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Triple award success for DTW at 2018 CIPR PRide awards

What a night! The DTW team was delighted to come away with three Gold awards from the CIPR North East Pride awards on Friday night (7 December).

Hannah Cheetham (right) picked up the hugely well deserved Outstanding Young Communicator award. We also won two big awards for our work with Sunderland City Council on its new Northern Spire bridge.

All in all, an amazing evening put on again by the CIPR at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.

To win Regional Campaign of the Year and Public Sector Campaign for the Northern Spire work is a real recognition of the blood, sweat and tears that Karen and others have put in on this project over the past three-and-a-half years. We’re very pleased.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ annual PRide awards recognise the best public relations work done by agencies, freelancers and in-house teams across the UK.

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DTW helps secure Project of the Year award for Northern Spire

Teamwork and collaboration are always at the heart of excellent communications. That’s why it was great to be alongside some talented partners to win a major award for one of our biggest client projects this week.

Sunderland’s Northern Spire bridge was named Project of the Year: Engineering, Construction and Infrastructure 2018, at the Association for Project Management (APM) awards in London on Monday (26thNovember).

We collectively beat off some stiff competition to win the award that recognises great project management. Northern Spire was up against a number of outstanding engineering and infrastructure projects from across the UK, including the Royal Navy’s new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, medical research centre The Francis Crick Institute, Master Gas System Expansion Phase-1, by Saudi Aramco, and The Temperate House Project.

Karen and Chris from the DTW team have been working on site for the best part of three years, working alongside Atkins, Faithful+Gould, and AECOM, the Sunderland City Council team and main contractors Farrans and Victor Buyck, as well as numerous sub-contractors.

That has put communications and PR at the heart of the project and meant we have collectively been on the front foot when it comes to communication benefits and engaging with stakeholders.

Work began on Northern Spire in May 2015. During the three-year build programme, more than 2,000 people worked on the project, clocking up more than a million work-hours. It was built within its allocated £117m budget, two thirds of which was met by the Government and the remaining from Sunderland City Council.

During recent months, different aspects of the Northern Spire project have been recognised at award ceremonies up and down the country, from the design of the structure, to the methods used to construct it, project management and public engagement.

Collaboration is at the heart of what we do. Communications and PR has a part to play both internally and externally on big projects like this and we’re very fortunate that we get to work with some of the best in the business on this and other projects.

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The lessons, fears and opportunities in AI

AI… it’s a Steven Spielberg film starring Jude Law right? It’s a distant concept that isn’t impacting us yet. Think again. Machine learning and AI is growing and already impacts everyone’s lives every day. As I learned in a compelling morning of presentations around AI in PR at the very impressive PROTO in Gateshead, hosted by the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations).

The thing is, AI (that’s artificial intelligence by the way) is already in our lives, from social media algorithms, to customer service chatbots on websites. I can guarantee we all encounter AI every day in some form or another.

AI is defined in the dictionary as:

A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behaviour in computers.
The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour.

That’s quite a broad definition. If we took that at face value, a calculator is AI… so we need to add an extra layer to this, and that’s where machine learning comes in.

To quote AI startup Wordnerds: If it’s not making decisions, it’s not AI.

What struck me from the presentations I saw, is there are two aspects to perceptions of AI: Fear and opportunity.


Kerry Sheehan from the CIPR’s #AIinPR panel talked us through the impact that AI is having not only in our industry but across a lot of enterprise. On face value, AI is replacing a lot of work done by humans; doing it quicker and better, hence a fear that machines are taking our jobs; the robots are taking over!

Well, this is partly true. What machines are doing is taking away the entry-level work for graduates and young people to get into an industry. This is around the traditional skillsets such as risk management, data management, and listening; the day-to-day bits and bobs that get many of us starting out do to get the experience needed to take the next step on the career ladder. Without this work, what is the new starting off point for those coming into the industry at the beginning of their careers?


There are still some essential human skills that the robots will never be able to gain. Think strategy, creativity, ethics, and people management.

These two diagrams are the result of a study looking at the skillset in PR now and in 5 years, and how AI will impact on them.

Source: CIPR

As scary as new technology is, there is some real opportunity for all of us to use AI to improve our productivity and service, whatever line of business we operate in.

We at DTW have found opportunity in AI through some of the tools we use. We’ve been trialling a tool that automatically transcribes our videos so we don’t have to manually make subtitles (thus increasing accessibility of our clients’ messages). We use social media smart scheduling tools that analyse when the most engaging time of day is for our clients’ Twitter and Facebook accounts so we can post when they’ll get the most exposure.

