“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” – Henry Ford
I went to a fantastic conference this week. #CommsHero, hosted by the lovely guys at resource, is all about bringing like-minded communications professionals together to hear from influential speakers, share best practice and, crucially, to have some fun away from the office. The theme of the day was Dare To Fail. A brave, bold move because as we all know, the connotations of failure aren’t typically positive.
Comms Hero is all about looking at things from a different perspective and being innovative – something we embrace at RHP. Ironically, one of my first encounters with RHP – The Interview – was a bit of a fail. When asked what I thought of the new strategy video on their website, in my excitement I started saying how great it was, and how powerful the messages were. The sticking point was that I hadn’t actually seen it at all. I was just so enthusiastic about the job that I wanted to please people and be on their side. I was caught out of course, by my generic answer, and asked specifically what I liked about the video. At which point I had to hold my hands up and admit that I hadn’t actually seen it at all. I explained that I’d been concentrating more on reading the publications that I’d be working on, and when I checked their website, the video hadn’t been uploaded.
Then I went home, poured a glass of wine and cried for three hours. The job I’d really wanted and desperately needed was now definitely, totally, unquestionably out of my reach. And then something unexpected happened. A couple of days later while I was shopping in Poundland, the phone rang, offering me the job. They told me they really liked my honest approach. Turns out failing isn’t always bad – and crucially for me, RHP didn’t mind that I’d messed up, because I’d owned up about it and anyway, they were looking at the bigger picture, and all the other things I’d done right. I’ve now been at RHP for three years. I often look back on this experience and use it as a reminder to others that if you think you’ve failed, guess what? It might not be as bad as you think.
And so my team and I headed to #CommsHero, superhero masks in hand, to find out why we should be daring to fail more often. The coffee was great, the pastries were delicious, and there were some lovely personalised goodies waiting for us, like notebooks and business cards (because resource are awesome like that). Definitely no signs of failure so far…
Chloë Marsh, RHP’s Head of Engagement (and my superstar manager) was our Chair for the day. She dared to fail weeks ago by agreeing to take to the mic – we knew she’d smash it but it was definitely out of her comfort zone – and what better role model to introduce proceedings? Firstly, if we were going to fail we had to step out of our comfort zones, so on discovering little cards with ‘my comfort zone’ printed on them we were told to give them away. Relinquishing something physical was really effective (I tried to keep half but that wasn’t an option). We started the day with an introduction and ice breaker from visual communications specialist Fran O’Hara. I’d seen Fran’s work on Twitter so I was keen to see some in person, and I wasn’t disappointed. Fran sketches the day, picking out the key points from each speaker and recreating them in glorious felt tip Technicolor. Fran encouraged us to pick up our own pens and draw our very own Comms Hero. For some it was intimidating and for others liberating, but it brought everyone together as we shared our creations.
Next up was Grant Leboff, who delivered a powerful and thought-provoking speech on ‘growth hacking’ – the process of experimenting across marketing channels to identify the most effective, ways to grow a business and engage its users. I’d go as far as saying that a lot of what Grant said was life changing for me and will make me re-evaluate the way I communicate and advise others. Having worked in comms for 10 years, across a pivotal time for the sector, I’ve seen a lot of change, noticeably in how we consume news and share content, and I’ve had to shift my focus away from print and towards social – which is now the biggest news source. Grant explained how failure is inevitable in marketing, because we’ll never achieve a 100% response rate. Surveys are no good, because people will often tell us what they think we want to hear. The way around this is to use predictive analytics: behavioural data that allows us to anticipate what our customers will want and create content they’ll want to share. We need to stop producing marketing that’s about what we do: we need to understand who we do it for, and be elegantly simple in our execution. To do this we can fail fast in small ways: trying out lots of different approaches until we find what works. So as soon as I’ve finished writing this, I’m going to take a look at our e-newsletter numbers and listen to what they might be telling us, as I have a sneaky suspicion they’re not as audience-focussed as we’d like to think.
Next was Helen Reynolds, who encouraged us all to embrace our work blunders and learn from them. I want to be just like her when I grow up – she was funny, relatable and really honest. With sparkly shoes! Helen shared a couple of her own mistakes with us that she’s made throughout her career, as well as the lessons she’s learnt. It’s thanks to her that I decided to write this blog after a couple of months of not producing content, because she told us all to find ourselves and do what we believe in. I’ve always felt that blogging is a natural progression for me but have been held back by the fear that no one will read my stuff. Well guess what? I’m going to feel the fear and do it anyway, because like Helen says, done is better than perfect. Making your failures a story is also important because they’re defining moments. Your failure story makes your success story even stronger! Hence the reason for sharing my interview fib fiasco.
After lunch Innovation Coach Paul Taylor (he invented his own job title, how cool is that?!) introduced us to Bromford’s Innovation Lab, and dared us to be different. The Innovation Lab is a way of helping colleagues try out their ideas in a safe environment, creating user-centred design. When they started the Lab, Bromford allowed themselves a 70% failure rate, because it’s only by failing that we can learn and move forward. Paul firmly believes a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings – music to my ears! – so whatever your job role, create stuff, experiment, be wrong as fast as you can and create innovation envy. Innovation doesn’t have to be rocket science either: it’s just about spotting opportunities and solving problems.
The final talk of the day came from Tim Scott, HR and social media consultant, who shed light on some of the reasons why HR teams can be reluctant to embrace social media and how we as comms professionals can help them overcome this fear and bring our corporate and social brands closer together. He explained that by just being you, diving in and sharing stuff you can maximise on its potential to find new ideas and ways to share information. I’ll definitely be sharing the benefits of Twitter with our L&D and HR teams as it’s a mine of information where I’ve learnt so much and connected with fellow grammar geeks.
And then it was over. My team and I took so much away from the day that we’re just dying to try out at RHP. There were oodles of practical tips and tricks that we can use right now to support the rest of the organisation, create engaging comms and deliver excellent customer service. There were others we’ll try later along the line, and if they don’t work, we’ll capture the learning. In the spirit of #CommsHero, we’ll #DareToFail. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?