– Blog –

Lifetime Achievement for our Super Sally

 Georgia has entered Sally in the Comms2point0 UnAwards 2019. Here’s the fully entry, setting out why she deserves to win….

A passionate linguist and dedicated Francophile, Sally graduated with a double honours degree in French, German and Linguistics. She worked as a journalist for the Poole Advertiser and then Senior Reporter at the Bournemouth Daily Echo before joining the Borough of Poole as a Media Relations Officer in 1995.

After two years, Sally combined freelance work with a Communications Manager role at North Dorset District Council. In her freelance capacity she set up and produced Dorset County Council’s first resident’s newspaper, your Dorset, setting the tone and managing all content for the 150,000-copy circulation publication. Within her role at North Dorset, she was part of the team that pushed through Dorset for You, an acclaimed approach to web presence, with the county council and a number of districts working together to provide residents with a single online portal to access the information hey needed, and not have to deal with the confusion that two-tier local government can present to ordinary folk.

Sally offline on the heath

All this whilst successfully raising two beautiful daughters, after her git of an ex failed to do the right thing by all three of them. They may not be professional achievements, but Lauren and Liv are true credits to Sally’s character and brilliance as a parent, whilst holding down a busy and at times stressful career.

In 2006, Sally joined Dorset County Council as Corporate Communications Manager, running a full media relations, ecomms, internal comms, branding, marketing and campaign function at a time when austerity was on the horizon and about to challenge local government, and so its professional communicators, like never before.

Whilst here, Sally’s unwavering passion for Plain English came to the fore as the subject matter expert at DCC for good writing, she developed training workshops, upskilling 100s of officers within various services and so influencing and improving the direct communication residents received from officers in largely technical areas, such as Transport.

She also established the cross-county Dorset Communicators Group to further joint and partnership working, and develop best practice amongst local government communicators. In this role, she proposed and oversaw the introduction of a joint county council and districts (non-unitaries) council tax leaflet, which meant consistent messages to residents across the county and a streamlined production process. This paved the way for various Warning and Informing roles, including setting up the MACC (Multi-Agency Communications Centre) and liaising with LOCOG on the construction of the Weymouth Relief Road and, during the sailing events themselves, ensuring the MACC was always staffed and the public were regularly updated, primarily on traffic & transport matters.

She was also required to set up a communications cell and lead activities when, in 2007, HMS Napoli grounded off the Devon coast resulting in its spilt cargo washing up along the Dorset coastline.

Contribution from Sally’s colleague, Sarah Johnstone, formerly Senior Communications Officer at DCC:

I’ve had two stints of being in a team led by Sally, and the very fact that there is a voluntary second stint should tell you that the first was a good experience!

As a manager Sally is trusting, and – joyfully – she doesn’t micro-manage. She gives you the space to go with your instinct, but is always on hand/text/WhatsApp/at the end of a line for a chat/therapy session/giggle – that’s the management style that gets me through.

While working together at Dorset County Council Sally led our team through a fair amount of turbulence. A change of Chief Executive and a series of different leaders saw her adapt her style, but not her 100% conviction of the need for open, tw

o-way communication at all levels of the council. Even when faced with internal adversity she stayed true to herself and us, and never lost our un-wavering loyalty.

Sally was a strong figurehead for the team and always stood up for what she believed. Having been creatures of habit in terms of having our own office (aka room to store all kinds of rubbish) Sally positively encouraged the comms team to break out of our comfort zone and embrace hot-desking and a clear desk approach. It worked. And freed us up to work more flexibly, enhancing our work relationships and a home-work balance. It also got us ready for the Olympics – a period which saw us work remotely and in shifts for the first time, all under the close scrutiny of the London 2012 Organising Committee.

At DCC Sally encouraged her direct reports to develop their managerial skills and was a great sounding board when we needed to navigate the choppy waters of people management. She offered wisdom but challenged us to be the best we could, all with warmth and charm.

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In November 2015, Sally took on the mammoth role of Deputy Director, Communication and Participation at Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust. This role encompasses staff participation and engagement, organisational development, corporate communications and patient & public participation. Sally is responsible for three teams – which she established from scratch, building the directorate and continuing her own learning around OD leadership –a new work area for her.  She has been integral to the transformation of the Trust, developing the Trust narrative – “Better Every Day” – and branding, and, importantly, embedding programmes through her OD work to bring these to life and bring credibility. This included ‘rapid improvement week’, which helped staff across the Trust identify blockers to improvement and work through ways to clear them. She’s led the Trust’s staff survey and organisational response, and under her leadership the team ran a recruitment campaign to reduce agency spend by the Trust that saw extensive use of the TfL transport network, selling the Dorset lifestyle to Londoners.

Sally has also improved communication between Trust Governors, Members and the public, by introducing public engagement events for the public to feed in to the Trust, as well as Members meetings and a newsletter to help people understand its role better.

The Trust brand campaign “We are better everyday” has helped to build enthusiasm and innovation across the Trust, challenging the organisation to do things differently, and developing leaders across the Trust so managers are leading improvement in their services.

