Tuesday, May 29, 2007

After the Lord Mayor's show

Last week was a good week - hectic and challenging up front, with a curate's egg of a conference to follow.

I'd taken on a workshop at short notice so spent Wednesday in one of those classic windowless conference rooms provided by older hotels talking catering strategies with a disparate group from across the UK and Ireland. There was just time to change when I got home before hitting the motorway for a drive up to Newcastle - 280 miles when I was already feeling tired.

I was peripherally involved in the organisation of the CiB's Annual Conference which culminated in a glitzy awards evening attended by almost 400 people.

The conference attracted about a third of that number and when not trying to talk to members about their issues and thoughts on the Association, I was able to attend some of the sessions - and what a mixed bag it was.

To be honest, the first day worried me. There was no 'wow' factor, and the event was pitched at too low a level. The senior communicators I met were restive, after the likes of Shay McConnon had told us at great length about the basics of business relationship building (a few great nuggets, but stretched to nearly an hour - and delivered quite aggressively!) and Dr. Steven Windmill had told us how he'd won the war....single handed (at least that's what he sounded as though he was talking about). The lesson learned? Never book a speaker unless you've seen them in action. The CiB audience is bright, demanding, savvy - and a bit more senior than one might expect. Ever more, we demand stronger speakers.

Steve Bevan of the Work Foundation took us through some interesting , though not ground breaking, findings from IC.UK Work Foundation Survey which begged the question - is the UK falling behind the field? Social communication hardly got a mention and the survey appeared to show we're still a nation of Generation Xers using our tried and testeds to communicate to (and occasionally with) the Yers and after now rapidly advancing in organisations.

Somehow, it felt like a trick was missed.

Thankfully, Friday showed the upside of the conference Ben Page from Ipsos Mori was great; I particularly enjoyed the crap-cutting Judith Thomas ex-of 10 Downing Street, and apparently (though I'd scuttled off elsewhere), Em Whitfield Brooks and Jim Montague from The Sage had the participants on their feet and singing.

My gut feel was that the conference was pitched too low. We needed more Ben Pages and fewer Steven Windmills - and getting 60 people singing was probably more for a workshop than a plenary session (the fact that half the participants weren't in the room says quite a lot). Actually, we needed more workshops and less chalk and talk.

The evening dinners were carried off with panache and the look and feel of the conference was good - all credit to the organisers. But it suffers from being coupled with the Awards dinner.

Too many people attend conference only as a forerunner to the Awards. Therefore we get agency bias and too may people involved whose focus is creating great media rather than digging deeper into the drivers that will enable communication to unlock organisational success.

I came away feeling that what I know has been validated rather than that I'd learned anything new.

I'd love to go to a CiB Conference in a few years' time and really be challenged. I'd love to come away feeling uncomfortable: feeling that I had to change to keep up. This felt a little too cosy - and dominated by the Awards evening.

I carried most of the conference kit back in my car - and spent yesterday's Bank Holiday catching up on the work I'd missed while up in Newcastle.

This morning's back to reality and the 'down' that inevitably hits after a big week. Anyway, it's straight back in today and little time to reflect.

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