Company of Communicators 2021 Military Communicator Awards Presented by Admiral Lord West

Outstanding achievements in communications by military personal were recognised at the Company of Communicators’ 2021 Military Communicator Awards.

The awards were presented by Former First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff Chief Admiral Lord West at the Honourable Artillery Company in the City of London on September 30.

They were attended by senior representatives from all three services and the Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London, Vincent Keaveny.

The award-winners were honoured for outstanding work in the field worldwide, ranging from the Baltic and an aircraft carrier to surge testing a whole city during the pandemic.

Figure 1 The Company of Communicators Court and guests of honour

The inaugural Operational Communicator of the Year went to Captain Ranny Wei of 71 City of London Signals Regiment who also works as a commercial banking relationship manager with HSBC.

Figure 2 Captain Ranny Wei arriving at HAC

As a young Reservist, Captain Wei’s first military deployment was to support a UK-led NATO battlegroup exercise in Estonia last year, extending his tour well beyond the standard six months.

“In a challenging work environment, he demonstrated exceptional leadership when dealing with incidents, and effectively protected the UK’s reputation during moments of crisis,” the citation reads. “Despite the challenges of Covid, he improved the range of digital channels and coordinated several single service and defence communications campaigns including the highly successful ‘Clap for Carers’ output which achieved UK national media coverage from Estonia.

“His work with Estonian and multi-national colleagues on media initiatives has significantly boosted the public standing of both the UK military and NATO within across the wider Baltic region.”

Figure 3 Capt. Wei on deployment in Estonia

Captain Wei is now working at Army HQ.

He was nominated for the award by Oliver Omar of Permanent Joint HQ Media Cell and was sponsored to attend the dinner by Mark Laity, Director of the StratCom Academy.

The Royal Navy Military Communicator of the Year award went to Lt Cdr Jeremy Olver, ministerial speechwriter and Royal Navy reservist in recognition of his significant contributions to the Carrier Strike Group’s international communications campaign throughout the past year.

Figure 4 Lt Cdr Jeremy Olver receiving his award

Lt Cdr Olver embarked on HMS Queen Elizabeth in September 2020, launching straight into six weeks of exercises with NATO partners in the North Atlantic. Coupled with the challenge of learning his way around the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier, he also quickly integrated with the crew.

At sea, Lt Cdr Olver was the focal point for all media activity leading a dispersed team of media specialists. He increased in the Commander Strike Group’s Twitter followership from 2,500 to 18,000, making him the most followed Royal Naval Officer behind the First Sea Lord.

He led all the major media facilities to deliver complex messaging for both domestic and international audiences. These facilities included visits by Her Majesty the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Secretary General of NATO.

“Lt Cdr Olver combined his skills as a media operations officer and his civilian experience as a speech writer and press officer with an instinct for news and storytelling, to create a visually compelling narrative for the Group,” the citation reads.

He was nominated by Commander Sam Hearn who commands the Media Ops Specialist unit and sponsored to attend this dinner by Matt West of the Company of Communicators.

The Army Military Communicator of the Year award went to Lieutenant Danielle Simmonds a Royal Artillery officer currently based at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. In 2020 she was deployed at three days’ notice to be the Media Communications Officer for 8th Engineer Brigade conducting the critical Covid ‘whole town’ testing pilot in Liverpool.

Figure 5 Lt. Simmonds receiving her award from Lord Mayor Elect and CoC Master

Around 2,000 soldiers were deployed on the first such operation of its type in the Western hemisphere attracting significant domestic and international attention.

Figure 6Lt Simmonds on Exercise STEEL DRAGON as SO3 ISTAR - a Tri-Service exercise where troops are tested in complex simulation scenarios at Battlegroup level

“As a junior officer, with very little experience she proved to be an exceptional asset to the Brigade. She approached the task with enthusiasm and energy in tackling such a large-scale UK operation,” the citation reads. “Lieutenant Simmonds delivered with precision and at a speed that would have left many more experienced media officers far behind. She managed a relentless volume of concurrent work strands at pace, with clarity and accuracy, remaining calm and positive despite the pressure, long hours and no days off for six weeks.

“As well as the overwhelming amount of media coverage she achieved, her work in helping to monitor significant mis- and disinformation from anti-testing protestors and Covid deniers contributed to maintaining a positive narrative,” adds the citation. “She understood the delicate balance required in striking the right tone in telling the story of the Army’s role in the operation without overstepping and creating potential friction with the lead agencies – the NHS and Liverpool City Council.”

She was nominated by Col Dominic Coombes of Army Media & Communications and sponsored to attend this dinner by Mr Ed McMahon Turner of the Company of Communicators.

The Royal Air Force Military Communicator of the Year Award went to Squadron Leader Stuart Smith who led on transformation of the Royal Air Force digital channels over the last year. This included ‘The Inside Air’ podcast which smashed its annual targets within the first three months of launch, a direct result of his leadership.

