There’s a school of thought that public sector comms people are a bunch of non-jobs who are a waste of money.
Their budget would be better spent on replacing windows or filling potholes, the argument goes.
Those who make that argument? They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Empty tins sound the loudest. Where were they when a terror attack struck Manchester? They were nowhere. Wheras the Public Sector in Manchester just as the people did responded.
As Google Trends shows, the spike of searches for Manchester and Ariana Grande whose concert was attacked is marked.
Where were the Public Sector communications people?
Late at night and for days after they were communicating with the stunned Greater Manchester public of 2.8 million, 65 million UK citizens and billions around the globe.
Thoughts should absolutely be with those who were killed and affected by the explosion. Thoughts too with the police, ambulance, fire and local government people who responded first.
But as a communicator who has worked eight years in local government I’m absolutely sparing a thought to the comms people too. There are some people in the industry who would have folded faced with this challenge. That’s understandable. A terror attack is a massive event. The response from Greater Manchester Police, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue, Transport for Manchester, the Combined Authority, both Mayor’s teams, all parts of the NHS, Manchester City Council and others was sterling. No channel seemed to go AWOL. No-one seemed to have left a scheduled tweet in place.
Professional. Informative and well judged. Not just in the aftermath but in the coming together and moments of reflection.
This is what gold standard communications looks like.
Clear, timely precise information under intense pressure for a sustained period.
Class, be like them.
When people talk about ‘non-jobs’ ask them how they’d communicate a terror attack and its aftermath. You’ll get a non-answer.
However, I was reminded by Stephen Waddington’s post about mental resilience in communications. It’s a timely post that asks people to look after their mental health. In the aftermath of huge stress, I’d hope that the organisations and individuals involved bear this in mind. They’re bright people. I’m sure they will.
Here are some standout lessons
The Public Sector is not a single thing but a number of organisations that serve a community. In the aftermath of the attack, organisations shared vital updates. Fire shared police updates, for example. The Mayor’s office shared a newspaper’s frontpage, for example. The strength of the Public Sector is the long reach and broad digital footprint. In an emergency share it.
There’s no question that the public far wider than Manchester identified with the content and amplified it.
Communications to say ‘you can get updates over here.’
One lessons of communicating in an emergency is for the Public Sector to signpost people to where the up-to-date information is. This happened effectively in the Westminster attack and did so again in Manchester. Here, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue acknowledged the incident and pointed people to Greater Manchester Police.
Communications to say ‘we’re on it’ part I
The Ambulance Trust dealing with the attack communicated via Twitter to say they were aware and ask people not to call on other matters unless it was an emergency.
Due to the incident in Manchester, please only call us for life threatening emergencies at this time. Thank you.
— NWAS NHS Trust (@NWAmbulance) May 22, 2017
Communications to say ‘we’re on it’ part II
Police acknowledged the incident as it was breaking. This is text book stuff. By doing this they flag-up they are aware and where to follow for updates. The days of waiting to sign-off a press release at a time of emergency is long over.
Police responded to reports of an incident at Manchester Arena. Please stay away from the area. More details to follow….
— G M Police (@gmpolice) May 22, 2017
Communication as a sharable image with need-to-know information
There’s every chance this image wasn’t made by the Public Sector itself. But the lesson this does show is that the key public information in the hours after the event WILL be shared as an image.
— RaevennanHusbandes (@AfroThunderRae) May 23, 2017
Communications as part of the investigation
Content taken at the time and in the aftermath helps police piece together what happened. This tweet encourages people to send their footage in.
— Terrorism Police UK (@TerrorismPolice) May 23, 2017
A video response and information update
As the aftermath became recovery, the issue turned to transport and what would be running. Video was used here.
Communications as mental health support for an entire city
If more than 20,000 people were at the Manchester Arena many more would have faced an anxious wait to see if their children, family or friends were okay. Updates to say ‘it’s not okay’ were widely shared.
— Richard Preece (@drrichardp) May 28, 2017
Communications to say ‘we’re bouncing back.’
