In September, some of the brightest minds in public sector comms will come to Birmingham for our rather fine #commsforchange14 event. It’s been drawn-up by comms and pr people especially for comms and pr people. Know what’s even better? We’re also publishing a whitepaper at the event and we’re launching a survey to help shape it. Can you help?
by Dan Slee
The single biggest problem with communications, George Bernard Shaw once said, is the illusion that it has taken place.
After 20 years of working for and with the media I’ll add another one. The biggest problem is that it rarely happens with enough time.
We’ve all been there. The service area who tell you via email at 6.08pm about a major project launch in the morning.
Does it have to be this way?
It’s one of the reaons why we are staging the #commsforchange14 event with PSCSF in Birmingham on September 24.
We didn’t want this just to be a run-of-the-mill go-through-the-motions conference. We care about this. That’s why we have some cracking speakers in the morning and an unconference in the afternoon where the agenda is put together on the day.
It’s why we’re putting together a whitepaper specially for the event to capture some of the expert opinion and some tips to share.
We want to give you at the event the tools to position you and your team closer to the top table and to service areas so you can better communicate change. The better you communicate the better you get to look.
What will the whitepaper tackle?
This white paper will cover:
- How soon should comms be involved?
- How can you position comms close to the top table?
- How can the relationship between service areas and comms be improved?
- How important is internal comms?
- Some cracking case studies to help you.
How can you get the whitepaper?
Attendees to #commsforchange14 get their own printed copy and a chance to chat to some of the contributors. They’ll also get an electronic copy emailed to them.
You can get a copy emailed to you within days of the event just by contributing to the survey.
We’d love it if you could take a few minutes to complete a survey to help us prepare a snapshot baseline picture that tells us where comms people are.
There’s the theory and the reality. We’d like to check where reality is before we work on the theory.
So, please do take a few minutes to complete the survey on this link here. We’d love you forever. That’s two links in three paragraphs.
So, why is comms getting involved early a good idea?
There’s a whole list of reasons why getting comms involved in a project early is a good idea. The earlier you do it the better chance you stand of winning.
Here are seven. Feel free to add more.
We look forward to seeing you at the event.
First thought is ‘did that really just happen?’ and second is ‘how the hell do I process all that information?’
The answer to the first is ‘yes’ and to the second: ‘with a bit of time and space, if that’s okay?’
This isn’t going to be your traditional list of things I learned at an event post but rather a quick chance to chuck up a few paragraphs after a bit of time has passed. There will be a proper ‘thank you’ post in the next couple of days and there’s a load of people to thank.
It isn’t just about eating cake. But cake is a trojan horse that disarms people. How serious can you be when discussing the merits of Victoria sponge as an introduction?
There is value in an unconference. I’ve said repeatedly, that I started to think differently after the first unconference I went to. That was localgovcamp in 2009 a rather seminal moment for myself and a whole load of other people too. There’s something in the format that allows people who don’t get the chance to have a voice and that’s really powerful.
There’s a cycle in event organising that runs from having a great idea, then starting the ball rolling and then doing the work, then wondering if this thing will work, then realising that it will and then repeating. If someone came to commscamp and is a bit inspired to run something the advice is to do it.
Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation… is the thing that’s going to either save pr and communications or kill it. And there’s a blog post brewing about what you can do and how to do it. If you evaluate you can show your worth and show how you are making a difference. Without it you are an expensive luxury that people think that they can do without and let’s face it, if you are not telling your story, who can blame them? Forget the new shiny channel for a second. Think of the fundamentals and spend time on this. It’ll save your life.
If you think that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn are the last word in social media you’re dead wrong. One of the conclusions of the IEWM survey was that local government in the West Midlands isn’t touching Whats App and Snapchat. Stats would tell you that it would be a good idea if we all did. The web keeps moving. But the lessons pioneers learned in the foothills of 2008 when convincing places to use things like Facebook are lessons that will see us all through.
The thing that makes me smile is people with light bulbs going on above their heads. It’s the thing that makes my day worthwhile now comms2point0 is a company. Going somewhere and training and then seeing someone’s face when they realise how powerful the web is and how they can use it. It’s brilliant. I think at commscamp there were people with light bulbs popping all over the shop and that for me is brilliant.
There’s never enough time to blog and I’ve counted five I’d like to tackle in the next few days. Why blog? Because it’s working things out that lets me go back and look at the workings out a bit later down the track.
Thank you for helping make commscamp a success. There really are some great people out there.