So, these are some of the lessons we’re learning in PR around AI that can be applied to other industries:

  1. Don’t be scared. Take advantage of the technologies to improve your productivity and professional offering.
  2. Make sure you have an understanding of the technology. The CIPR is going to offer coding classes so PR professionals can create and better understand how AI programmes work.
  3. Don’t use tools for the sake of using them. Make sure they offer the right solution for you.
  4. We all have an ethical responsibility to ensure AI is influencing decisions in the right way (i.e. not biased or prejudiced or inappropriate). For example, Amazon became aware that children were learning how to talk through voice commands on their Echo devices, which meant they were learning a blunt way of talking: “Alexa, do this… do that”. So, they decided to adapt the AI technology to only respond to commands from children that included a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’.

So, the robots? Not so scary after all!

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Northern Spire to provide inspiration as DTW MD joins speakers at project management conference

DTW MD Chris Taylor will be speaking at the Association for Project Management conference in Manchester on 7th November.

Chris will be joining Duncan Ross Russell, Regional Director at Faithful+Gould, to showcase Sunderland City Council’s award-winning Northern Spire project and pass on lessons learned to other project managers from around the UK.

Chris and Duncan are speaking as part of the conference’s Smarter Thinking stream. It is all about inspiring project professionals to review their approach and mindset to deliver projects that provide broad benefits, including social, environmental and economic impact.

Northern Spire is a £117 million project to build a stunning new bridge at the heart of Sunderland’s new strategic transport corridor.

Chris said: “Project managers need to focus on improving people’s lives and their role in delivering investment and economic benefits. That means creating a team ethos and a narrative that puts outcomes and real people at the heart of the scheme from day one, and that’s what we all did as a team in Sunderland. I’m looking forward to the APM event as there are some great speakers and it should be a fascinating conference.”

DTW was appointed by Sunderland Council to deliver strategic PR and stakeholder engagement support alongside the three-and-a-half year construction programme. Faithful+Gould were the project managers for the scheme on behalf of Sunderland Council.

DTW has won awards for its work on Northern Spire from the CIPR, PRCA and UK Public Sector Communications Awards body.

You can see more about Northern Spire at


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DTW MD Chris Taylor re-appointed to CIPR Council

Hi – Chris here – I’ve just been appointed to the council of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (no election needed this year). The CIPR is an important body that leads the PR profession, not just in the UK but across the globe.

A copy of my CIPR candidate statement is below. All comments and feedback welcome – whether you’re a member or not.

We’ve got a great new President-elect in Jenni Field and a strong line-up on Council for the next two years to take the public relations profession forward.

Strategy. Leadership. Ethics. These are the cornerstones of the CIPR’s new-look chartership assessment day. I can’t think of three better words to sum up what the CIPR must focus on for the next two years.

Strategy– I’m a huge supporter of the drive to position PR as a strategic management function – otherwise the robots will take our jobs. Our skills are in demand, but never has there been more people (or machines) who think they can ‘do PR’.

Leadership– we’re suffering from a lack of effective leadership in public life. Now that ‘the experts’ are fighting back, the CIPR has a real opportunity to carve out a position for the UK as an international centre of excellence for the PR profession with the CIPR at its heart.

Ethics– the CIPR has always led the way in promoting ethical standards. We need to maintain that by continuing the drive to professionalism. Truth, transparency and authenticity have never been more important or more challenged and our profession has to lead the way.

Our core commitment remains the same – PR is the discipline that looks after reputation. That means speaking truth to power, saying the unsayable and always using our eyes and ears to understand before opening our mouths to give professional advice.

If I am elected to Council I will:

  • ensure the CIPR keeps its focus on professionalism, making a modern, meaningful and responsive CPD system at the core of our work.
  • support the leadership team whilst ensuring that the needs of ordinary members remain at the heart of the CIPR’s mission
  • help ensure the CIPR maintains its high ethical standards in a challenging and fast-moving environment
  • ensure a strong voice for regional and sectoral groups.

To become a predominantly chartered profession we must engage with decision makers and people outside of the industry to showcase the value that PR, and CIPR members in particular, bring to society.

We’re getting there – we’re increasing the numbers of people doing CPD, becoming accredited and, crucially, getting chartered status, every year.

I’m a Chartered Practitioner (if you’re thinking of doing it – go for it and #getchartered). I fell into the CIPR family 14 (gulp!) years ago because my new boss told me it was a good idea – he was right.

