EVENT BRIGHT: Why We’re Staging A Fab Event Called #commsforchange14

5537457305_8758d78ac0_oI’m pleased to say that comms2point0 is joining forces with Public Sector Customer Services Forum to stage an event which we think will deliver a stack of value.

We think this will work for comms and PR people but we think this will also be valuable for people who are working in your organisation on projects big and small that need communicating.

We could just give you a list of speakers but want to tell you about how this came about.

We had a conversation with someone a while back about big public sector projects and what separates the good ones from the bad.

As we talked we pictured a very real scenario and we came up with two options to choose from.

First, the scenario… part of your organisation has a great idea that could change how something is done, save money and lead to a better service.

What could go wrong?

 Well, here are the options…

Option one: Project team don’t really bother with the comms until the end because they’re too busy and anyway, they don’t see the point. The comms team get left in the dark by the project team until the end… and the idea fails. “Clearly, it was the comms team,” the project team mutter. “There was nothing wrong with our idea. That was brilliant.”

“If only they’de spoken to us earlier,” the comms team mutter back.

Result: failure, unhappy project team, unhappy comms team  and an angry chief executive.

Option two: Project team sit down with the comms team from the start. They shape a comms plan that they both know will work. There’s a project objective. There’s a comms objective that’s identical. There’s something to measure to know if the comms is working. The idea gets well communicated by the comms team. It’s a success.

“Hooray,” say the project team. “Our idea that we had in a room with six people in it has become a success amongst thousands,” say the project team.

5319988695_22db1bded5_o“Hooray,” say the comms team, “we took that bright idea and we worked with you to tell the right people outside the room about it at the right time and got them to do the right thing.”

Result: happy project team, happy comms team, success and a happy chief executive.

Of course, we’d all choose the second scenario, wouldn’t we?

The thing is, life is not like that, and we can all reel off a long list of times when it hasn’t and fewer times when it has.

What you’ll get out of #commsforchange14

So, at the end of our conversation we grew convinced of the need to put on an event that would set out the reasons for getting the project team and the comms team together early to make the thing a success.

We wanted comms people and project people speaking to share how they did it.

We wanted comms people to be fired up to go back and knock on  the doors of big project people so they could get involved to help make a difference.

3685880130_c6d9102cba_bWe wanted public sector people to be fired up to go back and make friends with their comms teams to see how they could make their project a success.

We wanted the event to be partly traditional, with speakers and slides so the success stories could be articulated and you’d know what you’d get.

But we wanted an unconference element in the afternoon because we’ve run them before at commscamp and for LGComms and with PSCSF and we know they will work. This sees that part of the agenda drawn-up based on what the people in the room wanted to talk about. Maybe there were lessons to be shared.

We wanted an event that showed why getting comms involved early and them being on the top table will help the organisation.

Of course, the great thing about doing comms2point0 is being able to turn a conversation and an idea into reality and with the excellent Nick Hill of Public Sector Customer Services Forum we’ve done just that andon Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham #commsforchange will become a reality.

Who will be speaking?

There’s a range of hand picked people for you here:

  • John McPherson, Internal Communications Manager, Leeds City Council

  • 8630582806_1eb1fb0020_oVictoria Ford, Head of Communications, DVLA

  • Iain Patterson, Chief Technology Officer, DVLA

  • Adrian Capon, Senior Communications Manager, Yorkshire Housing (TBC)

  • Dan Slee, Co-founder, comms2point0

  • Darren Caveney, Co-founder, comms2point0

You can find more out about the event on Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham by clicking the link here.

Picture credit

Change 

Make things better

Change machine

Better Future

 


AUTHENTIC: How to do frontline social media: Morgan Bowers (a podcast, a video and a blog)

With social media dedicated frontline people can brilliantly provide a human face to champion the work an organisation is doing.

Morgan Bowers, Walsall Council’s senior countryside ranger, is a pioneer of this approach and has worked to innovate around how people outside the comms team in the public sector can do to really connect with people.

Seeing what she does blows away any institutional objections that comms people may have to opening up the gate to allow people outside comms to use social media. She connects using Twitter, Facebook, Scribd and a range of platforms not because they are there but because they serve a useful purpose.

