For this post, you need to know I’m a proud Yorkshireman. Apparently there’s a perception we are minded to tell it how we see it. I’m also an honest comms chap and don’t spin things either, ever.

The foundations of my music tastes were laid down in the 1980’s. ‘Club Tropicana’ and ‘Wake me up before you go go’ do not feature in my top 100,000 fave choons or will ever. So if you’d said to me back then, that 30 years later I’d walk down Deansgate in Manchester carrying a red canvas bag with ‘Wham’ splashed all over it, I’d have probably laughed myself silly.

It happened. Asif Choudry @AsifChoudry is responsible. I recently attended #commshero; an event about communications and marketing in Manchester. This is my take on the event.

Some weeks ago, I noticed Asif’s Twitter avatar suddenly included a batman mask and a ‘kapow’ background. I thought he’d finally lost it. There was also some mention on Twitter about super heroes and a bit of banter about an event where housing folk would be wearing masks and capes and discovering their inner heroes. Stuff I usually think is a bit daft and might lead me to unfollow a few folk. I didn’t.

This ‘#commshero’ noise grew and others joined in. A date for an event was mentioned, and it wasn’t in London, which is always a help to us northerners. People seemed excited about attending and speakers were gradually announced; people who I admire. And all this was happening at the same time as similar excitement and tickets for Commscamp14 and Localgovcamp were being promoted; both similar events.

Then a @commshero twitter account was created and promoted. It retweeted all Asif’s tweets and then Asif retweeted those tweets like you do when you are building a network up. Initially I didn’t follow it but it gained followers quite quickly. Asif then asked me if I’d be attending the event. I’d seen the line-up, and no disrespect to any of the organisers or speakers; in fact I’d seen them before and I knew they were good, but I declined. Training budgets and time are tight. On the face of it I couldn’t justify a trip over the Pennines, to an event where I’d seen most of the speakers and which I thought might be a bit silly.

Asif is very persuasive and invited me as his guest if I agreed to do this blog, facilitate at a table and maybe run a break out session; a kind of trade off. I was still sceptical mind, but a deal’s a deal and I accepted. I received my superhero personalised invite pack the day after. Slick and impressive.

The day of the event came and I and a colleague boarded the train in Leeds, navigated Lancashire border control, always tricky, and arrived in Manchester slightly late, picked up the aforementioned goody bag and sneaked in thinking we could make way to our tables unseen. Nope.

Most people were singing. Yes. Singing. It was the icebreaker. An event theme tune had been composed and we had to sing it. Perhaps we weren’t late enough I thought but we joined in wondering what we had done. Quite a catchy tune in the end though.

Not all folk were initially comfortable with the audience participation elements of the day which also included a laughing workshop where delegates had to laugh whilst shaking hands and blowing kisses. People took part in the spirit of things and in a weird sort of way it added to the day. Different.

I’m not going to cover the speakers or content in depth as there’s video and running commentary on the #commshero timeline. A quick summary though; there were four speakers; Grant Leboff, Dan Slee, Helen Reynolds and John Popham. They were really good, had interesting and useful things to say and learning for folk to take away, as I imagine the feedback will show.

The event chair, Caroline King was timely and efficient in her debut role. The venue; Bridgewater Hall was good. The organisation and promotion of the event by Asif and colleagues was good too, different; but good and obviously caught people’s imagination. The session timings were just right and there were a number of 10 minute free sessions throughout the day which allowed folk to have a breather and chat. Other events should take note. There’s a rumour of similar events in Wales and perhaps elsewhere. They will be good too and maybe even better, based on the feedback from Manchester and I’d encourage those who are sceptical, like I was, to go.

Being in marcomms is not just about producing things. It’s about noticing things, seeing a gap or finding a peg to hang a story on and maybe trying something different. It’s about being creative and, as Caroline summarised, about using our emotional intelligence. The #commshero promotion, superhero status and personalised delegate material was definitely different and whilst there was some odd stuff in the goody bag, so what? It looks like it captured people’s imagination and intrigue and people attended. I met some good folk there.

At other events I’ve attended, there has generally been a gender imbalance in the favour of males. That imbalance has often been reflected in the speaker list. Not #commshero. There was a balanced gender split in speakers, facilitators and break out session leads. The delegate list makes interesting reading. Of 76 named delegates, 53 were female and 23 male. I don’t know why that is, perhaps the marketing? I’ll leave others to speculate. It didn’t matter one bit; a refreshing change.

I think it was John Popham who said in his session. “Why can’t all events be like this?” John knows a thing or two about how to do stuff that matters.

So, the audience participation was a bit whacky but heyho; probably just my Kryptonite. Added to the breaks, the good balance of speaker sessions and then the unconference element (breakout sessions in case you don’t know what unconference style is) it was an event that didn’t feel like some development days do. As one delegate put it “Not a burden”, not rushed – actually quite refreshing. If you get a chance to attend a #commshero event; do it.

Sometimes ‘different’ is where we need to go.

Thanks Asif