Since then I’ve been Chair of the North East group for three years, and been a Council member for the past eight.

For the past two years I’ve also played an active role on the Professional Development and Membership Committee.

As for my day job, that is Managing Director of DTW– we’re a strategic PR consultancy based in the north of England working in the infrastructure, public sector and membership organisation sectors. If you want to know more about me catch up with me on twitter @dtwchris.

It’s 14 years since I joined the CIPR. The world has changed a lot since then. As CIPR members we need to lead the way and set high professional standards. I’d like to continue to play my part.

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Northern Spire opening hits the heights

Last week was quite a week for team DTW, and a career highlight for me, personally.

After three amazing years of working with Sunderland City Council and contractor Farrans Victor Buyck Joint Venture on the city’s new impressive cable stayed bridge, Northern Spire finally opened to traffic.

Our role throughout had been to use our knowledge and experience in working with large infrastructure projects to provide support around community engagement, media and public relations, education, social media and video production. It was an enormous task, but one we did with gusto – embedding ourselves with the on-site team, sometimes working extremely long hours, providing education sessions to more than 2,000 children, and even travelling overseas to capture key moments in the project.

Construction being what it is, since work began in May 2015, the whole project team has been striving towards reaching the end, and when the final opening came last week – first to pedestrians on Tuesday and then to vehicles on Wednesday – it was everything, and more, we had hoped for.

It is estimated that a staggering 20,000 people came out to take a stroll across the bridge deck during the pedestrian walk-over. We had children cartwheeling under the pylon, countless selfie-takers, a busker playing guitar and cycling and running clubs trying us out for the first time. We even had a naked cyclist. The weather was warm, the atmosphere holiday-like, and the whole experience quite magical. You could see hardened members of the engineering and construction team, who have worked all over the world, become visibly moved and humbled by the response from the community.

Throughout the two days, a large contingent of print and broadcast media were also based on site, with Northern Spire dominating every North East news broadcast on TV, radio and in newspapers. All in all, it was an incredible, rewarding and exciting week, albeit long and tiring, but something that the DTW team will cherish.

I can’t lie, from a PR and video perspective, Northern Spire has been a dream project to work on, with so many captivating, awe-inspiring, moments to capture along the way. Add in Sunderland City Council’s desire to engage, educate and excite the community, and we were given countless opportunities to showcase what we do best.

DTW feels incredibly proud and privileged to have been part of the Northern Spire team. We have worked with so many talented and experienced engineers from across the world, who, thankfully for us, recognised the importance of great communication and went out of their way to help. Whilst the DTW team have topped up our knowledge on bridge building and construction, both with Northern Spire and the Mersey Gateway Bridge, which opened in Cheshire last year, hopefully some seasoned engineers have also learned much about PR and communications, too.

Now, it’s onwards and upwards for team DTW. Here’s to our next big infrastructure challenge!

Karen Westcott,
Senior Strategist, PR, Engagement & Public Affairs

See how Sunderland’s new Northern Spire bridge came to life, from start to finish, with the Story So Far video:

Watch the great unveiling of Sunderland’s new Northern Spire bridge, first with a pedestrian walk-over day, followed by the opening to traffic:


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DTW picks up awards for infrastructure PR at PRCA DARE awards

Our specialism in infrastructure PR and communications has been paying dividends.

We’re proud to say we have picked up two PRCA DARE awards – one for our work on the Northern Spire project with Sunderland City Council, which was awarded Best Public Sector Campaign, whilst work on projects like Mersey Gateway and others in the infrastructure sector was critical in helping us secure the Best Large Consultancy award.

We’re really chuffed with both of them – as it recognises our passionate and talented team delivering customer-focused solutions to achieve outstanding results for our clients.

The judges comments were great – they said “DTW felt fresh” and that the campaign work “demonstrated excellent planning, strong focus and clear objectives with a view to delivering great results”.

We know the value big infrastructure projects bring to UK plc – and we love PR and comms – so combining the two is great fun, really rewarding and full of hard work.

If you want to know more about our approach we’ve blogged about it enough times from the building blocks of good community engagement to case studies about Mersey Gateway and making best use of drones.

We also love a good chat – so just give us a call and we’ll be happy to see how we can help you.The PRCA DARE awards aim to recognise the best campaigns from across the north of England so for us to be winning against agencies from Leeds, Manchester and elsewhere was a real feather in the cap for us.