There is no doubt that this campaign has significantly contributed to Trust achieving Outstanding in a 2019 CQC inspection.

Contribution from Sally’s colleague, Jonathan Slater:

As Communications Manager at Dorset County Council, Sally always recognised that ‘one size does not fit all’ in communications, and worked hard to create a broad suite of channels to reach as many people as possible, in a way that suited them. Despite misgivings in some quarters, Sally persuaded the organisation to establish a social media presence on both Twitter and Facebook, and dramatically increase its use of video. She commissioned a number of short films to help explain major service changes to the public, such as the introduction of personal budgets in adult social care. At the same time, she understood that – in a county with an unusually high demographic of older people – different parts of the population had different needs, she championed the continued publication of a council newspaper, delivered door-to-door across the county. Realising that council budgets were being squeezed, she ensured that it was largely funded by advertising revenue, reducing subsidy to a minimum.

This practical approach and financial awareness made sure that communications within the council were as cost effective as possible. If demand outstripped capacity (as was usually the case), Sally was always creative and flexible, obtaining the necessary funding from individual services to create additional posts. She devised service level agreements to ensure staff delivered against agreed targets, and was always focused on outcomes instead of just outputs.

Internally, Sally led two corporate transformation projects, Fit for the Future and its successor, Forward Together, which supported staff through a host of major changes as the council embarked on major cost-saving initiatives. To help break down barriers between staff and senior managers, she persuaded the Chief Executive to write a weekly blog and host a series of staff engagement events. She also pushed for the introduction of Yammer, to help foster internal staff dialogue.

On moving to Dorset HealthCare in 2015, she quickly established the Trust’s first communications team, and set about working to raise the profile of the organisation and foster better internal engagement with its staff. She oversaw the creation of a brand new intranet and public website, the creation of a digital members’ newsletter, the introduction of e-newsletters and podcasts, and a much greater push on social media channels. From 2017 (when the new intranet was launched) to 2019, the number of page views by staff increased from 700,000 to 1.6 million; Trust Twitter followers increased from 2,700 in 2016 to more than 5,000 in early 2019, and Facebook followers doubled during the same period, from around 900 to more than 1,800.

Internal campaigns to support staff engagement also bore dividends. Responses to the annual staff survey rose from 47% in 2016 to 52% in 2018, and our staff engagement score – a measure of our motivation, involvement in decisions and pride in our organisation – is now above average for comparable NHS trusts. The success of this drive to improve morale and make staff feel part of the organisation helped contribute to the Trust’s Care Quality Commission rating improve from ‘requires improvement’ in 2016 to ‘good’ and then, in 2019, ‘outstanding’. She has led the introduction of a staff innovation competition, based on the Dragon’s Den TV show, and revamped the staff awards process in line with staff feedback. And Sally’s team’s work in encouraging staff to have the flu jab has also seen take-up increase from 34% in 2016/17 to 62% in 2018/19.

Sally is also leading major behaviour change work, driving forward the Trust’s ‘Smarter Working’ project, to help achieve a more efficient way of working and reducing the organisation’s impact on the environment, while also providing staff with a better work/life balance. Though still in its early days, the project has already delivered a number of ‘open zones’ which provide staff more flexibility around where they work, and is about to roll out Skype for Business – both delivering tangible benefits for staff. She also chairs the Trust’s Digital Communications Group, helping to drive a shift towards online communications across all services.

I have been managed by Sally for more than 13 years, in two different jobs. Her position as manager was a key factor in my decision to move to Dorset HealthCare. She is an inspirational leader – a passionate advocate of clear, outcome-focused communications geared to the needs of the target audience. She is always keen to embrace new ideas and innovate, finding fresh ways to engage with people.

Sally is constantly positive and supportive, and draws on seemingly bottomless wells of energy and enthusiasm, which helps to power those around her. She helps you rediscover your own motivation when it goes missing, and is someone you actively want to work for.

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Since June 2017, Sally has run learning and wellbeing experience Comms Unplugged, off the side of her sofa, with Georgia Turner and Darren Caveney. She is known for her sage advice and support to many Unpluggers from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 events, and regularly brightens our days with dog-walk video selfies, and monthly podcast production.

A personal message from me (Georgia Turner):

I met Sally in 1996 when we both started our careers in local government comms. I’ve admired her ever since, and know her to be an impressive, creative, brave, persistent, talented communicator.

Sally and I, along with Darren Caveney, who gave us the nudge to make it happen, set up Comms Unplugged in 2017. I absolutely love working with Sally (and with Darren, but I obviously can’t nominate him!). She has so much energy, we bounce ideas off each other endlessly; she is the practical planner, the finan

cial controller and a constant innovator for our amazing little venture. Some of our best times are the train journeys to Brum for the UnAwards, where we devise some crazy festive promo idea, plan the whole thing and rope in as many Unpluggers (and future/potential Unpluggers) as we can to help us deliver that. It is so much fun!

I am therefore now lucky enough to also call Sally a very good friend. Sally is an incredibly thoughtful and kind person. She is a source of professional advice, freely given, a hugely encouraging and supportive friend whose advice I trust completely and value extremely highly. Considerate and considered, I learn so much from on a regular basis.

