I’ve blogged about the need to be the grit in the oyster in comms and PR and to the need challenge.
That scheme the chief executive has? It’s going to fail and you need to diplomatically warn them.
That elected member who demands a press release? It’s down to you to tell them that won’t work.
Unless you do you are nothing more than a glorified shorthand typist.
Here’s one way you can challenge… by be an annoying three-year-old.
Or rather, adopt the questioning strategy of a small child who is asking questions because they are just plain nosey.
If you are a parent you’ve been there. Picture the scene in a super market right now somewhere in the world.
‘It’s a tin of beans, Jimmy.’
‘Why do we have tins of beans?’
‘So the food doesn’t go off.’
And there we have an explanation to Jimmy of food storage, freshness and the degrading process that makes food dangerous to eat.
Small children have got a brilliant quality of cutting through the crap.
A couple of times recently in a training session I’ve thought of the two-year-old interrogation strategy.
We’re doing a ‘thing’. It’s great.
Because it’s a good idea.
Because if we give people some basic information it reduces the chance of them coming back with an even worse problem.
Will that cost you money?
Yes, lots, about £10,000 a time.
How many could we stop coming back with a worse problem?
So, the ‘thing’ moves from being a good thing to a thing that is going to tangibly improve lives… and tangibly save money.
That’s win and win.
It’s also the beginnings of your evaluation because as we know, it’s not the column inches or the tweets but what people have done as a result.
‘Hey, chief executive, we’ve just communicated to a load of people and 100 have gone away with information that could stop them costing us £10,000 each.’
Does that sound better?
So, shouldn’t you be more of a three-year-old?
It was Paul Willis of Leeds Metropolitan University who I first hear use the phrase.
What the heck does this mean?
My take on it is that sometimes, the role of the comms person is to politely stand your ground and to challenge and to point out where things won’t work.
The chief exec of the water company blamed for water shortage taking questions with a clean bottle of water, British Gas staging a Twitter Q&A on the day of a price hike or senior officer hellbent on back of bus ads… because that’s the way they’ve always done it.
I was reminded of the need for this a short while back in a comms planning workshop where one attendee mentioned the pressure she was under to come up with evaluation weeks after the launch of a campaign to encourage people to sign-up to volunteer for a specific task.
“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m getting pressure to show if the campaign is a success but we know it takes six months for it to work.
“It’s been a month and the thing is, it’s really difficult, because it’s a senior person who is asking.”
Of course, in an ideal world that senior person would immediately see the folly of asking how many cars the Forth Bridge had carried after just a week into its construction.
But life is not like that.
So, if tact and diplomacy don’t work, sometimes your role as a comms person is to be the person to draw a line in the sand and point out where something, in your professional opinion, doesn’t work.
When I worked as part of a comms team I’d often find it useful instead of directly rubbishing an idea directly just spelling out the logical sequence of events that decision would bring.
“We can have a back of bus advert by all means,” it’s better to say, “but do we know if the Primary school children we’re trying to get through to drive? And how many signed up for that course last year as a result of it? Could we talk to some parents and teachers to see what the best route may be, too?”
Be professional, be polite but never be afraid be the grit in the oyster. It will almost always be the harder path but if you take it you will almost always win respect. Involve your boss if needs be. Or their boss.
If you don’t are you sure you aren’t just being a glorified shorthand typist?
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