READ-CHARGED: five comms books and five works of escapism you can read on holiday


My children have broken-up from school and I’m turning towards the holidays.

For me, end of term is marked by taking a day off to go and watch the cricket at the Cheltenham cricket festival. It is as close to personal bliss as it is possible to get.

Holiday reading can be tricky.

Sometimes you want escapism and sometimes you want something work related that’s consumable.

In this list I’ve gone for both.

I’ve rated them in usefulness for work and also how accessible, or beach friendly they are. Some are both. Some are one or the other. I’ve read all of them.

Five work-related titles


The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

This is my train book. A book I pick-up on the way back from working somewhere.

I first told stories as a journalist 20 years ago and revised the skills over time. Reading this I’m struck by what we all instinctively know and where that comes from.

I’m also struck by how much I don’t know. Good advice beautifully told.

We respond much better to stories rather than piles of numbers. This book will help you tell those stories.

Useful for work rating 9/10 Beach-friendly rating 8/10


The Online Journalism Handbook by Paul Bradshaw

This isn’t cheap. It’s now about £35 paperback but its well worth the investment.

Paul Bradshaw is someone I’ve admired for years. Some journalists fled from the internet while he ran towards it to work out how it can be used.

The kinds of things Paul talks about is story telling for the 21st century and wise communicators can learn a lot from the content creating techniques mapped-out in the book.

Written in accessible bite-size style this can be picked up and put down as you experiment with the ideas yourself.

Useful for work rating 10/10 Beach friendly 7/10


The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For A Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

The internet was first fun and then fearsome.

Social channels first broke the mold and then re-shaped the mold. You get to share your holiday pics but in return you give away your location, likes, dislikes, relationships, movements and opinions.

What happens to all that data is something we’re dimly aware of. Zuboff looks at how new platforms built to liberate information can serve to control both the data and you as well.

A challenging read.

Useful for work rating 8/10 Beach friendly rating 4/10.


Everyday Chaos: Technology, Complexity and How We’re Thriving in a New World by David Weinberger

The pace of change is constant and will never be as slow as it is today.

This is either chilling or challenging and sometimes is both. Weinberger’s book looks at where we are and where we are going.

For communicators, this is a useful look into the future we all need to understand and be able to navigate around.

It reminded me of the need to embrace chaos, to relax and to go with the flow of change.

Useful for work rating 8/10 Beach friendly rating 5/10.


McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists edited by Mike Dodd and Mark Hanna

Thoughout by career as a journalist McNae was the Bible.

The book had everything I needed to know about rights and restrictions and would settle office disputes instantly.

Twenty years after leaving NCTJ college I bought and updated version and marvelled not just at how much had changed but how much I still need to know.

There is so much here a communicator needs to know to best advise a jumpy chief executive who has just been defamed online or the person who wants to complain about an online story.

Useful for work rating 9/10 Beach friendly rating 6/10

And five non-work related titles

Here are books I’ve read on the beach or ones I’m looking forward to read on holiday. Their purpose isn’t to be work related but there may be lessons you can apply in life as well as work.

hiredHired by James Bloodworth

I grew up in Stafford on the edge of Cannock Chase. On the other side of the Chase was Rugeley. This was a small Staffordshire town built on coal and a power station.

James takes his first zero-hours job in an Amazon warehouse where he works gruelling hours trying to avoid the five marks against him which will see him dismissed.

As one ex-miner says “People say they only work at Amazon. We would never have said that. We were proud to be miners.”

Part-time work is replacing work that made us proud.

Useful for work rating 3/10 Beach friendly rating 9/10

rebanksThe Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District by James Rebanks

My late Dad was from the Lake District. The son on a headteacher life took away but he was always a Cumbrian.

He took us back for holidays and he gave me and my three brothers a love of the landscape and a respect for the people who live there.

This book bridges the gap between the people who visit and those who live in the Lakes. Across four seasons this is a life story and a story of the hard dedicated lives of upland shepherds.

