SIMPLE TIPS: How to run your own unconference

19647936231_193292f98c_kMy favourite day of the year from a professional point of view is one where I earn no money and work like a Trojan with others to make happen.

Commscamp has been staged for the past four years in Birmingham and brings 180 largely public sector comms people together.

It’s an unconference which means that the agenda is decided on the day.

But aside from the conversation, ideas and connections from the day the best thing was hearing some people also want to stage an unconference too. There may be one. There may be two. Who knows? Fantastic. I really hope they do it.

The basics about unconferences I learned from Dave Briggs, Steph Gray and Lloyd Davies. All wonderful people. We staged unconferences because we’d been to a few and fancied having a go ourselves. John Peel used to say punk made it easy. All you had to do was push over a telephone box and sell your brother’s motorbike and you had enough money for a demo. It’s not that different with an unconference.

So here are a few tips.

  1. No-one owns it. Lloyd is quite right in saying that unconferences are not owned by anyone. So have a go.
  2. Find some likeminded people.
  3. Just book some space.
  4. Put up an eventbrite to distribute the tickets.
  5. Scrape together a smidge of sponsorship and UKGovcamp can help with that.
  6. Shout about it.
  7. On the day relax and have fun.
  8. That’s it.
  9. That’s really it.

See? It’s that simple.

I’d also be tempted to do it slightly seperate with what you are doing at work. So, it’s not the day job. But it’s a seperate thing helps the day job. That way you get all the fun stuff but none of the middle manager barriers.

One absolute true-ism from Lloyd is that everyone who goes tends to to love them. But then would like to make a minor change. ‘It was great, but if only we could pre-plan the sessions, that would be marvellous.’ Or whatever the suggestion is.

Don’t.

Keep it simple.

Just have some space. A Facebook group works to get people thinking about sessions beforehand. Decide what you are going to talk about on the day. Then give the thing to the people in the room and they will always, always, always deliver.

Picture credit: Sasha Taylor / Flickr

 


UNCHANGE: There’s never been a more useful time for commscamp

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It’s happening again, I can feel it.

I wasn’t sure if the magic would return somehow but it feels as though it has already.

The magic is Commscamp. It’s a sort of magic that happens once a year when 150 people come together determined to make brighter ideas.

What makes the magic? People who give a damn and want to do things better. People who want to help see that too. And people who like cake. Definitely, people who like cake.

The truth is it also feels like there’s never been a more important time for an event like commscamp. It feels as though it is really needed this year.  Against the backdrop of Brexit, cuts and rapid change there is a need for people to come together compare notes and work things out.

And yet

The phrase that runs through what I’ve done over the past seven or eight years is ‘militant optimism.’ At its heart is a resolve to do things better despite everything

At times, optimism takes a battering. A change of boss. Cuts. More cuts. Brexit. Change. New platforms. Keeping pace. The firm request for a back of bus ad you have to push back on. The easier thing would be to throw in the towel.

Why I think the magic is back

Planning an event like this is easier the more you do it. Writing emails to printers at 11pm when you haven’t seen your family all day is not ‘fun.’

But one moment this week made me think the magic was back. Late night I was looking down the session idea pitches in the Commscamp Facebook group.

  • Income generation. How do we?
  • Live streaming video. How should we?
  • If everyone is a comms expert how do I make my professional advice heard?
  • How can you stay politically restricted and still have a voice?
  • How can I put a cat amongst the pigeons?
  • Coping with guilt and reality post-cuts.
  • Virtual reality video: a beginners guide.
  • A cathartic session just to let rip a bit.

I want to go to them all. Reading them I was reminded why I love it. And I looked at the list of people who want to volunteer to make that happen.

If you can’t come you can still play a part

There’s a limited amount of room and we know that not everyone who wants to come can come. We’ll look to livestream some sessions, post to Twitter on the #commscamp16 hashtag and blog. If you are out of the room we’ll try and find a way you can catch-up.

But one thing makes it worthwhile

If there is one issue that makes commscamp this year really worth it for me it’s Brexit and how we cope with it. I’ve got this strong sense that there’s a strong sense of uncertainty that we would do well to tackle.

It would be great if we could tackle that together.

It feels like the magic is back.

Let’s make it so, shall we?

Commscamp is staged in Birmingham on Thursday July 14. Tickets are sold out.

