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Project Spark: GCS teams face the Dragons!

On 2 November, the heat turned up when five innovative and brave teams from across GCS pitched their ideas in the inaugural Project Spark Dragons Den!

from left to right Simon Baugh, Henry De Zoete, Natasha Kizzie, Conrad Bird

Improvement and Innovation are core pillars of the new GCS Strategy, and in June, Project Spark launched as a new “Dragon’s Den-style” programme to identify ideas for innovation across GCS, test them, and quickly scale them up through the virtual GCS Innovation Lab

Open to GCS members from across Government, including ALBs and central departments, Project Spark received 19 ideas, submitted by 13 teams, from across two continents! 

The top five ideas were invited to face a panel of top ‘Dragons’ from across government and industry. Each team had just 3mins to pitch their idea, before facing a grilling from the four formidable Dragons:

  • Simon Baugh, Chief Executive Officer, GCS
  • Henry De Zoete, Cabinet Office Non-Exec Board Member, and record holder for the most funding secured from the BBC’s Dragons Den
  • Natasha Kizzie, Industry Lead at Google
  • Conrad Bird, GCS Director of cross-Govt Strategy & Campaigns

The Dragons were blown away by the passion and energy with which all the teams presented, and were very impressed with how each team articulately addressed each of their tough questions in the white heat of the Den!

In the end, three teams won over the Dragons and secured a slot in the GCS Innovation Lab:

  • The Department for Work and Pensions: Harnessing data and AI to measure attention in GCS campaigns and establish more effective ways to improve campaign performance.
  • The British Consulate General Los Angeles: Re-imagining weekly grid systems, from data collection, to visualising insights, and sharing the effectiveness of comms to generate continuous learnings and play-forward actions.
  • The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy: Evolving how we collectively work with influencers across govt comms, supporting increasingly joined-up approaches, and best-practice sharing to drive low & no cost campaigns.

These teams will now have the opportunity to tap into technical and project management expertise from the centre to take their idea to the next level, by designing and running a pilot to test their idea, and then hopefully scaling it across government communications.

Below are some highlights from Chris and Mark at DWP who faced the Dragons:

Chris Terry:

“Entering an idea for GCS Spark! was a no brainer, having worked as a paid media manager for years in government previously, it was my chance to get back in the game, do things at the leading edge of industry best practice again, a mainstay in other jobs I had managing campaigns. It was also my opportunity to do something within my control, be creative and drive change at a professional level that linked directly to the new GCS strategy. I care about campaigns, how they are conceived, planned, and measured.

“The original prompt was a book by Faris Yacob (Paid Attention) and later one by Karen Nelson Field (The Attention Economy – How Media Works), plus years of agency experience learning about it, seeing how platforms and publishers tried to move their buy model to more meaningful metrics.

“Pitching on Wednesday was great, a chance to go toe to toe with The Dragons. It was like all those years of working and learning came out in the Q and A, where I felt like I clicked into fifth gear. When the first dragon backed our idea, I thought, come on, let’s go, then we got all four which was brilliant!

“Mark and I have spent six months continuously honing the pitch away from jargon ridden explanations (my pet hate with media owners) into plain English. Now the fun part, taking the idea to measure attention into a pilot, plus the commercial and governance elements, making it happen for GCS.

“I am convinced measuring attention can drive better integration and collaboration between GCS and the industry, and lead to better campaigns. A massive thank you to Craig Woodhouse who conceived the Dragons concept, and the Dragons themselves for the opportunity. Push yourself GCS colleagues, there is a mindset of innovation in GCS and more ideas are needed, it’s worth it!”

Mark Storey:

“What a buzz! Working with Chris I got to know his passion for introducing attention measures into campaigns very well and having an interest in human behaviours myself, this was a huge chance to collaborate on a great idea. GCS Spark! was a great way for me to think differently, bounce off ideas and influence change at a professional level. It was crucial to do the research first; speaking to industry leaders, media owners and key players in the Attention ‘business’, to ensure the pitch was going to be clear, straightforward and gave us all the answers to anticipate those challenging questions.

“To give you a flavour of the session, Chris and I were first up! Our 3 minute pitch went very well and seemed to get the Dragons very interested. Then onto what felt like an hour of some very challenging questions and comments from the Dragons.

“We then got the feedback from each Dragon. Well suffice to say we didn’t get 3 votes…….we got 4!

“To get all four Dragons backing is a massive career highlight and I now look forward to continuing working with Chris and the Innovation Lab to develop the idea into a pilot and importantly the honour of actually making this a reality for GCS. Even if we hadn’t got through I’d still say a massive thank you to the Dragons themselves for the challenge. I would say to anyone out there, if you have an idea that you truly believe, don’t hold back and get it submitted. You never know you may be massively surprised and in years to come you can proudly say “I did my bit to improve the way we did things in GCS!”

You can follow each team’s journey through the GCS Innovation Lab on the GCS website.

We expect to run further rounds for Project Spark in the future, and encourage teams to start thinking now about innovative ideas which could shape the future of government communications!

Joseph Pott’s presenting

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