Morgan is what happens when you open up social media use at an organisation to allow people to use social tools not as a one-off project but every day.

For my own part, I’m hugely proud of Morgan because I helped shape the open door access for frontline staff when I was at Walsall Council. In short, this was an appproach which saw people invited to come forward with ideas on how they could use social media. If their manager was fine and they were willing to have a chat we let people get going. One thing we did make sure of was that we got people to undergo some basic training for a couple of hours wiith a reminder that the code of conduct still applied online as it does offline. We also had six golden rules based around common sense that we asked people to abide by. Then we let them get on with it and were at the end of a phone if they needed help.

I’ve lost count of the number off times during training I’ve pointed to what Morgan is doing.

So, it was great to catch-up with her sat on a log in the middle of Merrion’s Wood surrounded with birdsong to chat to her to create a Soundcloud podcast you can hear here:

Twitter

Morgan started the @walsallwildlife Twitter account in March 2011 which has grown to 1,700 followers. She looks to update every working day and finds that pictures work well. This may be a newt survey or volunteers repairing a fence. She’ll look to respond to people and will try and answer when people have a question. For events, the real time element of Twitter works really well as well as joining in wider discussions.

Email

With more than 300-people added to her email list people who aren’t on social media can still keep in contact. If you come to a session you can get added to the mailing list to get updates on events being staged by the Walsall Council countryside services team.

Facebook

For Morgan, the people liking  her page are more from Walsall than further afield. Why? Maybe this is because Walsall people sign-up for it and when they comment thekir friends comment when they see them commenting or sharing an image. It becomes self-fulfilling but people are less inclined to click on a link to navigate away on Facebook than they are with Twitter. But they are more likely to share an image and ask what that particular plant or animal is.

Flickr

Pictures are taken by Morgan at events and while she is out and about and then posted to her own Flickr stream as a record of where and what things have been done.It builds up a useful image library not just of the places Morgan looks after but provides sharable content that can drive traffic.

Eventbrite

In the old days there used to be a telephone number and an answering machine and an email address too. Now, the eventbrite platforms allows Morgan to issue tickets for events for free.

Scribd

Being passionate about wildlife Morgan was keen to get information out about the bee populations in Walsall and how people could help. She created a download which was titled very ambitiously The Bees of Walsall: Volume One. It got 2,000 downloads in a short space of time. If a niche subject like bees and Walsall can achieve wuite a lot in a short space of time just imagine what will happen with a more mainstream subject that people are really, really keen to hear.

Audioboo

Morgan has recorded audio trails around places like Merrions Wood in Walsall where she can record short sound clips. She makes QR codes on laminated paper cheaply and then puts them up across the wood so people with smartphones can directly access the clip. The beauty is that it is cheap to do.

What’s the downside?

Is it all good? Are there times when there is a chalk mark in the downside column? Absolutely. ForMorgan, the grey area between work and life can be a problem. She has her own Twitter account where she can talk about other things on days off. But she does often respond when someone on Friday night asks what to do with a baby bird.

So, what’s Morgan‘s return on investment?

For Morgan, the drive for using social media is not to do it for the sake of it but to connect with people. Still do the traditional commss like the press release to reach some people but overwhelmingly the web of Twitter, Facebook and email can be the way that Morgan sells out her activities and sessions which is an important way that she can quantify how effective her and her department is.

The Meteorwatch events that draws people to Walsall venues to help observe meteor showers has gone from attracting just 20 people to brining along up to 3,000 people which is a staggering figure.

A short clip of Morgan talking about her work

Morgan Bowers talks about how she uses social media as a senior countryside ranger out and about. from comms2point0 on Vimeo.


PROTEST PR: How Comms Should Answer Cuts Questions

8544982977_36a47ac99a_oYou’re a public sector PR person and you’ve got to answer a question from the media about cuts, what do you do?

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 

Dog protest https://www.flickr.com/photos/16230215@N08/8544982977/


FUTURE COMMS: A comms plan to help people sleep at night 

4131391566_f24e225475_o

Well, it’s had a great innings but can we now finally bury the idea that using social media ad hoc in an organisation is going to change the world?

