head of communications at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. You can say hello on Twitter at @OLT78

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Image via Nationaal Archief

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