A name stands feet high in stark white against the black of a cinema screen, Take That plays loud over the PA as the audience applauds. Someone whoops their approval. The lights glint off the engraving on the medal being handed over. A name booms loud along with the words Lifetime Achievement Winner…
by Sarah Lay
*Record scratch. Freeze frame*
Yeah, that’s me, stood at the front of the Everyman Cinema in Birmingham in December 2015. At the age of 36 I’ve just been crowned as the winner of the second comms2point0 UnAwards for my work across digital in the public sector and as a music journalist and PR. Just 24 hours earlier I’d quietly taken the decision to put in for voluntary redundancy due to a restructure in my team and so this surprising, humbling and ever-so-slightly ridiculous win was a bittersweet swan song to a 12 year career pushing forward with digital transformation in the public sector, a glittering ‘hello again’ as I returned more significantly to music journalism.
For me, the UnAward came at a weird and wonderful point in my career and life. I’d achieved a huge amount leading the Digital First project and team at Nottinghamshire County Council, and as co-founder of LocalGov Digital. Alongside it I’d been nurturing my career in music, mainly as editor of Louder Than War. I’d never intended to choose between them but sometimes things go in unexpected ways - although in a diminishing public sector perhaps it is not all that shocking that this choice presented itself.
Leaving has given me a whole load of opportunities - things have continued to surprise me. Not least that I am now half of an independent record label and get to spend my days choosing vinyl colours and listening to amazing music by brilliantly creative musicians (Reckless Yes Records seeing as you asked - please buy our stuff). I’ve been able to take work across digital and the public sector which fascinates and challenges me. The Lifetime Achievement award for me came at the end of something, but also at the start. Of course, that makes it hugely significant to me. But, more striking than how it relates to my personal and professional achievements and timeline is what it taught me about influence.
Influence is one of the areas that fascinate me in my digital work. Networking and the importance of connectors as well as connections, the links which are forged between individuals and groups and how those pathways endure even if only lightly or infrequently trodden.
The nomination was the firing of one pathway - a decision by someone that work I had done was worthy of recognition. The public vote was quite another and the win something else yet again; a humbling experience and strange for someone who suffers imposter syndrome more days than not and was up against some impressive and worthy individuals. But even more than that - it was startling just how far my work had spread, how things I’d done with little thought had catalysed work elsewhere or even just given people pause or triggered their own thinking.
We consider little about how connected we are these days, probably even less about what our networks truly look like, and the reach and influence each of us have in our professional and personal lives. This award, any award or recognition of our efforts, should encourage us to reflect positively on the journeys we’ve made and the ones still ahead. It should help us to see how far the ripples spread from the work we directly do and light up pathways around our network which we didn’t even know were there. It should help us connect further as well as celebrate.
Good luck to this year’s Lifetime Achievement nominees Phil Jewitt and Karen Newman- whoever is handed a medal this year you should already mark this up as a success, see it as a beacon in your networks and a valued milestone in your professional and personal journeys.
Sarah Lay is a freelance digital content strategist and music journalist, available for hire. Find her at www.sarahlay.com and on Twitter @sarahlay. She’s joining the comms2point0 panel to blog about digital from 2017
image via Sonny Abesamis