But what great days we did have.

We had a mantra of JFDI in local government – just flipping do it – and we did things under the rader without permission.We would chuck up a Facebook page knowing that IT didn’t know what it was so they couldn’t block it.

We could tweet election results without too much interference, snigger behind our hands and we could push the envelope.

But those days are over. We learned lots but no, we didn’t take over the world even though it felt as though we would. Today, many public sector teams have been cut back too far to have space to innovate. Even more worryingly, teams haven’t found a way to tackle the big issues that really matter to make a difference. They haven’t found a way to get the resources to do so either.

Sure, the trojan mouse idea of testing out four or five ideas to see where it’ll take you is one I enthusiastically believe in to help you experiment and see what works. But to really make a difference bright communications people need to take all that experience and find out what is keeping senior people awake at night. Then go hell for leather to tackle that, that and only that. But make sure the senior people know exactly what you are doing by reporting back using every means neccesary. Infographics are particularly good. Make yourself a sandwich board if you have to but just flipping do it.

Here’s a few ideas to help you…

Are you helping senior people sleep at night?

Here’s an exercise I came across during the LGComms Future Leaders programme at a session at Leeds Metropolitan University with Anne Gregory and Paul Willis. It was the best piece of training I had in the eight years I spent in local government and I suggest you do this quick exercise.

  1. Get a piece of paper and draw a blob in the middle. 
  2. Think of six people you do most of your work for in your organisation and write their names on the paper… the more important they are the closer to the blob you can write their name.
  3. Write down some things – let’s say six things – that keep those six people awake at night.
  4. 5612074901_1378aec493_bAsk yourself, are you really spending time with the really key people? 
  5. Ask yourself, are you really doing things to help the really key people  sleep at night?

My own conclusion to doing this exercise was that I wasn’t really tackling the issues that matter for the people that matter and I’ll bet you a slice of Victoria sponge that you aren’t either.

The goal of the bright communications team should not be vague ‘reputation’ or ‘awareness’. It is to prove in pounds, shillings and pence if needs be the value of the team before it is too late. It’s why I’ve long been convinced that channel shift and customer service are things that comms teams need to be closely involved with.

So how can we help tackle the issues that keep senior people awake?

If I had a pound for every time someone told me the words: ‘What we need is a comms plan,’ I’d have been rich. What they meant was they wanted you to tick a box for them. What they really wanted was to outsource the responsibility to you when we all know to be effective it should be a joint thing.

What you really need is a comms plan agreed jointly with the senior people around a table. This can take many forms but they need to have the following:

  1. Where they are now.
  2. Where they want to go.
  3. Something measurable and tangiable to show when they’ve got there.
  4. Who they want to talk to and how they can do it.
  5. Some ideas of resources.
  6. Some idea of evaluation.

Some of what’s in your plan will be traditional comms and some will be digital. You’ll have a mix of both and you’ll be working to make a difference to your organisation for the people who are going to be making big budget decisions in the not too distant future.

If yuo get this right your bosses’ boss will sleep at night.

And you won’t be sleepwalking towards a cliff either

By the way, I’m now available to help you with all of this and would love to do so. I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee on Twitter.

Creative commons credits

3:33 http://www.flickr.com/photos/7774088@N08/4131391566/

We will awake https://www.flickr.com/photos/25028863@N00/5612074901/


WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

12253595404_a7240a9652_bSo this, ladies and gentleman, is what I’ve been banging on for years. You give a smartphone and social media access to a frontline worker who ‘gets it’ and gets out of the office and then you sit back.

For the past six weeks swathes of England has been under water with the wettest January for more than 200 years deluging rivers and forcing them to burst their banks.  Platoons of soldiers have been deployed as local government, fire, the Environment Agency and others have battled .

Through it all an army of public sector people have worked on in damp, wet and miserable conditions often without credit or recognition.

One of those is Dave Throup, an Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When the radio need an update it is Dave who is the voice of the agency giving up-to-date updates on river levels, flood risks and advice.