I feel so lucky to have her as a friend and colleague…. And I really would love for her to be recognised with an UnAward win.

Contributions from some of our Unpluggers:

Jill Spurr, External Communications Officer,  Vale of Aylesbury Housing

Sally is a talented, experienced and highly creative comms professional. But what sets her apart from the rest is her compassion. She is committed to helping other comms people reach their potential, by developing skills, maintaining a critical emphasis on wellbeing, and being the biggest supporter you will ever get.

That’s the magic of Sally: she is an encourager. She has an innate ability to make you feel that you can do anything, achieve anything. She helps you find your voice. She understands the power of compassion and empathy and she uses both liberally. With Sally in your corner, stepping outside your comfort zone is a whole lot less scary and you really do start to believe in yourself.

If you need help, Sally is always the first to respond with sound advice and a warm blanket of encouragement. She is generous with her expertise, rocks attention to detail like no one I have ever known and delivers on her objectives (because what are we without evaluation?).

The short answer is that Sally is an inspiration, and the kind of comms person I’d like to be.

Helena Hornby, Communications Officer, Corporate Affairs – Transport for Greater Manchester

Despite living over 250 miles away from Sally, I’ve felt the benefit of her enthusiasm, experience and creativity. It’s not an overstatement to say her support and encouragement has helped to shape my career. She has passion, drive, and big bags of positivity. She’ll make time for anyone who needs her, whether it’s professional advice or a long-distance, virtual hug! She’d be a worthy winner of a Lifetime Achievement award, and I have no doubt that many more people will feel the effects of her influence for years to come.

Joanne Ford, Communications Manager, , Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park

Sally is a real inspiration. She’s an outstanding and inspiring comms professional who always does things for the right reasons. It’s clear she always puts people at the heart of what she’s doing, whether it’s writing, leading her team or guiding others. She’s generous and uses her skills to help elevate others as a champion of development and wellbeing.

She works tirelessly in a challenging environment to always strive for the best. Not only that, she’s given something wonderful to the communications community by jointly creating Comms Unplugged, which, with Georgia and Darren, she has done in her own time. Far more than just an event or conference, this is a real movement that’s created a nation-wide network of support and inspiration for communications professionals.

Saranne Postans, Fresh Air Fridays and Public Sector comms freelancer

I am in awe of ‘super Sally’ as we Unpluggers like to call her. She has endless energy and empathy, amazing organisational skills and inspires me regularly with her engaging videos that she shares on WhatsApp, often while out on her morning dog walk.

The co-creation of Comms Unplugged, together with the awesome Georgia Turner and Darren Caveney, is not only a highlight of my calendar, both as an individual delegate and as a provider of wellbeing walks, but has also brought huge joy and professional pride to Sally. The event is first-of-a-kind in the comms community and is serious about bringing personal development alongside wellbeing. It’s an amazing thing and Sally’s role is one of the three keys to its success (Georgia and Darren hold the keys that complete the bunch!).

Of course, Comms Unplugged is not-for-profit and, as such, Sally puts in her portion work to organise this great event alongside her *proper* job. That fact alone must make her a candidate for lifetime achievement!

Contribution from Andy Martin, News Editor, Bournemouth Daily Echo (retired)

I first met Sally in 1990 when she was a young trainee on the Southern Newspapers Journalism Training Course, working for the Advertiser Series. I was her public affairs lecturer, something of an irony given our later professional relationship.Sally worked with the company until 1997 by which time was a senior on the Daily Echo / Bournemouth Echo, where I was her news editor. In all things, whether in her studies or her work as a journalist she was incredibly dedicated and always sure footed and confident of her skills, approach and opinions. Her real talent for community journalism meant that her departure was a big loss to the newsroom.  She later emerged as the communications manager at Dorset County Council where we crossed swords on a number of occasions, with me still in post as news editor. She was always incredibly professional, tenacious and a passionate advocate for the work of the authority. But she was always fair and open and helpful when we had a point. In all things Sally has always been the consummate professional!

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I can think of no more deserving winner of lifetime achievement than Super Sally – even though she’s not done yet!

Not only has Sally achieved impressive communications practice improvements for the public sector organisations that she’s worked for over her almost 30-year career – Borough of Poole, North Dorset District Council, Dorset County Council and Dorset Healthcare NHS Trust – she has also achieved respect, gratitude and love nationally for the work she has done to co-create and stage Comms Unplugged, an annual wellbeing and learning event for primarily public and third sector comms professionals. This is something she’s done for no financial reward alongside her busy day job, whilst raising two strong and beautiful daughters by herself, and baking copious amounts of cake for others.

Eight people have contributed to this nomination. Each one inspired, encouraged, and motivated by Sally’s leadership, touched by her compassion and kindness, struck by her professional skills and creativity. That is the power of true advocacy for an individual’s achievements and contributions to the communications industry. It is testament to the impact of Super Sally’s accomplishments, evidence that her actions have touched many comms professionals with lasting positivity. Give that girl the gong!