Earlier this month, I attended my first ever social housing PR event! I went to the Inside Housing Communications Conference in London and it was great to be in a room filled with professionals from the same industry and to network with like-minded people.
The eight working hours in a day seem to go so quickly, especially in a fast-paced industry such as PR. As a result, although I started at See Media in July, I feel I haven’t had much chance to fully immerse myself in social housing. So this conference was great opportunity to be able learn more about communications in the social housing sector.
The conference had lots of interesting and valuable sessions to attend, ranging from discussions on AI to climate action programmes and utilising data-driven insights in communications programmes. I attended eight different sessions and found them all engaging and informative, however three sessions stood out to me.
My first session was ‘Getting repairs right: The role of transparent and authentic communication’, presented by Richard Blakeway, the Housing Ombudsman, and chaired by Martin Hilditch, Editor of Inside Housing. This was an enlightening discussion on repairs and complaints of residents in social housing. Richard outlined that two out of three resident complaints concern housing repairs. He explained that delays in repairs often result from a lack of communication, both internally and externally, that the resident may not have knowledge of. For example, there may be a delay if there is an item that needs sourcing to fix a repair, or a maintenance staff member may be held up due to issues with transport.
Therefore, Richard outlined the need for increased transparency and communication when handling a repair. He also highlighted the need for empathy, particularly when the resident is disabled, or perhaps a carer, as this is a common theme across his complaints casework. To minimise the number of complaints, housing providers need to be prepared to be transparent with residents and communicate frequently, even if there is nothing new to say, so residents feel reassured that they’ve been
Putting AI to work
It was fascinating to attend the ‘AI and the future of digital communications’ session. The speakers were able to demonstrate the practical advantages of using AI by showing an example of how AI technology had removed the background noise of a plane in a video.
Many industries – not least communications – are concerned about the power of AI technology, how fast it’s developing and how accurate it is. There have been discussions on the possibility of AI being able to write press releases or generate reports, potentially reducing the need for PR professionals. The panel explained that although AI is an intelligent tool, it’s not always reliable and should just be viewed as a tool, like when we use Photoshop or Canva.
How to hire the best
I also enjoyed the discussion on ‘Recruiting and retaining a successful communications team’, as this session had a focus on the image of the social housing sector. The speakers gave an overview of how best to recruit for our industry and talked through the difficulty of attracting potential new hires. They attribute this to the housing sector not being visible enough and when it does gain recognition on national levels, this is usually negative. The panel stressed the need for creating a clearer brand image and messaging, to attract graduates and new starters to the industry.
This conference was my first delve into the social housing industry and I loved it! It’s exciting to be joining the sector at such a busy time, when communications is critical in conveying the positive changes happening in the industry, as well as to raise awareness about the great work our clients do to have a positive impact on people’s lives. I am already signed-up for my next housing comms event (with Hel at Comms Creatives!) and am looking forward to being able to go to many more exciting events in the near future.
Harriett Bolton is a Senior Account Executive at See Media