Useful for work rating 4/10 Beach friendly rating 9/10

pierPier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside by Jon Bounds and Danny Smith

Ah, the peer review. The act of submitting your work for external validation.

Wouldn’t it be a fun idea to carry out a pier review by driving around all the piers in England and Wales armed with little cash and lots of enthusiasm?

The money and enthusiasm wanes and a road trip develops that is best read in a deckchair with a knotted hanky.

Jon Bounds was one of the Brum Bloggers group that did a pile of brilliant things with the internet around a decade ago.

Useful for work rating 3/10 Beach friendly rating 10/10. 

herr‘Dispatches’ by Michael Herr

My son is studying Vietnam as part of his 20th century history GCSE.

A few years ago, prompted by re-watching ‘Apocalypse Now’ I went through a phase of ploughing through books of the era to try and understand the period better.

Journalist Michael Herr is a masterpiece of writing. His journey to try and understand is noble. But I’m reminded of Yeats’ line ‘things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.’  As his understanding develops, he understands less.

An eminently readable disturbing warning from history.

Usefulness for work rating 5/10 Beach friendly rating 8/10 

newSubstance: Inside New Order by Peter Hook

A father’s day present this book is the mother of all rock biographies.

Peter Hook knows where all the bodies are buried and since falling out with his now ex-band mates he doesn’t mind telling you exactly where they are buried.

I’ve read ‘Hammer of the Gods’ the account of Led Zeppelin’s rise and trust me, that’s nothing compared to the five musicians who made New Order what they were.

Great if you are a musician. Also useful if you are in a dysfunctional working relationship that can only be resolved through the courts.

Usefulness for work rating 6/10 Beach friendly rating 9/10.

Image credit: istock.

WORKING EXTRA: If 99 per cent of public sector communicators work extra hours this feels like a problem


It’s long been a hunch the public sector would collapse if it wasn’t for good will and free overtime.

None more so than in comms teams.

That extra comms plan? Take it home, stay a little longer, work through lunch, just do a bit on Sunday night to make the week easier. It’s all been done.

But how much of it takes place?

The NHS recently hit the headlines when consultants were working to rule rather than take on paid overtime that landed them with eye-watering tax bills.

It made me think about unpaid time public sector communicators put in. In an unscientific survey, I asked the members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group and more than 250 responded.

Extra hours are almost universal

The results were not surprising.

Working over or out-of-hours is nearly universal.

Far from being an occasional thing out-of-hours or extra working has become so mainstream its not hard to see teams failing to deliver without it.

  • 99 per cent of public sector communicators surveyed work over their allotted hours.
  • Almost half work ad hoc extra hours
  • A third work up to five hours extra a week
  • 13 per cent work more than 10 hours extra every week.

meta-chart (12)

Of course, the extra odd hour here and there isn’t a problem. It can take team through peaks and troughs.

But is it the odd hour?

Or have we reached a point where public sector comms wouldn’t operate without that extra freely given time?

One in ten work more than 10 extra hours

This for me is one of the eye-catching numbers. If the standard working week is just less than 40 hours, 10 extra hours a week is a big chunk of time. It’s 25 per cent extra. It’s two hours extra every working day.  That’s 12 extra full working weeks a year just to stand still.

That doesn’t feel healthy.

The situation isn’t healthy

A cursory glance at the health risks of long hours at work shows a higher risk of strokes with a third greater risk.

The Japanese have a work for death by overwork. Karoshi is a problem that affects salarymen whose long hours and poor diets.

The reality is that some comms people in that number are quite literally working themselves into the ground. Ironically, one area where working out-of-hours or extra time seems bad is the NHS itself.

The on-call rota

One place where it has a serious impact is emergency planning. It’s funny how things very often kick-off outside office hours. Grenfell was in the small hours and the MEN Arena explosion was late at night.

Without proper cover the organisation is ill-placed to respond but anecdotally, proper cover is often rare. ‘It’s a risk they think is worth taking,’ one group member complained.

