Try to be happy. I’ve left local government so I can do more in local government and the rest of public sector.
For the past eight years I’ve been proud to be at Walsall Council helping to put them on the digital map and at times doing a bit to define what that map looked like. It’s been exciting. But it feels absolutely the right time to move on. March 31 was my last day and yes, I realise that breaking news on April 1 before midday carries risks. But this is no April Fool.
I’ve now become a freelance digital communications consultant turning comms2point0 into a start-up which means I can bring my expertise, drive enthusiasm and insight to help you do a better job for your organisation. That’s something I’m really, really excited about.
Three moments of epiphany
Former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said that he loved newspapers but he was absolutely intoxicated by the power and possibility of the internet. Me too. My first of three moments of epiphany came in 1993 when I discovered that I loved the art and craft of piecing together a story for a newspaper.
The second moment came in 2008 as a press officer when I heard the line: ‘With social media we no longer have to go through the Priesthood of journalists to talk to our residents’ and the third in 2011 when a chief executive spoke of the need to stop evangelising about social media but bring solutions that may just have some social media in.
In the next phase of my career I want to bring all three of those together and I’m massively excited and not a little nervous.
My proud moments
In leaving Walsall Council, I’m intensely proud of what I’ve helped do there. I was massively fortunate enough to have worked with a head of communications Darren Caveney who saw what the future would look like and trusted his staff to learn, grow and innovate. We both saw early that social media was not just a communications function. We shared the sweets with others. In leaving Walsall I leave more than 70 social media profiles and more than 100 staff trained. Some of them have gone on to develop into nationally significant digital innovators in their own right. Countryside ranger Morgan Bowers, for example. Environmental health officer David Matthews too. Dan Carins. And Kate Goodall. I’ve worked with some amazing people during my time there too numerous to list.
I’m proud I listened to Darren and Kate and that we were the first council in the country to use Twitter for 24-hours during #walsall24. We won the first LGComms social media gold award for that but best of all we shattered glass ceilings and in a day we embedded social media overnight. That makes me smile.
There’s a record industry giant you’ll not have heard of called Steve Jenkins. He was MD of Jive Records and was a key part in the success of Pete Waterman and Stock Aitken Waterman. He’s from Walsall and I got to know him quite well. He’s proud of the place. He used to have a railway sign from the town’s station over his desk in his office so people who came in would have to acknowledge it. “Where’s ‘Walsall’?” they’d ask. He’d fix them with a steely glare and say: “It’s nine miles north of Birmingham… it’s nine miles north of Birmingham.”
Walsall is big enough to be it’s own place and has a digital community whose vibrancy that will surprise you. The YamYam is a news aggregation site that brings together traditional newspaper websites with the websites of clubs, societies and bloggers. There’s more than 100 sites linked to it. Some are good, some are bad, some are contrary, some not.
It’s not always been straight forward, but I’ve grown to genuinely respect and admire many in that digital community. They care about their town. Their voice is part of the borough’s debate and discussion. At Walsall Council I’m leaving a stack of people who deserve to be garlanded daily for trying to make a difference in sometimes grim circumstances.
On local government comms
For those left behind in local government communications I’d say be proud, be determined and be very clear that you are a professional bringing value and demonstrate that value. Be the grit in the oyster and challenge. That’s your job. There’s a whole load of stuff I’d like to write about that.
So, what’s the very exciting what’s next?
I’ll be working at comms2point0 full time. It’s now a company. Three years ago my colleague Darren floated the idea of comms2point0. It’s an idea we kicked around and shaped one sunny day watching a cricket match. We mapped it out with sticky notes, pens and paper. What is it? We post six links a day for comms people on Twitter and we have a blog which has mushroomed to more than 400 case studies ranging from 10 Downing Street, Unicef, Orkney Council, Unicef and the EU. We now have reached 30,000 unique users a month. That’s a bit crazy, really.
We’ve helped run events, we’ve trained people and for IEWM we’ve written the best whitepaper on using social media in the public sector that has ever been written (disclaimer: I’m biased.)
I’ve been nominated to be a Fellow of the RSA and I’ve been appointed to The Guardian public leaders editorial board. I want to carry on with pro bono work for the localgov digital group.
When I’ve been working late at night on comms2point0 I’ve joked with my wife that this would help me get my next job. It’s now become my job and with Darren continuing to play a big role I’m nervously bouncing with excitement at what it will help people to achieve and is already helping.
I’m working and will be working with IEWM, Public Health Wales, the LGA, a number of councils, the Langstone Society and several others. I’m grateful to those people on my journey I’ve asked for advice and who have been generous in giving it.