Picture credit: Ann Kempster / Flickr


SOMME ECHO: It’s simple… as #wearehere shows, just be human

I’m writing this on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Just a week before the UK voted to leave the European Union. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay. A majority in England and Wales wanted to go.

Division, spite and rancour is in the air.

Yet, for all sides, the First World casts a long across Britain. It helped make the country we live in. Never such innocence, as Siegfried Sassoon wrote, as when we marched to war in 1914. Never such shattered innocence as the first day of the Battle of the Somme. If there was a day when modern Britain was born it was this.

I’m writing this to capture the #wearehere project. At key railway stations across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland volunteers dressed in First World War battledress appeared. Talk to them and they quietly give you a card with the name of a soldier who was killed on this day a hundred years ago.

It’s a gentle reminder that those who were lost were people too. Just like you.  It’s beautiful. I’ve blogged about my own family’s First World War story and the pain it caused.

As a child, a teacher taught us how much the First World War had changed Britain not with numbers. He pulled three empty chairs to the front of the classroom.

“Those chairs,” he said, “are empty. But they would have had three children just like you sat on them. But they weren’t born because their grandfathers were killed in the First World War.”

I seem to spend a lot of time telling people in training that the key to good communication is to be human. It’s why #wearehere works. It’s a real thing with real people. And the real people who saw it and were moved shared images and thoughts online.

I don’t know who is behind the project, but thank you for a chance to say ‘thank you’ to the 704,803 who died like cattle to show us that modern war was something to avoid.

But thank you too for a reminder that we are all human.

 

 


EURO CHANGE: Embracing chaos calmly and six things post-#euroref for comms people

24539503395_e776784dc2_bYou may be happy with the EU Referendum result or you may be devastated. Either way this will change things for you as a comms or PR person.

You may find your job under threat or you may find your job disappeared. You may find a new post created as a result of it.

The truth is that it’s too early to tell how this is going to play out.

In the immediate aftermath, talking with Mrs Slee this morning I was reminded by the line from Robert Phillips’ book ‘Trust Me: PR is Dead.’ It is simply this:

‘Embrace chaos.’

The line troubled me slightly and when we staged an event with him in Birmingham a while back I asked him what he meant.

He just meant that everything is uncertain. Everything is changing. The internet has undermined many certainties and created new ones. Accept it and try and work with it. It’s advice we’ve repeated to teams several times. To embrace the chaos of change in the comms landscape is to realise that new skills are needed and to know that nothing is fixed.

It’s a bold line.

You are free to disregard it.

But Adam Buxton, the comedian, writer and actor, said that good ideas keep coming back and re-presenting themselves. Bad ones don’t. That line keeps returning for me.

But change could take shape in different ways.

Politically restricted 

Many comms people in the public sector are in ‘politically restricted’ posts. In layman’s terms that means that they are able to be members of a political party but they can’ty express public positions or campaign. This is how it should be. After eight years of this in local government it made life much easier.

But sitting on your hands and shouting at the telly can be difficult. I know this. I’m pitching a session at commscamp on July 14 to let public sector talk about this in a safe space. If you are going do come along.

Ripping up your plans

There’s every chance your best laid plans could be in tatters. The organisation’s business objectives could have taken an overnight lurch somewhere new. As difficult as this sounds, this is a chance to put your foot in the door to help shape whatever new comes. Review what you do.

Be straight, a cut is a cut

There’s a conversation that I had with someone who knows someone who processes EU grants for community groups. The liklihood is they will be at best under threat. But just as austerity has led to services stopping I’d counsel to steer clear of weasel-words like ‘efficiencies.’ A cut is a cut. If it’s stopping, say so.But do it factually and without finger pointing.

Know what you can and can’t say 

With a new landscape, there’s a chance people in the public sector will be under renewed pressure to say more than they can. The easy answer is don’t. But be prapared. Check your constitution to see what you are allowed to say. Check the document that governs what you do. Have those relevant passages cut, pasted, saved and circulated.

Don’t stop learning, you

I’ve banged on about the pace of change for a long time and the need to learn new things to keep your skills honed. The impact of the EU Referendum hasn’t slowed this down. If anything it’s made the need quicken.

Be excellent to each other

I’ve been reminded in my timeline that many people are feeling worried. Sometimes this has been fear of the unknown. Sometimes, almost unbelievably, this has been abuse in the streets. Thios may sound like vaguely hippy wisdom but the need to be excellent to each other has never been greater.