What’s the way round it? Spanish practices

One communicator, who wanted to remain anonymous, has travel in her remit but can’t claim the hours spent in cars and trains back as flexi-time. Her boss turns a blind eye at her informally claiming some time back. But HR would have had kittens if they knew, she was privately warned.

This leads on to the wider point of decent management. I’ve had decent managers and I’ve had absolute eye-watering shockers. I’m sure we all have. I worked in one team where we would have gone over the top into enemy fire for each other because we knew we all had each others back. Looking back I see how rare that was. One key ingredient was the Spanish practice of extra time off here and there.

Flexi time

One thing the straw poll didn’t ask in any detail was how easy it was to recover lost hours through flexi-time. Anecdotally, this is often a grey area. Over a certain amount and it can get lost. Sometimes its easy to take. Sometimes its not.

So what happens next?

Before you head back to your to-do list spare a moment.

This idea of overwork ironically needs more work. This quick poll I think doesn’t give definitive view but has exposed a serious issue.

Nobody’s agenda other than yours will dominated if you die early or go off with stress.

It’s not clock-watching, its ensuring you are healthy enough to do a good job and see your children grow up.

It may be one for an organisation that looks after the interests of public sector communicators but its also absolutely something for you to think about as an individual and for your manager to reflect on.

 Picture credit: istock

IT’S ON: Haters gonna hate… how to deal with raised voices online


A couple of times in the last few weeks the issue of abuse and trolls has come up and its made me think. 

The role of the public sector communicator online has never been easy but its made me think about pulling together in one place some of the ideas and strategies I’ve used.

Have a social media acceptable behaviour code in place

If you want people to behave online you need to set out what’s okay and what’s not. This is where your acceptable behaviour code comes into place.

This one from New York City Council is a bit wordy but you get the idea.

If you’re starting from scratch see what customer services have as a list of what’s okay and what’s not. People who work in the contact centre are pros at being sworn at. They’ve got things in place.

Post your code on your website where you can point people to it.

Or if its a Facebook group that you’ve set up you can set-out the rules.

It’s okay for people not to agree with you

It’s fine to explain the organisation’s position as a communicator but it’s also okay to listen, too. Listening shouldn’t be one way.

If people don’t like the planning application or the policy decision it’s fine for them to disagree and say so. Sometimes your organisation will do something that people don’t like. It’s your job to listen and reflect that to decision makers.

Sometimes public sector communicators can forget this.

Firstly, its often not personal

And this is important. If someone is shouting it is often because they’re fed-up, angry or have had a poor service. They want to influence the decision-making process they can find impersonal.

In other words, its not you its the organisation.

U OK, hun?

But it’s fine not to be okay.

During a four day stretch in snowy weather I was the council on Twitter for 18-hours a day for 72 hours. People were getting really angry that they couldn’t get their cars out and thought the council should have done more. Towards the end of the stretch I felt the red mist descend. Had I stayed online 10-minutes more I would have been my own case study. A walk around the block and a vent to a colleague did the trick. They took over for a couple of hours and I felt much better.

Be factual and polite

During workshops I often use real-life examples of people’s comments online and ask what people’s reactions would be. What’s striking is that there is very little black and white online but an awful lot of grey.

The approach that’s often best is to reply being polite and factual. It’s something I’ve blogged about before and its approach I hugely admire when delivered well. Never ever start arguing back. You end up on the same level.

Know what the platform acceptable use policy is

If people are racist or abusive on Facebook, Twitter or other channels there is a process to report them. If they go over that line its fine to report them and take action. This is Facebook’s terms of service and you can report something here. All social platforms have them.

Report serious abuse to the police

I’m a huge admirer of David Banks the media law expert. As a former editor of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists he really knows his stuff. He points out that police are becoming increasingly adept at using anti-stalking powers to report persistent trolls who may be targeting people in your organisation. An elected member, for example. Take legal advice by all means but look to report things.

Defamation still exists

Online defamation is far trickier. In the olden days you could send a solicitors letter to a newspaper if the polite chat with the reporter didn’t work. Online, this is far trickier.