The free element of comms2point0 will remain. There will be links. There will be a blog – now more than 400 – there will also be a reactivated regular email. But other rather good things are in development. If I was American or younger I’d be calling them: ‘awesome.’ I’ll still be blogging on my own blog that’s in its fifth year.
So, in saying goodbye I’m also saying hello. It would be good to hear from you to hear what your challenges are and maybe see if I can help. Or maybe just to wish me luck. You can do that via @danslee or @comms2point0 on Twitter or via firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m excited but nervous which is just how it should be. I’m taking a leap but it already feels like the right one. But if you’ve gained something from something I’ve written or shared I’d love to help you further and tell your friends too. I’ll get you a slice of cake next time I see you out.
Creative commons credits
Hello, Lionel https://www.flickr.com/photos/79294591@N00/5506213445/
It’s amazing how if you do share good learning end up learning far more yourself in the long run.
It’s something that underpins this blog and powers some amazingly creative people in local government.
It’s also the ethos behind a project called Comms2point0 which I helped co-found. It’s somewhere online that comms people in and around the public sector can make sense of the changing landscape with case studies, resources and ideas. We created it because there wasn’t somewhere dedicated for comms and pr people working in the public sector that did that.
There’s a comms2point0 website where people can blog about an idea or a campaign they’ve tried. You can read it here.
There’s also a Twitter stream that posts six links every workday morning we think comms people may find helpful. They’re delivered on a plate by around 8am. You can follow it here.
I say I helped co-found Comms2point0 but in reality the drive for this has come from the excellent Darren Caveney who I’m fortunate to work with at Walsall Council where he he is head of comms. Darren and his press office manager Kim Neville have created an ethos where good ideas can be tried out and so much of the credit for the good work I’ve done should be reflected for them. Like the look of Comms2point0? That’s Darren that is and his wife Carol Caveney. They built it. They also went for the retro creative commons pictures that illustrate the site. You can find many of them on Flickr as part of the Documerica project. That’s here.
What works on Comms2point0? It doesn’t have to be just cool social media stuff. What’s really good is when it’s a mix of digital and non-digital. That’s when it gets really interesting. It’s how to get an idea or a message through to the iphone user, the newspaper reader and the Facebook enthusiast all at the same time is what really fires my imagination.
Who is it for? Mainly for public relations, communications people and marketing types who are looking to learn. Nobody has it all cracked. But with the old certainties dliding away, budgets disappearing the landscape is changing. Fail to evolve and learn and you are heading for irrelevance.
More than that, it’s for people who are looking to understand the new landscape. No matter what job they do.
Not everyone wants the time and effort to blog. But you’d be amazed at how unphased comms people are at writing 400 words to order on something they’ve done.
Five months on and we’ve reached 2,000 unique visitors a month and we’ve gone past 850 followers on Twitter. We’re a bit proud of that.
We’ve also chipped in with Nick Hill of Public Sector Forums to stage a rather nifty conference in Birmingham where a lorry load of bright ideas were taken away by 60 people – myself included – about Facebook. We put the resources here. Take a look if you didn’t go. We’re off to Glasgow soon too.
All this we’re quietly ever so proud of. Especially as it’s all been done outside of work time sometimes first thing in the morning with a piece of toast in one hand or last thing once the children are in bed and I’ve got Kraftwerk playing on the headphones.
Here are five blogs randomly selected you may like:
Five Comms2point0 belters
Social media and the council mag - in an era of slashed budgets the council magazine is often first to go. Critics would have you believe they are full of spin. The reality is more prosaic. It’s the bin times and the changes to the leisure centre that people don’t always get to hear about. Either because the newspaper isn’t that interested in council good news or because people stopped buying them a long time ago. Northumberland County Council’s Ross Wigham shared this post. I like the fact that there are good things happening in places far away from unconferences too.
Birds in the nest - Walsall Council’s Darren Caveney wrote this and I love it. It’s a mix of personal and professional and gives advice on how to cope with the changing landscape. Learn new things. Do new things. Shout about them too. Everyone working in comms should read this. Or local government.
Twitter… the next industrial revolution - There are things the public and private sector can learn from people. In this post Danks Cockbain PR’s Russ Cockbain tells of how he helped put Black Country manufacturers onto Twitter and how one secured £500,000 of publicity on the back of connections made via Twitter. Thems big numbers. It made me more happy than I can tell you that this case study was cited at UK Govcamp in London. “If Black Country metal benders can do it, what are we waiting for?”
It started with a tweet - There’s some really interesting things taking shape at Cornwall Council. Matt Bond talks about how they are trying digital tacks but are bringing their elected members along with them.
Feeling the love for infographics - Gillian Hudson is someone I came across first at the Home Office. She’s a bit talented. She’s now with the 10 Downing Street press team and in this post she talked through how she used infographics as part of a wider campaign. It’s really good stuff.