He also uses Twitter to post real time updates that are hyperlocal and county wide. The state of flood barriers in Bewdley, business as usual messages in Ironbridge and advise not to drive through floods. Often they are basic mobile phone pictures like this one:

He’s using basic technology to post real time information at a time when people need it most. He also shares other people’s tweets and blogs here. He posts to Flickr too.

Why is this brilliant?

If you want the science, the Edelman Trust barometer talks of how staff lower down an organisation are trusted more than those at the top. People who are just like you are trusted even more. For communications people, this changes the game and turns on its head everything. To put it simply, the chief executive may not be the best person to front an interview or a campaign. The officer with the smartphone may well be. I say this repeatedly when I’m training people: it’s not enough to do a good job in the public sector in 2014. You need to tell people too. That’s why the people like Morgan Bowers the Walsall Council countryside ranger works really well on social. It’s a real person talking to a real person.

Why is Dave even more brilliant?

Public sector people get a shabby Press. Why? Because it’s always our fault. Often judged by people who proclaim to know the value of everything and the value of nothing and yet far, far more good is done by the public sector than bad. Dave is brilliant because he cares. People get that too. And yet there are so many people in the sector like him but for some reason he’s struck a chord with the folk who have come to rely on the information that he gives.

He’s also got a fan club:

So, here’s to Dave. And everyone in the public sector who does a vital job and that state of mind that elite public sector workers attain to.

Just think about what an army of people like Dave can do for the organisation they work in. Or what they could do for yours.

Creative commons credit

River Severn in flood http://www.flickr.com/photos/davethroup/12253595404/sizes/l/


CHANNEL SHIFT: A future for public sector comms in 2013?

3754894091_d721283588_oIt’s always been tricky working out the impact of good communications.

Back in the day, you’d get a big ruler, a sheaf of cuttings and work out column inches.

Then maybe work out who could have read them.

Proudly, you’d boast of how 500,000 would have seen your campaign.

Then everyone would pat themselves on the back.

Only thing is, that nice as that is that just doesn’t prove a hill of beans.

How many turned a page and ignored it?

Add social media into the landscape and things get even more complicated. That niche Facebook page with 200 liking it? A waste of time? Not at all. Not if its the right number for that niche activity.

How do you measure success?

What counts? Likes? Retweets? Twitter followers?
Maybe the number of press releases you wrote or the tweets you sent?

The impact of communications – traditional or digital – must be not the passive audience who glanced at it but what people did as a result of it.

So, in other words, it’s how many people signed up for that course or how many used a web form instead of calling a help desk.

Frustratingly, that means it’s not a universal measurement. Getting 12 people signed-up for basket making session could well be just as much a success as getting 100 to join a library.

But it’s more than that.

One thing that’s always irritated me about measurement – particularly social media measurement – is a the vagueness of the results.

Take Klout. Break the news to your chief executive your organisations’ score is 55 and they’ll more than likely look at you strangely.

Other monitoring that produces a notional number also leaves me cold.

Your rating has gone up by 2.2. So what?

But it could well be that comms people already have the answer to all this right under their noses.

The cost of things counts 

A few years ago, web standards organisation SOCITM did some research into the cost to local government of doing things for residents when they got in contact.

Doing something face-to-face costs £8.62, by telephone £2.83 and the web 15p.

Accountants PWC apparently also did some similar work calculating the cost of local government replying to a letter was around £10.

So maybe one way to evaluate some comms activity was to look at the situation before you got involved and then look at it after.

In other words, helping channel shift, that act of going from the expensive offline to the cost effective online.

Did the number of phonecalls dip? Did the letters fall? Did more people use the web to report it?

ImageUsing a compare and contrast you can come up with a notional sum of money saved.

That’s a figure that really start to  pass the chief executive credibility test.

That’s also a language that officers can understand too.

That could well be the beginnings of an argument not just to better evaluate but critically to help explain and justify the role of communications in the public sector in 2013.

That’s quite a powerful idea.

Further reading

Dr Gerald Power’s white paper for Govdelivery on channel shift which is here.

Creative commons credits

Type http://www.flickr.com/photos/crankypressman/3754894091/sizes/o/in/photostream/


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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 865 other followers