#LGCOMMS: the digital debate: is traditional comms dead?

1664489869_3fadab9f95_oIt’s the LGComms Academy in Cardiff this week. A three day event looking at where we are, why we are and where we’ll be going in communications in local government.

There will be some excellent speakers and there will I’m sure be much to learn. You can take a look at the line up from May 21 to 23 via a pdf here. The line-up is not available in a more a ccessible format, I’m afraid.

Last year, there was the profoundly depressing experience of a panel on social media being glibly introduced with the words: “There’s only two things wrong with social media. It’s not social and it’s not media.”

Thankfully, the person who uttered these words has since spoken of his sea change in attitude. There’s also a lot of digital on the agenda. There’s even an unconference slot with Lloyd Davis on Thursday afternoon which should be interesting.

Is traditional comms dead?

There’s also a Think Tank discussion I’ll be chairing on The Digital Debate: Is Traditional Comms Dead? That takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday May 21. On the panel will be Eddie Coates-Madden of Hull City Council,

Eddie Coates-Madden, Assistant Head
of Service: Communications and Marketing, Hull City
Council, Gavin Sheppard, The Media Trust and Sara
Moseley, Cardiff University
Kuku Club, Park Plaza Hotel

With that in mind here’s five links that may fire some thought. See? I’ve even highlighted some key points to save you the bother.

Are comms the blockers?

Catherine Howe, of Public i wrote a useful summary of the commscamp unconference session in Birmingham asking if comms team are the single biggest block on good social media un local government.You can read the full text of her post here.

I think we have to conclude that communications are often blockers to social media activity but that they have good as well as bad reasons for acting this way. As the use of social media becomes more entrenched then I would speculate that this will become increasingly a question of organisational leadership rather than any specific practitioner groups and that it will be important to start discussing where that leadership should come from. If we want to start to see social media operating outside of comms then arguably that leadership needs to be external as well.  The question of being good organisational customers of digital projects will perhaps be the next challenge we have to collectively face in taking some of the excellent best practice we see around us into more mainstream use and out of the ambit of a single team.

In defence of the press release

Local government press officer Kam Mistry wrote a defence of the pr here sparked by a different debate at commscamp in Birmingham earlier this year.

When you dissect it, you realise that the press release is a fantastic form of communication. You grab someone’s attention with a good headline, they then read your first paragraph and, assuming it’s still interesting, will continue to 97220057_bdf73cb248_bread the rest of it and then publish it. I suppose it’s a bit like the mating game – initial attraction, stimulate interest, maintain interest and then… oh dear this is turning into a Swiss Toni metaphor.

Yes, the press and media are having to evolve but they will be there for many years to come. Newspapers – in print and electronic forms  – will continue to be key channels for effective communication and we really should not see them, or press releases, as anachronisms.

Put it this way. First there was radio and then television came along. Have we all thrown away our radios?

You can read the full text here.

PR is dead and so are newspapers

Eddie Coates-Madden is part of the LGComms panel and wrote this on the challenge that traditional pr and newspapers face and a presentation he gave:

And I ended with my prediction of the future for journalism; that it will be fast, fast, fast; that stories are everywhere, not on a Press Release; that everyone can be a journalist (not necessarily a good one, but everyone can break stories and has the tools to publish); that journalists have become a brand in themselves; that  broadcast without response is dead; that there will be ever more accountable journalism, more easy disgust, more easy offence and that accountability is every organisation’s to handle, and that there are more easily targeted campaigns and more moral tensions. activism is clicktivism and that might mean more and more difficult challenges, to freedom of expression, politically unpopular views, financial security, even – when wrongly done – to personal safety.

You can read more here. 

Death to the campaign!

Jim Garrow works in public health in Philladelphia. He writes a blog and updates it prodigiously. He has the uncanny ability to nail things. This post may be uncomfortable – nay challenging – reading for comms people at LGComms. But that’s why you should read it. He argues that campaigns are counter-productive and switching things on and off don’t work with people.

