Internal Comms, Community, and Campfires
Once Upon A Time…
“I will never go camping again.”
7-year-old Kristin Hancock announced to her family that this would be her final family camping trip. It wasn’t just the uncomfortable accommodations, the threat of unwelcomed wildlife, or the muggy weather. No, she could get past all that. The final straw was when a chunk of her hair got stuck on a piece of sticky fly paper that was hanging down from the top of the camping trailer.
As her hair got caught up in the wax, Kristin panicked and started thrashing around a bit, which only caused more of her hair to adhere to the tape. The more she got stuck, the more she reacted; the harder she cried, the harder anyone witnessing the scene… laughed.
After several hours of hair detangling, cutting, and conditioning, Kristin swore off this “awful” life experience and vowed that she would never step foot on another campground for the rest of her life.
Famous Last Words.
Fast-forward a few years later (but only a few, okay? – wink, wink) as we are catching up with present-day Kristin. If you haven’t had the pleasure to meet Kristin, she’s a total badass (can we say badass on here?) and is VP of Community and Engagement at ICology. She appears at our interview with her gorgeous red hair perfectly yet effortlessly curled, which compliments her bright red lipstick. You can almost see the inner workings of her magnificent mind through the excitement in her eyes, gleaming with new thoughts and ideas. She’s a gamer and a game-changer, and she has this super unique way about her that makes you feel like you are old friends, even if you’ve just met.
She’s here today to share a story about ICology, a community for those passionate about internal comms. ICology was founded by Kristin and her husband, Chuck Gose, and its namesake originated from a Google search typo of the word “ecology”. Ecology is all about how organisms relate to one another and their surroundings. Splash it together with “IC” and bam – you get ICology.
The ICology brainchild focuses on challenging the industry norm for how people engage with one another. It is a supportive, peer-led group that offers growth opportunities, resources, events, and more. They have several ways for remote interactions (i.e., forums, virtual events, mentorship programs, etc.), but the vision has always been to be an in-person event-based business.
Now, we all have a version of a story that goes, “I had grand plans all set up, and THEN… 2020 happened.” That’s what happened with ICology as well, so while the company launched in 2021, the first in-person event took place in the fall of 2022 when Kristin finally got the moment to realize her dream and set up her first in-person event. Ironically enough, the fundamental base of this event was a concept that brought her right back to her childhood roots. Finally, at long last, she got the opportunity to gather IC folks… around a campfire.
Let’s Go Camping.
To Kristin’s chagrin, the camp “theme” came about with the realization that most camp values and traditions align with the overarching goals of ICology: community, commitment, challenge, and so on. When planning the inaugural Camp ICology, Kristin kept one question very central to each part of the process:
“What would an event that people RAVE about actually look like?”
Kristin envisioned an environment where you felt empowered and energized. She sought out sessions that broke the mold, relied on audience participation, and espoused a strong sense of unity. She decided that she would need to provide a small and intimate space for authentic and honest conversations; a place where you felt that you both reciprocally received and provided value. She also demanded strict attention to detail… and a hot pink megaphone.
Since Camp ICology had never been done before, there was no standard other than the one she was enforcing herself: to create an extraordinary, unforgettable, treasured event. All sessions were completely workshop-based, and there were events that broke the norm and traditional format, like an early-afternoon field trip to a city art museum.
Speakers were all compensated for their time and were invited as “Camp Counselors”. They were assigned attendees (aka “campers”) that were grouped into different “bunks”. Before the trip, an email was sent out with a brief overview of the event agenda and general guidelines. There were rules urging people to be present like, “no laptops at the table unless absolutely necessary” and insisting on authenticity like, “you must wear comfortable clothes, meaning, whatever makes you feel like you”. The most memorable quote of the pre-arrival email set the tone of the whole event:
“We want every camper and counselor to have the very best time in the safest, healthiest environment. This means we have a strict ‘no jerks allowed’ policy.”
Not Out Of The Woods – Yet.
Two weeks before the event, doubt started creeping in and attendees began dropping like flies. Those who canceled had valid reasons for doing so (i.e., other non-negotiable commitments, COVID-related issues, travel issues, etc.). Still, she couldn’t help getting nervous looking at the dwindling sign-up sheet. Kristin noticed she was trying to market an event (and a concept, really) that didn’t exist yet. Sure, she had the vision and saw how it would all play out, but that didn’t mean it was clear to everyone else.
As “sh*t” hit the fan (or for Kristin’s far-worse version of a nightmare, as “the hair hit the sticky fly tape”), Kristin took a step back and recognized something that gave her the ability to recenter. There was a commonality between all the names on the list.
“The people who signed up did so because they all believed in ICology, and they all believed in me.”
With a new-found confidence, despite the attendee number falling from 25 to 16, she seemed unflappable.
“Well… these 16 people will get the best experience of their professional lives.”
Around The Campfire.
The final number ended up being 12 people total, including counselors, more than half shy of her intended number; however, what Kristin observed at the event among this dozen of individuals was genuinely astounding. The small group setting allowed for a personalized consultation and impactful one-on-one networking. The campers became such a tight-knit group, a force of IC Superheroes. It was like everyone had an experience that was tailor-made for them. Community starts with connection, and connection is often built on one-on-one interactions. Kristin wanted an environment where people felt safe, comfortable, and willing to share. That’s what they received. Kristin candidly (thank you for your honesty, Kristin!) admits:
“If you looked at the event on paper, without any context, ICology didn’t make any money on the event; but it wasn’t intended for that. We did it to try something different… and we delivered.”
Kristin will continue to cap events at around 25 people per camp session. She wants to build a community where people can bring their most whole and genuine selves, and that isn’t going to happen with a large number of people. She realized that you can’t – and shouldn’t – expect people to separate their personal selves from their professional selves, yet so many events expect that.
Kristin is already dreaming up her next event – which will hit your calendars soon if it hasn’t already – and she knows that while the inaugural Camp ICology didn’t look exactly as she had once pictured, what transpired was:
“Nothing short of magical.”
So, the moral of the story is…
For starters, maybe don’t get your hair caught in sticky wax paper. Next, every event needs a hot pink megaphone.
A few other takeaways from this story are…
- Don’t be afraid to disrupt: Find ways to break the mold and challenge how things are typically done. There will be some kinks to work out, but the ceiling and potential are oh-so high if we start thinking outside the box.
- Prioritize fun and comfort for all: Kristin rented a bus for the field trip portion of Camp. Primarily for effect and because it felt “campy” to her, but all with the goal to cultivate a memorable experience for all. She was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that happened (even at the expense of the price tag).
- Quality, not quantity: In this case, it was quality in content and the type of attendee. Everyone there believed in the mission, had a good attitude, and was ready to contribute. They brought their A-game material, and instead of jamming wall-to-wall content, they let the schedule breathe and let people have natural interactions.
- Always show up with an open mind and kind heart: This lesson was written in the pre-event email, and it’s true. Try to have a little compassion and practice acceptance. Once you get out of your comfort zone and start being vulnerable, you’ll be amazed by what can be accomplished or dreamt up.
- Never underestimate your community: Pay it forward to others because you never know when you’ll need people to pay it back by showing up and supporting you. Treat people like human beings, and be a good friend, colleague, or partner before you need something from them.
One final “moral” for good measure – above all else, don’t limit yourself. As a 7-year-old girl screaming in the woods, Kristin never would have pictured herself to be where she is now, all these years later adding one more title to her (long and esteemed) resume: