THURSDAY 18 OCT 2018 3:32 PM


The Communication Directors Forum, long held on a cruise ship, is moving ashore for the first time. The now-two day event will feature the traditionally packed agenda of networking meetings, conference programming and keynote addresses. Melina Thalassinou reports

No matter how great the journey, there comes a time when every boat gets docked. This year, one of the most renowned events in the UK communications industry’s calendar, the annual Communication Directors Forum (CDF), run by Richmond Events, is making the transition from sea to land, offering a new location for the first time in over 20 years.

The event, billed as “A bunch of likeminded people spending time to explore great solutions for our industry and profession, with some drinks thrown in,” by Drew McMillan, global head of colleague communication & engagement at British Airways, provides an inimitable experience to all communication professionals, presenting a unique opportunity to partake in business meetings, network and have fun.

Jeremy Shakerley, managing director at creative comms agency UKSV, says, “We’ve attended a number of these events throughout the years and have almost always walked away with a new client who we continue to work with to this day. In the years we haven’t, we’ve always managed to build on our network of industry contacts who are keen to hear from us and happy to share their views on our products and offerings. The event offers an unparalleled opportunity for our team to showcase our services to an organisation’s key decision makers in an engaging environment.”

In today’s ever-changing communications industry, communications professionals often get caught up in the middle of business, social, technological, economic and political activities. That’s why, both internal and external communications and the strategy behind them is of the outmost importance for not only clients, but also employees and stakeholders.

The CDF is a mutually beneficial event for agencies and businesses on the lookout for potential collaborations. Apart from its networking value, however, the CDF discusses topics regarding some of the most challenging problems communicators face.

Gill Galassi, head of public relations at Swinton group, says, “It has become such a core part of the calendar for senior leaders in PR and communications. The biggest event of its kind, it enables peer-to-peer learning and exposure to new and exciting technology and agency innovation.”

Speakers, suppliers and delegates, are equally excited for the upcoming event. The reason behind the high attendance rates of CDF are not without reason. Most, if not all, of the participants perceive the event as a great opportunity for the future of their brand.

When asked about the reason behind her attendance at this year’s CDF, Alison Esse, co-founder and director at the Storytellers Limited, says, “To meet potential new clients, with a minimum of one new engagement materialising over the next 6-12 months. Also, to showcase what we do, inspire and educate delegates, and to convey the value that our offer brings.”

Nathan Wallis, head of corporate communications and engagement at financial services firm Wesleyan, adds, “I have three reasons for attending the Comms Directors forum. First, to meet suppliers. ‘I know a company’ is a good answer to a challenging question. Second, to meet peers to make me feel better about the challenges I’m facing, knowing they are too. Finally, it’s taking some time out for me to develop too.”

This year, Richmond Events will address, among others, the top five issues faced by today’s senior communicators, focusing on change and on what the future holds for the industry. A series of seminars, interactive workshops, case studies and discussion groups will be led by experts, who will share their opinions and insights.

Presentations will be held, offering inspiration to the attendees, as well as potential solutions to their communications challenges. Roundtable discussions will also be led by industry experts, while professional coaches will be available to assist with delegates’ professional development.

 “The CDF is a bunch of likeminded people spending time to explore great solutions for our industry and profession, with some drinks thrown in”

Some of the topics the discussion groups will expand on include, ‘The vital role of communications in transformational change,’ ‘Measuring the true ROI of digital communications’ and ‘Integrated communications and the future role of the communication professional.’

There will be two keynote speakers who will set the tone for the conference. The first is a return speaker, Steve Peters a psychiatrist working in elite sport and in the corporate world, who discussed his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ at a previous forum. The second, Kate Adie, a former chief news correspondent for the BBC and current BBC Radio 4 presenter, will speak about  communicating in a time of crisis and change.

A big topic of discussion on this year’s CDF, will also be the personal and professional development of communication professionals. Emma Bell, author, coach, speaker, facilitator and resilience expert, following her excessive travelling across over 35,000 miles to interview 50 people around the world that thrive in what they do, concluded that the existence of a ‘resilience blueprint’ lead to prosperity.

At this year’s CDF, Bell will talk about the ‘resilience strategies that would enable you to thrive in the face of the most extreme change or challenge,’ sharing research that shows resilience is a skill that can be developed in anyone. One-to-one coaching will be available, by the Trusted Coach Directory, a directory for verified executive, leadership and career coaches.

In a similar fashion to the changes in the communications world, this year marks a year of change for the CDF. The fact that the conference will no longer be held on its trademark cruise ship and that its duration will be significantly shorter this year, is a clear indication that Richmond Events is listening to its delegates and suppliers and choosing quality over quantity.

Despite the boat being a legendary, fun adventure, with people like Wallis describing it as, “The most valuable way to spend a few days out of the office as a busy communications director,” the lack of internet reception and its extensive three-day spell, made the event a time-consuming, overwhelming and often difficult experience.
Galassi says, “This was an evolution that absolutely needed to happen and is a great decision from the team at Richmond Events. It’s a huge challenge for any professional operating at a senior level to take three days out of the office, and with no access to wifi.”

Natalie Deacon, executive director of communications at Avon Cosmetics, says, “It feels right for the current climate, and I’m looking forward to a more focused event.  There was always a lot to cram in so it’ll be interesting to see how the pacing works.”

The CDF always attracts return attendees year after year, however, for first time attendees, veteran delegates offer valuable advice. Wallis says, “Do the pre-work justice. Make sure you’re honest about what you need and want and the budgets you have to play with.”

Galassi suggests, “Get to know who is attending and who you will be meeting before you arrive. When you receive your schedule, have a good look at what your day will look like and get under the skin of what that will mean to you.”

The transformed and improved conference will take place on 22 and 23 November at the Grove, a luxury country estate in Hertfordshire. No longer spread across the sea and with its duration shortened, the event will still be one of the year’s highlight for the industry, offering valuable insight into the changes transforming the world of communications.