First, it assumes that our audience is there, available, placid and interested, during the time we decide they should hear our messages. If they are otherwise ready to lose weight, or set up a communications plan, or change the batteries in their smoke detectors, except for some family crisis that happens during our predefined “campaign time,” then they don’t get the message that they need to change their behavior. (This is a HUGE reason I despise days, weeks and months 2911854766_250af8cebe_othat celebrate or raise awareness for something; what, tuberculosis doesn’t matter the other 364 days of the year?

The other reason only communicating through campaigns is harmful is, in my estimation, infinitely worse. Say your timing works out and you get lucky and actually find someone who was patiently waiting for your message. Not only that, but the message is specifically tailored to the group she self-identifies with (because you’re still marketing to audiences and not everyone), and she takes action on it. She’s moved from Contemplation to Preparation based solely on your messaging. Congratulations! But, what happens when you end your campaign? Specifically, what happens to this wonderful person that you’ve prepped to be ready to move forward and actually change her behavior? Does she not move to the Action stage? Does she resent your messaging for leaving her hanging, alone? Is she willing to wait another year for you to become interested in her problem again? Will she even listen next time?

You can read more here.

Creative commons credits

Newspapers http://www.flickr.com/photos/53531820@N00/1664489869/

Movable type http://www.flickr.com/photos/cibergaita/97220057/sizes/l/

Yellow wall http://www.flickr.com/photos/notsogoodphotography/2911854766/sizes/o/


HALF TIME: Glass half-full comms

3339729380_7202c5d82c_bAre we better off saying the glass is half full? Or empty? Or pretending it’s full?  

That was the iconoclastic view of London Fire Brigade’s head of comms Richard Stokoe.

Back at the annual LGComms Academy earlier in the year he spoke eloquently about the challenges the public sector is facing and his take on what it should do.  We shouldn’t pretend that things are fine when they’re not, he says.  Neither should it try and bea cheerleader for business as usual because business as usual is over.

Richard pointed to the example of the fire strikes in the capital in 2011 when far fewer appliances were available for use. Normally, there are 167 covering the capital but on the day of the strike just 27 were mustered. That’s around 20 per cent of the usual number and the potential for problems it posed was immense.

So, instead of saying how fine everything was London Fire Brigade instead pointed to the number they would have during the strikes and asked people to be more responsible as the level of service would be so much different.

PR was targeted at the areas of London with a historically high number of incidents.

What was the outcome?

Disaster?

A thin red line?

Zulu Dawn with fire engines?

Actually, no. Fewer calls.

According to the stats, 999 calls were 32 per cent lower than 2004 when Bonfire Night last fell on a Friday. Smaller fires were 56 per cent lower than the 2004 yardstick and 30 per cent down on the previous year.

It’s an approach that goes against the grain for many public relations people. Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to talk up what we do?

Certainly, his organisation took a bit of a battering for being so honest.

But I think Richard Stokes has a point.

If we’re doing less we should be telling people. If we’re not doing services at all we need to be telling people.

We risk far more in the long term by pretending that nothing has changed. We need a slab of honest realism. Residents would be better informed.

That’s something that public sector comms people are having to wrestle with up and down the country.


CASE STUDIES: The place of social media in the marketing mix

Traditional comms is as dead as the boozy lunch with the Town Hall reporter.

Back in the old days a few beers with the right person may have been enough.

Not in 2011 it isn’t.

Not just because that reporter may now be based in an industrial estate 20 miles away.

The changing face of communications is something I’ve blogged about before.

There’s a whole list of things a press officer needs to do.

For some nice people at LG Comms Scotland I distilled much of this thinking into a presentation.

At their seminar in Dalkeith it was good to see people realising times have changed.

There were some excellent resources posted afterwards to the Communities of Practice site – log in is required.

Here’s my presentation too.

Basically, it covers the following ground:

  • Basic principles – What is social media? How does it work. Some basics.
  • Creating your media map – to see how things have changed on your patch. So you can work out where to put your resources. Not least a cunning way to get stats from Facebook.
  • Some case studies – What works in Twitter, Flickr and Foursquare and Facebook.

It’s not about abandoning the traditional approach that puts print journalists first. More it’s a long overdue re-calibration.

Social media should be part of everything that we do and the last thing it should be is an obstacle.

Or a bit scary.

It should be part of everything that we do.


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