Look after yourself.

Picture credit: Christoph G / Flickr

 


BOAT SKILLS: You can’t do more with less. You need to be realistic with the size of the boat you’ve got


10 places to distribute your video to make it a success

5236263550_12bf640a5b_oYou’ve made a cracking video but you’re really not sure what to do next.

So what do you do?

For the past 12-months I’ve looked, made, researched and co-delivered workshops on essential video skills for comms.

As a comms person I’m convinced that video has a powerful role in creating engaging content. As I’ve said before, a large chunk of the internet is now video and that’s just going to grow.

The two things you need for engaging video

Think of Pearl & Dean. Think of sound and vision. It’s two things that go together. There’s a balancing act for creating successful video as part of a comms campaign. On the one hand you need good content. But on the other hand, good content that’s sat on your mobile phone isn’t going to reach anyone. So think about when and where you can post what you’ve made.

Live streaming is a bit different

Live streaming using Periscope, Meercat or Facebook Live is video. But this is video of the moment which is disposable. If the advantage is to be five yards away from the firefighter explaining the incident is now under control then it makes sense to use that. Speed and realtime point you to these platforms.

Don’t be blinded by numbers

Have a think about your audience. If you are keen to reach 16-year-old students about to decide which college to go to then your idea of success is not to chase Taylor Swift numbers. But if you’ve only reached a dozen then you may need to have a think about your distribution. In other words where people have the chance to see the video.

10 places where people can see your video

YouTube direct. This is the grand daddy of internet video. It’s used by more than a billion people a month. In the UK, more than 40 million people use the platform every month. Post your video to YouTube but keep it at around three minutes. Add tags and a good description so people will find it. Metadata is your friend. Optimum time: around three minutes.

Facebook direct. A new kid on the block compared to YouTube. At the moment, Facebook is rewarding you for adding video content to a page. It likes video because video keeps people interested, engaged and sharing. A hundred million hours of video is watched on Facebook every day. There is a battle going on between YouTube and Facebook but it’s worth posting video here too. Facebook can soar in the short run and is outperformed by YouTube in the long run. So think about posting to both. Optimum time: 21 seconds.

Twitter direct. Like Facebook, Twitter is liking that you post video direct to itself from the Twitter mobile app. But annoyingly, it’ll only let you upload a video from elsewhere if you are using an iphone.Optimum time: less than 30 seconds.

Instagram direct. There is a tendency for organisations to sit back and think that YouTube, Facebook or Twitter means the internet is covered. What hogswallop. If you know your audience you’ll have an idea which platforms they’ll be using. If instagram or snapchat is on their wavelength then think about how you’ll be using those channels first. By doing that you’ll have an understanding of what video may work.Optimum time: Instagram was up to 15 seconds maximum but now can be 60 seconds. Doesn’t mean you should use 60 seconds, mind.

Snapchat direct. Younger people are opting for snapchat. Again, disposability rules in the content. The platform now has 10 billion views a day. Organisations who are using it well have got to know snapchat first and make specialised content. It’s not a place to throw your three minute YouTube video.Optimum time: less than 10 seconds.

Email the link internally. Once you’ve posted the video cut and paste the URL and send it to people. Embed it in the weekly email. Or send it to the 10 people in the team you’ve featured. Invite them to share it and you can start to tap into your staff as advocates. YouTube links are good for this.

Embed in a webpage. It never fails to surprise me that video carefully shot and posted onto social channels then never makes the webpage. If you look after a museum, embed the video onto the right webpage so when visitors come they’ll have more than just the opening times to look at.

A staff meeting or event. You have an audience of people corralled into a room. Of course you should show them the film you’ve made.

A link attached to a press release. If you’re sending out a press release it is becoming increasingly important to add a video or an image to it to register an interest with a reporter. Even if it’s a short video it’s worth doing.

Target influencers. If the blogger, the reporter or the big cheese are people you’d like to see the video don’t hope that somehow they’ll pick up on it. Email them direct. Tweet them direct. Tap them on the shoulder. “I’ve got this video that I think you’ll like.”

On a welcome screen on a loop. If you have a reception or a place where people gather show the video on a loop. You may want to screen it with the sound off if you’ve only got 30 seconds of good footage. Think about silent film techniques and sub-titles.