Figure 7 Sqn Ldr Stuart receiving his award

Sqn Ldr Stuart also better integrated the RAF website with Twitter and delivered new interactive experiences to reflect the modern multi-domain RAF brand. To achieve this, Sqn Ldr Stuart improved training for the hundreds of practitioners across the ‘Whole Force’ in not just how to use social media effectively, but also how to be more strategic in using these channels to achieve an effect. He developed a new training module and rolled it out to the widest possible media and communications community, which strengthened their capability and created a stronger network of practitioners.

“His toughest task was inheriting a social media review of over 500 RAF social media accounts and turning it into a strategic review,” the citation reads. “As a result of this work he built a network of practitioners across RAF for the first time that was used to deliver a controlled and appropriate response to the funeral arrangements for Prince Philip earlier this year including a full ‘black out’ to ensure that formal sequences of mourning protocol were followed across defence. RAF digital was singled out by the MoD director of comms for their exemplary work at this time.”

He was nominated by Alanah Donnell, Head of RAF Engagement & Comms and sponsored to attend the dinner by Jeremy Greaves, Airbus Interim Head of UK Public Affairs.

The inaugural Civil Servant Military Communicator of the Year went to the RAF Head of Internal Communications Mike Reader.

Mr Reader led on a variety of well recognised and successful campaigns during the year. He coordinated a cross-department team on the RAF Covid-19 Internal Communications campaign from the outset of the pandemic, creating a bespoke RAF hub for personnel on both the RAF intranet and website, later encouraging personnel to have their vaccinations and myth-busting in general about the virus.

“The internal success of regular video messages from the Chief of the Air Staff surpassed any previous video content seen in the Service,” the citation reads.

Mr Reader also took the lead in coordinating and delivering content for VE Day 75. The success of the day was widely recognised, with the RAF achieving a high profile on many national television channels.

“Mr Reader has proved to be a communications native with integrity at his core, who has been a great mentor to all of Air Media & Comms and delivered over and above to provide the best communications possible to the Whole Force,” adds the citation.

Unable to attend, his award was collected on his behalf by Alanah Donnell, who nominated him and who was sponsored to attend the dinner by Lord Mayor Vincent Keaveny.

Presenting the Company of Communicators Military Communicator Awards, the Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London Vincent Keaveny thanked all the winners for their service to our country.

In addition to their certificate, the award winners received a bottle of Port generously donated by Berry Bothers and Rudd.

In his keynote speech to the 100 senior communicators, Admiral Lord West, a former security advisor to No.10, warned senior communicators that “lies” and attempts undermine democracy are one of the greatest concerns we now face.

Figure 8 Admiral Lord West speaking at the HAC

“We are lucky that GCHQ and the NCSC are probably the best in the world at countering these threats,” said Admiral Lord West. “Attacks can affect critical national infrastructure, financial stability, and steal IP. In terms of your messaging one of my greatest concerns is the promulgation of lies and attempts to suborn our institutions and damage our democratic processes.”

After retiring from the Royal Navy in 2006 he was a security advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Figure 9 Lord Mayor Elect Vincent Keaveny

Speaking at the event, Lord Mayor Elect Vincent Keaveny said: “Never has it been more imperative to communicate the role of the Armed Forces at home as well as overseas as it was this year when we saw first-hand Armed Forces personnel supporting our wonderful medical professional in our hospitals, delivering supplies across the country and supporting resilience planning in towns and cities across the United Kingdom. The involvement in the response to the coronavirus pandemic is just one of a number of tasks the UK military has been involved in recent years and you as communicators help ensure we at home better understand, appreciate and hopefully acknowledge the service of others.”

Deborah Oliver, Master of the Company of Communicators, also presented Lt Col Lesley Wilde with a Special Award for Outstanding Leadership In Military Media & Communications.

Figure 10 Lt Col Lesley Wilde

“In addition to running her own public relations company, she recently completed a truly impressive career as a very talented and committed military media communicator,” said Oliver.

Lesley joined the Army in 1982 as an officer in the Women’s Royal Army Corps and was stationed in Germany for several years with the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers before completing a tour as Garrison Adjutant.

She transferred from regular to reserve service, using her media skills in the Media Operations Group, leading exercises across the world.

She escorted some of the first media into Kuwait during First Gulf War in 1991, covered the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, the funeral of Prince Phillip and Covid-19.

“She has a ‘can do’, inspirational attitude that motivates everyone around her,” said Oliver. “Her tact, diplomacy and determination to complete a task make her an exceptional role model and she has mentored a number of junior communicators throughout her career.

“The Company of Communicators has equally benefitted from her professionalism and her support. She has been critical in delivering the awards for the Military Dinner in previous years and is a respected key member of the Military Committee.”


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Andy Sillett