A week after the attack, sporting events took place across the city. As this video from Mayor Andy Burnham shot and posted within minutes shows, it’s a city refusing to give in.
— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) May 28, 2017
Communication as poetry
Tony Walsh was invited to read one his poems not just in the event after the attack but at the Great Manchester Run.
Communication as an image to convey breaking news
Greater Manchester Police staged a series of raids and arrests across Manchester in the days after the event. A simple update and sharable image kept people informed.
Latest update pic.twitter.com/f4dF5aUto0
— G M Police (@gmpolice) May 26, 2017
Communications as infographic
Greater Manchester used an infographic to explain the scope and depth of the investigation.
Timeline of events on Mondays attack at the Arena pic.twitter.com/DINIv8KS7L
— G M Police (@gmpolice) May 28, 2017
Communication to say ‘we’re human too.’
If it’s okay to be not okay, it’s also okay to show your staff as being human. A Facebook timeline image shows the Greater Manchester Chief Constable embracing a member of the public. It’s genuine, warm and isn’t staged.
Communications as a captured Instagram street picture
An image on the street spotted and photographed by Greater Manchester Police and shared to their Instagram feed.
Sharing other people’s content
Manchester City Council shared this fund raising link. It doesn’t have to be your own content. It doesn’t even have to be Public Sector.
Making a city proud
So proud of my daughter Jordan – a Critical Care nurse in Manchester dealing with fallout of last nights attack. Our services do us proud! pic.twitter.com/XgXT3bqsNO
— Gary Sumner (@gsum66) May 23, 2017
It’s astounding the number of people playing fast and loose with their organisation’s Facebook pages.
What does the t&c’s say?
Facebook users provide their real names and information, and we need your help to keep it that way. Here are some commitments you make to us relating to registering and maintaining the security of your account:
- You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission.
- You will not create more than one personal account.
A. A Page for a brand, entity (place or organisation), or public figure may be administered only by an authorised representative of that brand, entity (place or organisation) or public figure (an “official Page”).
Why second accounts exist
Here’s what to do. Quick.
What was also encouraging was talk of new uses of technology. The Saturday night sports paper the Sports Argus folded 11-years ago. The pre-internet queues I recall in newsagents for their delivery are now a memory for people aged over 40. But as the broadcast pointed out, the last edition of the Argus couldn’t carry that night’s FA Cup Final score. So a podcast, video content and sports coverage that is more fan-centric is now the order.
Data is being used more and more to look at the stories that people like, the broadcast said.
A story that’s big on a Trinity Mirror title in Newcastle, for example, can be be a pointer for what could be big in Birmingham too.
And yet, older newspaper people will turn in their graves at complaints made in the broadcast about spelling mistakes slipping into content. They’ll be even more dismayed at the level of trolling that can sometimes pollute comment boxes and Facebook threads. This is a bigger issue than many people realise. This is an issue not just for newspapers but for civic life as well.
Video is the driver for engaging newspaper content.
What did strike me was the use of video by newspapers.
Ben Hurst, Post & Mail news editor responsible for video content, in the Facebook Live broadcast said something telling:
About 12 months ago we were barely doing any video. The rise of the smartphone means that if someone is on the scene they won’t just take a still pic. They’ll take footage. It’s completely changed everything operates.
But not just recorded video is playing a part. Live broadcasts on social channels are becoming increasingly part of the media company’s armoury. Reporters are rarely first on the scene with a smartphone to shoot footage but people are. Ben was open about the fact that they are open to use people’s content.
What does this means for comms people?
It means that newspapers are still in the game. Only they’re not newspapers anymore. They are media companies. They’re not the only game in town anymore either. But they are starting to re-invent themselves.
What do you do if you are comms and PR?
It means taking a look at the content you generate. A press release with text is less effective in a landscape where newsrooms want footage and images. Text at news stands shaped by an editor’s news sense once sold newspapers. Today, content refined by data and often driven by video drives the money-creating job sustaining traffic for media companies.
As newspapers adapt so should comms people.
Picture credit: Michael Coghlan / Flickr.