To learn more about planning, editing, shooting and posting video using a smartphone come to a comms2point0 essential video skills workshop.

Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0.


OWN GOAL: What Aston Villa’s demise teaches comms and PR people

19753404670_9bf9cf0977_bSometimes it’s tempting to say that better PR can make up for anything… but that’s just a big fat lie.

Take Aston Villa Football Club. They’re a team that has just been relegated from the top flight of English football with four games of the season left.

This was the football equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade only with none of the honour, heroism and poetry. This was not a rush towards the Russian guns with lightly armed horses to maintain a reputation. This was a dash towards a brick wall in an ice cream van. Driven by a bloke in a circus clown’s outfit. Blunders to the left of them, fowl-ups to the right. Into the valley of PR nightmares they rode.

It’s tempting to feel truly sorry for the actual PR team at Aston Villa who have had to all too often pick-up the pieces. How much of a thankless task must that be?

However, in the interests in learning from failure, here are some lessons.

You cannot polish a turd

Yes, PR can do much. But if the product is broken all the PR and comms in the world can’t make up for it. If the owner isn’t interested and a string of bad appointments have been made there really is very little you can do.

I’m reminded of Robert Phillips’ ‘Trust Me PR is Dead.’ His advice to a burger chain facing flak for excrement traces in their burgers was not to talk about the community grants they gave and corporate social responsibility. It was to stop putting crap in the burgers.

Speak truth to power

Of course, what you say may not always be welcome. But honest, diplomatic feedback of what your customers are saying should be given house room. If the customers are angry about something it’s as well to know early. You won’t be welcomed in the short term, but speaking truth to power is a role of the comms person.

What happens on a night out…stays on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube

Aston Villa players carved out a special place for themselves through the season by being spotted ‘tired and emotional’ in a range of places. Jack Grealish started the trend pre-season in Tenerife. He then added Manchester to the list after losing to Everton.

Know how to spell

Eyebrows were raised when Frenchman Remi Garde was plucked from the French league to become the man who was going to save Aston Villa from a spiral of despair. In fine tradition the club took to the internet to orchestrate a welcome campaign.#welcomeremy the image on the club website read. Perfect. But his name was spelt wrong. It was Remi.

Know when to be humble

Defender Joleon Lescott has got very rich playing football for a number of clubs including Manchester City. A player who has won a handful of caps for England he has cashed in on the Premier League era. But after losing and getting abuse on Twitter he responded by tweeting a picture of his new car.  Then he hurriedly deleted the car and blamed the fact that his pocket had accidentally tweeted the image.

Beware the corporate re-branding

Of course, a new look can breathe life into a new brand. But when the chips are down it can lead to criticism. You have taken your eye off the ball looking at fancy marketing stuff when you should be looking at the basics. Like winning games. Unfair? Perhaps. But perception is everything. So when Villa rebranded for £80,000 losing the traditional motto ‘Prepared’ from the badge they were open to criticism. Especially as they looked so unprepared losing every week.

Follow back… don’t unfollow

On social media, it costs nothing to follow someone back. On a basic level it says that you have been recognised even if your content isn’t slavishly being read. So as a time of the season when Villa needed all the friends they could mass unfollowing 47,000 fans on Twitter wasn’t the best thing to do. The reaction was not positive. Don’t do it.

There is no such thing as off-the-record

With Aston Villa relegated former player and radio phone-in host Stan Collymore laid into some of the more under-achieving players. Singling out Joleon Lescott the car tweeting defender responded by Twitter direct message privately offering to meet and sort things out as men. The screen grab was then tweeted by Collymore.

Say sorry… and mean it.

As the final whistle blew at Old Trafford and Villa were relegated the chief executive Steve Hollis posted an open letter to supporters. It expressed ‘regret’ for how the season panned out and was an exercise in acknowledging responsibility. As an attempt, it was good. No doubt he was hurting. But it would have been far more effective if the word ‘sorry’ had been used.

In the Middle Ages, stocks were used for public contrition. The miscreant was forced to sit there while rotten tomatoes and excrement was flung at them. There’s actually a social role for this. There’s also a place where this takes place today. It’s called the radio phone in. A grovelling apology by the owner on BBC Radio WM may go some way to healing the rift.

Creative commons credit: joshjdss / Flickr 


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