Creative commons credits
@Blangry eating cake: https://flic.kr/p/nYq2w4 by Ann Kempster
Two people talking: https://flic.kr/p/odZ2kE by Leah Lockhart
A good thing is about to happen. Localgovcamp is taking place in Birmingham.
Localgovcamp. It first happened in 2009 and has happened sporadically since.
You put more than 100 people in a room and you let them to set the agenda about what’s discussed. Ideas, connection and inspiration emerge and ideas, magpie others and make connections.
For one day job titles are left at the door and everyone has a say in working out how the internets plus people and enthusiasm can make a difference. I learned more about the social web in its early days from people who went to localgovcamp than I did from anyone from PR.
So much has happened…
The first one made me think differently. It was a Road to Damascus moment. I realised my view counted and that the future was going to be digital. We could see the future and that we could shape it.
But not all for the good…
And yet change hasn’t happened as quickly as it needs to. Some of those early travellers have fallen by the wayside gone but not forgotten. The revolution didn’t happen overnight and austerity has stopped much innovation in its tracks. Yet the pace needs to pick up. Change in a sector shouldn’t be left to enthusiasts doing things in their spare time.
And the trajectory is onwards….
Some bright people are doing good work in part because of the freedom of thought and network attending a govcamp has brought. The Localgovdigital group is one of those heading forward though not nearly as fast and with none of the resources the sector needs.
And a bunch of freelancers emerged…
A long while back talking to Al Smith on Twitter I tried to guess how many from the first event had left local government. A while later using the orginal eventbrite and LinkedIn I worked it out.
28 were from local government itself.
Of the 28 from local government 13 have left and 8 now run their own businesses. I’m one of them.
I used to think unconferences like localgovcamp would change the world. I was wrong. Not on their own they don’t. They can provide the ideas and inspiration. But it’s the action that counts. Yet, if they do things like this they must carry on…
@danslee it gave me the confidence to chuck a well paid secure job to go it alone and do something different (ish) :) I’ve never looked back
— Mrs Douglas (@drama_mama_7) Juneh 20, 2014
I’m delighted to say that the excellent Dave Briggs has started a podcast where he talks to someone about what they’ve been doing that week and talks to them about some links they may have come across.
Dave has done some fantastic work understanding how the internet and the social web can work in government and local government and he continues to do great work most recently looking at how digital skills can benefit the workplace through his worksmart project.
I’m even more delighted to say that Dave asked me to be a guest on the first podcast he recorded and we spent an engaging 45-minutes talking.
You can hear the podcast here:
We spoke about quite a few things including failure and the benefits of failure, the content14 event in Cardiff, Pete Ashton, infographics, Helen Reynolds and ChannelShiftCamp North.
The full links and show notes can be found on Dave’s blog here.
It promises to be an interesting series with more guests and I’d urge you to pay attention.
Creative commons credit
Dave Briggs https://flic.kr/p/89JJjS
Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.
So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.
A) Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B) Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C) Tell people that this is what cuts look like.
All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?
What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means
You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?
Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?
What telling people that they’ve had their chance means
You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?
What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like
In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.
But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.
A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.
Creative commons credit
But the truth is, failure is beautiful. From failure we learn and we can do a better job. We shouldn’t fear failure. We should leave space for failure so we can have the confidence to do bigger better things.
I was faced with a real dilemma just recently. I’d agreed to speak on the topic of failure at the commshero event in Manchester. Fantastic, I thought. A chance to have people rolling in the aisles at a parade of digital fails. Like the subbing mistake on the front page of a magazine that led you to think of how the cover star was a dog eating cannibal.
Or the British Gas #askbg hashtag.
Or maybe even struggling Aston Villa’s Twitter chat with a fringe player that went badly wrong. I could maybe even tell the story of the Walsall Council Twitter fail and what we learned. And that’s the key. What we learned. When you fail you learn.
There’s a matrix that shows the bigger the fail the bigger the learning. It’s what happened on the north face of the Eiger in the 1930s where one of the most famous mountaineering disasters in history killed the four members of the climbing party told in mountaineering epic ‘The White Spider’ by Heinrich Harrer and the excellent film ‘The Beckoning Silence.’ A fixed rope was gathered in trapping their retreat when their summit attempt turned into a retreat.
Every attempt since has seen climbers leave the rope in place. See? We learn. Don’t laugh at failure. Learn. But what was also tempting was just to look at digital fails when there is more to communications than that.
Because if you are not thinking about strategy you are failing. If you are not finding out what keeps senior people awake at night and planning your comms around that you are failing.
If you are not leaving space to experiment, learn and even fail, you are failing. That’s all a bigger crime than a tactical. blunder.
So, what are you doing about that?