Defamation governs comments made online as the McAlpine v Bercow case proved a few years ago.  But ideally, you don’t really want to go to court to right the wrong. It’s expensive and is likely to lead to attention to the very issue you’re not happy with.

Anecdotally, back channel communications to bloggers or Facebook group admins have proved successful but there is no guarantee of this leading to rapid accord and satisfaction . Expect the text of your communication to be cut, pasted and made public. This may not happen, but it is best to think through how those words may come over.

Picture: istock.




MORE SHORT GOLD: Here’s SEVEN videos that work effectively

Four years ago the idea of making short video with a mobile phone was radical and daring.

Now, the skill has become mainstream and the work that comms people are doing day-to-day serves to inspire.

Always take inspiration from where you can. The charity video or the BBC News package are just as helpful to you as what your neighbouring council, trust, force or service have done.

It’s been a while since I posted a round-up of films that have impressed me. So, here we are.

A video that tells a compelling story from a senior police officer

Chris is a senior copper with West Midlands Police. He has motor neurone disease.

He tells the story of his family and how he was diagnosed with the life-limiting illness.

“I refuse to be defined by it,” he says.

It’s tempting to think of videos like this as generic but they’re not. Chris talks about the pride he has in his family, the pride he has in his job and the shock of being diagnosed.

Policemen are supposed to be hard cases who charge at where the trouble yet Chris opens up a side of vulnerability. It couldn’t have been easy to make but it does its task of informing and reassuring.  His purpose is to tell people about motor neurone disease and tell people who have a condition that their employers can help. You can watch it here.

What you can take: A vulnerable human story bravely told.


A video that shows emergency work

In Wainfleet, Lincolnshire hundreds of homes were flooded.

The situation was an emergency and a number of public sector people communicated in real-time the latest updates. This helicopter winching sandbags into place to help repair a burst river is excellent and timely footage that re-assures.  The original is here.

What you can take: in an emergency what’s going on around you is the story. Point. Film. Post.


A farmer shows how not to be attacked by cows

I’ve seen this video in a few places but I’m pointing you towards the version that was posted to the Farmers Guardian Facebook page.

A farmer gives a quick run down on how to walk through a field without having cows amble towards you.

Don’t run. Walk. If you run you’ll look exciting and cows may run after you, he says, and demonstrates it.

Points off for being portrait rather than landscape and having horrid black borders but overall a solid A for showing what you can do with a smartphone plus a fine idea. You can watch it here.

What you can take: A smartphone with no editing can tall a story if the narrative is simple and the subject is interesting,


A video that is an appeal for singers

The standard appeal is a three par press release.

Budding X have been urged to Y at Z.

As words go, it’s not that exciting.

So, an appeal for members of a choir to shoot a video is a lovely way of making a appeal.

They put across their welcome with one leading member and you can hear them singing.

You can watch the video here.

What you can take: Go to where the people are.


A video that uses hyperlapse to show rubbish picking

Rubbish is a problem across the country and Horsham Council are hard at it.

They use hyperlapse video, captions and fast paced music to help tell this story that’s visually engaging and keeps you watching.   You can see the original here. Love how they use unobtrusive corporate branding in the corner so you can see who is serving the clip.

Watch the full version here.

What you can take: images and text on the screen can put across a point of view.


A video that is a lovely template for story telling

We know that stories are one of the most effective ways of communicating but often that goes out of the window.

So, while this is a BBC video, there are lessons here for anyone looking to shoot video.

The story is that the inhabitants of the Scottish island of Eriskay play football on one of the most remote pitches anywhere in the world. There’s a hill in one corner, a slope and plenty of wind.

“The pitch is recognised by FIFA,” one player “If you can’t play football on a wee bumpy pitch you shouldn’t be playing.”

The video captures shots of the quirky nature of island life and cuts in soundbites with the players. It’s lovely. I want to go. You can watch it here.

What you can take: Look at this to understand how a film works. The interviews are a thread through the film and the footage illustrates the words.