As well as strategic PR and marketing work we’ve also launched video and animation divisions in recent years and the team are working for clients from as far afield as Paris on infrastructure projects around the world.

David Abdy, Northern Spire Project Director for Sunderland City Council, said: “We’ve put communications at the heart of the Northern Spire work so it is great for the project to be recognised in this way. DTW have been a key part of the team here on site and we’re very pleased to pick up this award.”

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It’s great up north – now get your tickets booked

Learning. People. A Great Place.

Just three reasons why here at DTW towers we’re looking forward to next months CIPR Northern Conference.


Anyone who works in the PR and comms industry who has a spare day (haha, but you know what I mean) on Friday 13th July should get themselves booked in now.

With a streamline of PR: The Art and Science of Engagement – it’s a stellar line-up and the learning opportunities will be awesome.

Want to know how to ‘prepare for’ and deal with nerve agent attacks a la Salisbury (Laurie Bell – Wiltshire Council), learn about the coming wave of AI and its impact on PR (courtesy of Wadds), how to engage with hard to reach audiences (Paul Irwin – Trylife) and hear from the Godfather of PR Mr. Bob Leaf?

Then get yourself booked. I guarantee you’ll take away some nuggets that will help transform the way you do something in the future.

That’s just the official bit though – in my experience you learn so much by taking the time out to reflect and listen to and chat with fellow comms professionals doing great work around the country.


And then there’s the people. CIPR conferences are incredible for networking and making lifelong contacts and friends as well – I remember my first one in Belfast – meeting  Anne Gregory (at conference), Andrew Flintoff (in the pub) and other great comms pros like Ashley Wilcox, Cormac Smith and David Hamilton – and they’ve all gone and done pretty well.

You might meet future employers, employees, clients or partners – maybe all four – but almost definitely you will meet like-minded comms professionals who will share your passion for and occasional frustration with all things comms!

A Great Place

Last week I was lucky enough to have row 3 standing on Newcastle Quayside as Maximo Park, some amazing dance performers and fireworks and fountains kicked off the Great Festival of the North – a summer long festival of all things Northern. Kids loved it, it was great. The real star of the show though is NewcastleGateshead.

I have to declare an interest – it’s my patch and my home town – but the architecture is incredible, the setting is great, the people are lovely and the festival just tops it off. So come the night before – head to the CIPR AGM (where we throw in Alan Milburn for a bonus) and enjoy a night by the bridges and the big river in the toon (see you there) before joining the conference.

And finally a big hand

And while I’m talking all things Northern conference – a big thanks to all the volunteers in the CIPR North East committee who have organised such a great looking event.

When I was Chair of the CIPR in the north east I organised one of these and it was easily one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Nerves of steel, a great ‘keep calm and carry on’ face and a large glass of something cold and wet (preferably afterwards) absolutely required.

Well done all! Looking forward to a great conference

See you there




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DTW ranked by PR Week as number one public sector agency outside London and Glasgow

We’re rather pleased this week.

DTW has been ranked as the number one public sector specialist PR and communications agency outside London and Glasgow by leading industry trade magazine PR Week.

We were also listed as #8 in the list of specialist public sector agencies across the UK.

The ranking is based on fee income (i.e. it excludes spend on advertising space) from public sector projects. This makes it is a good indicator of who is delivering major public sector projects within the public sector space.

We said a year ago we wanted to be in the top ten – so we’ve achieved that.

The focus now is very much on providing a high-quality service (with a good no-nonsense northern perspective on life and PR) to our clients across the UK in an ever-changing and constantly challenging communications world.

Thanks for reading


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Ears, eyes, mouth – the building blocks of good community engagement

In this fast-moving age of multi-faceted digital channels, the most important thing organisations can do to build and maintain their reputations is get out into local communities and talk and listen to the public and stakeholders on the ground.

Twitter. Facebook. SnapChat. Instagram. YouTube. Yammer.

They all have their place in 21stcentury communications, but here’s three better options for you when you are planning your engagement strategy.

Ears. Eyes. Mouth.

Starting by asking questions and listening is really important. I’ve not yet met anybody who likes being involved in a conversation where the other person just doesn’t listen to them.

Infrastructure projects usually get plenty of scrutiny from the public and the media. And quite right, too. In some ways, it’s easy to get people’s attention when you mention ‘£400m project’, ‘nuclear waste disposal’, ‘three years of traffic delays’ or ‘disturbing asbestos’, but it’s how you treat people that matters and, crucially, how you made people feel when you engaged with them.