A video that shows the summer solstice live

Stonehenge is an amazing place. Built of stone dragged from hundreds of miles away the location is as imposing as it is mysterious. The stones are huge but no-one knows their purpose.

English Heritage used Facebook Live for a static live feed with the camera pointed at the stones as the sun rose on the longest day.

This year the live broadcast put the landscape and the horizon at the core of the viewing and 45,000 watched it. In previous years they’ve been in amongst the stones and the Pagan celebrants. The comments were split between abuse of the ‘lazy hippies’ gathered singing songs and those who thought it was great.

This year there was less engagement and more of a visual spectacle. You can watch it all here.

What you can take: Where the value is being at that spot at that moment in time go live.


vintage television

I help run workshops to show comms people how to plan, shoot, edit and post good quality video content. Give me a shout if you need a hand. I’m




LONG READ: I watched every one of Rory Stewart’s 98 campaign videos on Twitter and here’s what I learned about his video strategy

It was the great bard Dolly Parton who said that if you don’t like the road your walking pave another one.
And so it came to pass that Conservative MP Rory Stewart spent time in the Conservative leadership campaign doing a lot of walking and listening.
As a communicator his strategy fascinated me. He rose from 100-1 outsider to second in the polling with the wider electorate. A key part of his approach was through video.
Who was this geeky looking Scot with the posh voice and the Cumbrian constituency?
With four hours to kill on a train to Edinburgh I went through all of them to see his approach more closely.
Three things I need to flag.
– Firstly, this is an apolitical post.
– Secondly, Twitter is not the whole of the internet.
– Thirdly, if you’re too busy – tldr – the summary is this:
‘If you walk, there’s something humbling about it. You put yourself on the same level as everyone else. You can achieve the optics of walking really easily. You’ve got to really want to be on the level as everyone else.’
So, here we go. There were 98 videos on Twitter over the three week campaign.
If you have time stick around, read it or just scroll through the pictures.

He often cut through spin by talking into a wobbly smartphone

Robert Phillips in ‘Trust Me PR is Dead’ wrote forcefully that the era of spin is dead.
Campaign videos used to be expensive destination TV. The launch of the three-minute party political broadcast was eagerly awaited and dissected. If people were around at 9pm they saw it. If they weren’t, they may have read the commentators in the daily papers the next day. We’ve grown bored with that.
The wobbly smartphone held in selfie mode does much to disarm the appearance of spin.

He took to the road to reach real people

The first electorate in the Conservative leadership campaign was Tory MPs at Westminster. But rather than focus on them, Stewart heading out into the country to meet regular voters. He often told people where he was and asked people to come and talk to him.
So, the act of a politician picking up a smartphone and talking into it directly broke the fourth wall and addressed people directly.

He built a perception that he was out and about

He travelled to Woking, Edinburgh, Peterborough, Derry, Derby, Warrington and Wigan. But not the South West, Wales or the West Midlands.  If you were to be glass half full you’d say that he was living the soundbite. Big parts of the country didn’t get visited.

Diagram 1: Population of London vs population of the UK

meta-chart (3)London is at the centre of British decision making. It’s where power is. But the 8.1 million population is just 12 per cent of the population.

Yet Rory filmed outside London just 15 per cent of the time. But the impact of that chunk delivered huge value for money for him. The perception was that he was out and about and on the road.

Diagram 2: Breakdown of Rory Stewart leadership campaign 2019 videos by place

meta-chart (1)

The fact that a politician would travel to Warrington and Wigan at all was hugely striking. But the fact that it is striking is surely most striking of all. We’ve grown used to politicians being remote and living in fear when challenged by their electorate who are often shown as hectoring and angry.
Think of Theresa May after the Grenfell fire. Heckled by a crowd and reduced to speeding away in a fast car for example.
Diagram 2: Breakdown of Rory Stewart leadership campaign 2019 videos by area
meta-chart (2)

His campaign was built on the revolutionary acts of walking and listening

Walking is the oldest form of exercise.
There is also something deeply pious about the act of pilgrimage to walk. The Gough map of 1360 traces a 250-mile route through Britain to Canterbury to allow people to atone for their sins.
As I was watching the videos I was struck by how much walking Rory was doing. Indeed the hashtag #RoryWalks and #RoryWalksOn showed showed the importance to the campaign of walking. But this was not a genuflecting trail in a hair shirt. This was an attempt to walk to reconnect with people.
If the act of walking for a politician is mildly daring, the act of listening feels oddly revolutionary.
meta-chart (5)

Often the listening clips were focussing on the member of the public speaking and Rory was listening. Sure, editorial control was being exercised by Rory’s team. There was no-one featured who told him to ‘just fuck off,’ for example. But still, the act of listening for a politician felt striking.

For example, showing one chat with a group of young men in the East End that didn’t go so well was almost blooper reel-esque. But even this underlined the authenticity and a willingness to try.

He featured subtitles through many of his videos

From a technical level, this is great. If 85 per cent of people watch video without sound having the text on the screen was vital.

His average video length was 62 seconds

With a nod to the effective length of video on Twitter , the average length was just over a minute. Even his set-piece announcements were split into shorter video.

His biggest audience was an announcement he was in Kew Gardens

More than 1.6 million saw the clip that he was at Kew Gardens and to invite people to challenge and debate him. More than 1.3 million saw him launch a policy ideas for a national citizen service.

The mere act of saying ‘I’m here, come and talk’ connected with people.

He used the platform to rebut and set the wider news agenda

When there was a suggestion that he was pulling out of the race towards the end, he took to video to rebut the idea. Video was a way of shaping the news cycle as it was when he challenged Boris Johnson to take part in the Channel 4 debate.

Put simply, Twitter was shaping the wider online, print and broadcast agenda.

He bore a sense of shame about politics

It’s striking that his launch speech came well after he started to use video but is vital to understand his approach. In his speech he said:
“I’ve traveled around this extraordinary country this great country from Derry to Derby, Edinburgh to Peterborough, Woking to Wigan and and everywhere I’ve been I’ve been listening to you. What is lacking in this debate and in our politics is a sense of shame.”
The video is here:

He took himself to the eye level of people he met

Most strikingly, he shunned the Trump-style election rally and the appearance of the Big Man who was on a pedestal. None more so when he was challenged by a young man who grew angry at the lack of life chances young people were getting. Rory came down from the platform to stand closer, listen and hug him. The hug felt slightly awkward but he tried.

And that earned him the right to be heard and not be milkshaked

Rory’s sense of shame was expressed in an impression humility created by the act of listening.
There was a sense of a pilgrim walk to seek a forgiveness and re-connect with people.
The communications of this is compelling. By being human, the politician made himself vulnerable and by doing so earns the right to listen and only then to ask for support to act.
It didn’t always work. The act of ripping off his tie felt contrived.
By the hard metric of evaluation, Rory’s campaign was a failure. He didn’t reach the last two and won’t be Prime Minister. But campaigns are part of a bigger war. They’re about building support to get a louder voice. It’ll be interesting to see how his career pans out in the next few years.
And yes, Rory Stewart remains a politician. His voting record is what he does. That’s as important as is what he says and how he comes across.
Rory’s show of human comms resulted in him not being abused or have milk shake thrown. That in itself in 2019 is remarkable.

EMERGENCY PLAN: New advice to handle comms in an emergency has been published and you need to read it


A valuable addition has been published on how to communicate in the wake of a terror attack.

The ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’ download has been posted by the CIPR and Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure. You can find it here.

I’ve a theory that emergency planning is permanently 9th on the default to-do list of most public sector people. It never rises much above and it never falls much below. Life and a lack of resources gets in the way. But having drafted an emergency planning comms plan I can see its importance.

‘The thing is,’ an emergency planner once told me ‘by law you need an emergency planning comms plan and you really don’t want to be sat in a witness box of a public enquiry explaining why yours is six years out of date and you cou;dn’t remember what it said.’