The digital age gives us huge opportunity to talk (and just as importantly listen) to our stakeholders, but it’s no substitute for pro-active ‘on the ground’ engagement with real people about real issues.

Put simply, if you don’t invest the time and effort in pro-active community engagement, you’ll get the reputation that that approach deserves, and you won’t like it.

Here’s a tip. Flip it round, and genuinely engage with real people who have an interest in your project, and the benefits can be significant.

There are good examples all around.

The Queensferry Crossing open weekend and ballot generated huge excitement amongst communities right across the UK and beyond, and Mersey Gateway’s TimeBank scheme, where firms involved in delivering the project gave back thousands of hours of support on community initiatives, paved the way for new playgrounds, learning environments and opportunities for local people.

HS2’s Community and Environment Fund is creating visitor hubs and play areas already, and Crossrail’s wonderful Learning Legacy website has a whole suite of best practice materials you can ‘pinch with pride’.

In Sunderland, on the Northern Spire project, we’ve brought over 2,400 school kids on to site in the past year to help inspire them about future careers in engineering and construction, and to generate excitement about the project and educate about the benefits it will bring to the city.

For waste projects or others, where fear of the unknown is a big part of community concern, invest in taking community representatives to see another project you’ve delivered and talk to your stakeholders there.

So where do you start? Here’s seven simple principles to planning your approach to community engagement and public relations that any infrastructure project director should follow.

  1. Invest in communications planning just like you invest in design planning– nobody dreams of starting construction work without a plan in mind, but far too many people still leave communications as an ad hoc task. Start with research and insight to find out what people think about your project, and what you actually want your communications to achieve.
  2. Pretend you live around the corner– step outside the box and stop thinking like a construction team. What would you care about if you lived or worked close by? Inevitably, it’s the stuff that’s difficult to deal with – noise, disruption and delays, but often it’s also success, outcomes and local pride – tap into that by engaging with people, but don’t try and pretend the difficult questions don’t exist.
  3. Be prepared to ask questions, listen to the answers, and act accordingly – unless your actions back up your thoughtful words then you have no credibility. All the examples given here need time and resource, but this is investing in your reputation. It’s not an optional extra.
  4. Be open and pro-active– explain and advocate what you are doing, when and why. Sometimes that means walking into the unknown, but you are far better doing it on the front foot with a positive agenda. Go for public exhibitions and focus groups, rather than public meetings – public meetings very rarely do anything to inform the public and it is even less rare that they inform infrastructure developments. For most members of the audience they can be intimidating, rather than informative, and people rarely learn anything new. Drop-in sessions and exhibitions, on the other hand, give everyone (not just those with the loudest voices) a chance to ask their questions and understand the answer.
  5. Expect the unexpected –in the past twelve months we’ve had infrastructure projects with short notice visits (not all at once) from the Royal family, Jeremy Clarkson, Pete Waterman, coverage in Vanity Fair and even tip-offs of protests planned later that day by Fathers for Justice. The speed of communications gets faster every year, and reputation often depends on quick action – no project exists in a vacuum and you need to be nimble and agile.
  6. Measure your success– decide what is important to you and measure it. HS2’s community engagement strategy lists ten commitments that are the basis for measuring success. Simple feedback surveys are really important and let you track issues and report back to colleagues.
  7. Listen to your communications team– a plea on behalf of in-house communications people everywhere. They are employed as experts in their field – this is their profession – so let them guide you.

No-one likes surprises – so make sure you have a ‘no surprise strategy’ for your important stakeholders. If you’ve got good or bad news to share, think about when, how and where you share it, and who your key community influencers are that need a heads up before the information goes public.

It’s about building authentic relationships with real people – and with your key media – so you have a genuine trust and dialogue that will get you and your project credit in the bank. Let’s face it, at some point, somewhere, something is going to go wrong, and you’ll need to deal with that. Far better to do it from a position of strength with an informed audience that knows your name and face than it is with a group of strangers who have no affinity with you.

A snappy Twitter feed and a dynamic Facebook presence might help you along the way (or not!), but to win hearts and mind you need boots on the ground and a team who can engage with the public.

Chris Taylor is a Chartered PR Practitioner and a member of the national Council of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). He has provided community engagement and PR support to transport projects like Mersey Gateway, Northern Spire and numerous energy-from-waste and other treatment facilities. He will be part of the DTW team at the Infrastructure Show in Birmingham on 17 April.

This article first appeared on the UK Construction online website.