In 2005, after the 7/7 London bombing, the turn around time for social media was 90 minutes. Today, it is seconds.

It’s worth remembering that the advice here isn’t channel-specific. It’s not acknowledged in the document but its worth flagging and this is a strength. While Twitter has been the source for breaking news for some time it may not always be. Increasingly, I’m pointing people towards Facebook and in particular relevant Facebook groups as places where the shockwaves play out. There may be other places too for different audiences.

What’s good about this document

There’s clearly research that’s gone into it.

Incidents contributors have worked on are a list of everything from the past few years.

But be mindful that focus for this advice is everyone, so if you run a bar, a transport hub or a business this is aimed at you. It is the broad comms industry not those who know the Civil Contingencies Act.

The flowchart of how to approach things is a good thing.

Pic flowchart, 'Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events'

Pic flowchart, ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’

Pic flowchart, ‘Crisis Management for Terrorist Related Events’

This sounds obvious, but the flowchart that looks at before, during and after is only useful if you look at it before, know what it says during and apply the lessons after.

The advice to let the police take the lead is utterly invaluable to any communicator.

Back in 2011, a branch of the NHS in the West Midlands was busy tweeting that the town was on fire after they picked up false online rumours. It really, really, really didn’t help and yes, they were spoken to very directly.

Grab bags with kit, a hard copy of the emergency comms plan a laptop and chargers are a must and its good to see this flagged-up.

Flagging internal comms is an absolute must but often only occurs long after the event. It’s good to see that flagged here.

Absolutely, switch off the automated messages at this point. Besides, there’s nothing so crass as a Burns Night pre-pic as a major fire rages.

The advice on looking after staff in this document feels important. I’ve heard blue light comms people talk of how they handled terror attacks and I’m struck by the long shadow they case across the team.

The guide also gives advice on the differences between a terror attack and a cyber attack and that’s useful.

But public sector people need to remember

This isn’t aimed solely at public sector people, so the advice may feel slightly didactic if you’ve lived through communicating an incident yourself.

Advice about pre-writing content and make only minor adjustments I’d question if you have hands-on experience of the area.

It’s worth knowing that the first tweet post-Manchester Arena attack from Greater Manchester Police acted to flag up reports of an incident. They planted a flag in the sand to say: ‘We know there’s been something. We’re on it. Keep following and we’ll keep you posted.’

This was the lessons of the 2011 riots played out in realtime.

So, the approach of tweeting asap I’d go with. You don’t have to give the whole story straight away.

The document tells non-public sector communicators to build links with the public sector. It makes sense. The shopping centre manager should know the basics. But I doubt in practice if the multiplex comms team know exactly how and who will respond in a crisis. Often, those relationships across the public sector could be stronger. Across the business community I suspect they’re almost non-existent in places who’ve never known an emergency.

If you are a hard-pressed comms person working for a cash-strapped council in the north of Scotland all this may feel remote and your to-do list may be plenty busy enough, thanks. I get that. But its just funny where careers go and to be armed with worst-case scenario advice also looks really helpful for the low-level emergency such as a flood, a major traffic accident or a fire.

A great concern I have is that great parts of the public sector have skimped and saved with their out-of-hours coverage and rely on goodwill and the junior comms officer’s own brand new iphone.

That’s simply not good enough.

Picture caption: Tony Webster / Flickr

SKILLS NEEDED: The 68 skills your comms team needs and the one thing you need to remember


‘The dumbest people,’ the entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes once said ‘are the ones who think they know it all.’ 

There is so much to know about working in comms in 2019 and like Malcolm, I don’t think it’s good to know-it-all.

It was a warm summers day a few years ago when I jotted down all the skills you’ll need to work in comms. It dawned on me in writing them out you couldn’t possibly know them all yourself but the wider team could cover all the bases.

It’s been a few years since I looked at the list.

Looking at it again, it’s clear as it ever has been that you can’t know everything. You need a team of specialist generalists. People who have some solid core skills but can also excel in a few specialist areas.

Here is a list for 2019.

There are 56 and 41 of them I think everyone needs to know. Feel free to agree or disagree.

What’s the one thing you need to remember?

Keep learning.

68 skills your comms team needs to know

Those listed in bold I think everyone needs and the rest are specialisms.


  1. Know your organisation’s priorities. Its priorities are the comms team’s priorities.
  2. Know how your team reports and contribute to that.
  3. Know how to evaluate. 
  4. Be a specialist generalist.Know the basic skills and have some areas you specialise in. You can’t know it all.
  5. Know what skills other specialist generalists have. Know their strengths and weaknesses and how they compensate your own abilities.
  6. Be a gate opener not a gatekeeper and know that frontline people can communicate with the right support. 
  7. To know what an income target is and to either plan for them or offer evaluated comms savings. 
  8. Know how to flag-up an issue of concern. 
  9. Know you need to keep learning. 
  10. Know your team’s communications strategy and plan. 
  11. Know all the channels and what your audience is. 
  12. Know when to work independently and as part of a team. 
  13. Know how to manage a team.
  14. Know how to be a head of communication


Basic core skills

  1. Know it’s okay not to be okay
  2. Know how to speak human
  3. Know when to educate the client. 
  4. Know how to be a diplomat, be small ‘p’ and big ‘P’ politically aware
  5. Know when and how to speak truth to power politely.
  6. Know how to listen to the public.
  7. Know basic media law.
  8. Know the value of internal comms.
  9. Know how to write a comms plan.
  10. Know how to interpret data.
  11. Know how to respond as an organisation in an emergency.
  12. Know how to look for the influencers who can influence networks.
  13. Know how to be able to communicate to the head and the heart. 
  14. Know how to manage time. 
  15. Know GDPR.


In creating content

  1. Know how to be a story teller in different formats.
  2. Know the right content at the right time in the right place.

In person

  1. Know how to be professional, warm and engaging.
  2. Know how to present.

In text

  1. Know the jargon but communicate in plain English.
  2. Know how to write effective emails. 
  3. Know how write effective email campaigns.
  4. Know how to write a press release.
  5. Know how to be able to write for the web.
  6. Know how to create and run a survey.

In media relations

  1. Know what the key titles are, their circulation, readership and the demographic that consumes them.
  2. Know how to take, log and investigate a media query.
  3. Know the difference between ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ and be very, very careful with both.
  4. Know how to make a complaint about media coverage.

In images

  1. Know where find copyright free images. 
  2. Know GDPR and how to record the permission of those who are photographed, update and maintain a model consent database.
  3. Know how to take and edit images with a phone or DSLR
  4. Know how to commission and work with a photographer
  5. Know how to select information and create an infographic.
  6. Know what branding is and why it is.
  7. Know the optimum lengths of video per channel.
  8. Know how to edit, shoot with a smartphone and add text and music to a video.
  9. Know how to plan and commission and external video.


In print

  1. Know when a leaflet is a best solution and work with designers. 
  2. Know when a newsletter or magazine is the best solution and how to liaise with designers.
  3. To know what data to look for and what data to count. 
  4. To know what open data is. 


In web

  1. Know how to write for the web with metadata and in an accessible way.


In social media

  1. Know the social media channels, how your audiences use them and how to create content for them.
  2. Know and know how to deliver your organisation’s social media policy.
  3. Know when to get involved online and when not to.
  4. Know that social media isn’t all about evaluated calls to action.
  5. Know the Paretto Principle of 80-20 human v call to action content.
  6. Know that Facebook as a broad landscape rather than just your page.
  7. Know how and when to make friends with Facebook group and page admin.
  8. Know how to join Facebook groups and pages as yourself.
  9. Know how customer services works with social media.
  10. Know how to respond using social media in an emergency.
  11. Know new and emerging platforms and be able to experiment with them.
  12. Know how to create and schedule content at the right time.

Picture credit: istock.