WIN WIN: I’ve been named in the top 10 list of UK PR blogs


I do try to avoid self-aggrandising posts but I’ll make an exception for this, do you mind? 

I was pleasantly surprised to see I’d been listed as 8th in the 10 best PR blogs by Vuelio.

I’ve been blogging for 10 years and couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be. What started as an experiment has become somewhere where I wouldn’t be without.

Sometimes I’ll work things out in public and at other times I’ll share things that’s caught my eye or I think I’ve nailed.

If you’ve read, shared or commented on a post thank you very much indeed.

Do have a look at the other nine as there’s some belters.


BRAVE / CHALLENGING? Public sector idioms and euphemisms translated

Often when I meet public sector people I’ll ask them how they are faring.
‘Busy,’ often they’ll say.
And how are things?, I’ll ask.
‘Challenging,’ they’ll often reply.
Language is a wonderful thing.
What they really mean is that things are really awful.
That’s intrigued me and I asked the question of the Public Sector Comms Headspace group I asked for examples.

Language can stop you from getting shot

In the Second World War, British and Americans soldiers when they first fought alongside each other had a spot of bother over language.
Of course, by ‘spot of bother’ I mean ‘world of pain.’
Under-fire British radio’d nearby American colleagues to ask for help by saying they were having a ‘spot of bother’ and ‘it would be awfully decent if they popped over and helped out if they weren’t too busy.’
What was actually happening was the Brits were undergoing a surprise attack by a force three times their size. Fifty were killed and the remaining  200 only just escaped with their lives.
The Americans didn’t understand the euphemism that the British used.
A euphemism is a word or phrase used to avoid saying an unpleasant or offensive word.
If ever you’ve worked in the public sector you’ll have come across a euphemism.
You may even have found it challenging (see! a euphemism!)
On the one hand, it’s really strange that communicators must navigate a landscape where communicating is being done by nods and winks of coded language.
On the other hand, the public sector is the spiritual home of senior civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby whose greeting to the most bizarre of ministerial edicts was the words: “Is that wise, Minister?”
So, here is a list of euphemisms and their translations pulled together with the help of members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group.

Public sector euphemisms translated

The big picture

Challenging (adj.) The most common of euphemisms. It can be attached to a variety of scenarios. It means a bad situation. For example: ‘The 50 per cent budget cut is challenging.’
Courageous (adj). Added as an extra layer of adjective to situations that are frankly suicidal. So, the re-organisation that sees three doing the work of 12 is very courageous.

Sacking people and cuts

Re-organisation (noun). We don’t like to talk about the fact that people are going to lose their jobs so we won’t actually talk about that at all. For example: ‘We had a re-organisation and we lost three members of the team.’ No you didn’t. You dismissed three members of the team. 
Challenging re-organisation (adj). The cuts they were made were a giant shit storm.
Very challenging re-oranisation (adj). The cuts were made were a giant shit storm and the people doing it didn’t know what they were doing.
Redeployment (noun). Once you’ve gone through the re-organisation we’d like to offer you something else in the organisation but we know the idea of being a receptionist will make you leave.
Efficiency (adj). Since the banking crisis money has been cut from the public sector on an unprecedented scale. However, those making the decision much prefer the euphemism of ‘efficiency’. Which is actually a bit self-defeating. It taps into the idea that the public sector is a bloated club that wastes money like water.
Economies (adj). See ‘efficiency.’ this just every reorganisation.
More for less (adj). You’ve got the same budget and you’ve just had a very challenging re-organisation but we think that you’ll do even more with six than you did with 12.

Just do it

We are where we are (adj). No progress has been made but I’m not going to take action or look at the cause of this monumental screw-up.

It is what it is (adj). See ‘We are where we are’.

Challenging times (adj). An absolute shit show of a time period. The Somme was ‘challenging times’.

Interesting times (adj). Giant shit storm. From the Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’

Demanding (adj). Impossible. 

The work place

A hot desk (noun). We’ve made efficiencies and had a re-organisation and now we don’t have enough tables and chairs. We’ve offered you yoga once a month but we know you’re too busy to turn up to it.

Paperless office (adj). We’ve got rid of the printer and we work with tablets that can’t download apps and we now have to go to Prontaprint where its twice as expensive to print stuff.

Agile work space. You need to be a lithe agile gymnast to get a space to work. Related to hot desk – but the whole building.

Work requests

Can you comms it up? (adj). I don’t know what you do but do something. When it goes wrong that’ll be your fault. Closely related to ‘weave your magic’, ‘sprinkle your fairy dust,’ ‘do some comms’ and other vague requests.

I’d like a QR code (phrase). I’d like to appear cutting edge but I’m not.

Make a pragmatic compromise (adj). Give the service what they’re asking for even though it’s probably not the right thing.

It’s an omnishambles (adj). You’ve totally fucked up, haven’t you?

Just do it

It’s a transition (adj). It’s not working yet, but you’ll have to use it anyway.
Lay out the options in a detailed business case (idiom). You know what we’re going to do. I know what we’re going to do. But why don’t you go away and waste some time and trees.

I hear what you’re saying (idiom). I’m ignoring what you’re saying.

Fast-paced environment where no two days are the same (idiom). Absolute chaos with a to-do list nine miles long.

We’re looking for someone who is good at managing change (idiom). There’s been or will be a challenging restructure.

Leveling up the country (idiom). We forgot anywhere exists outside London and have vastly underfunded anywhere else for decades. Here, have a couple of grand and some empty promises. 

Consultation (verb). We may or may not be listening to what the people most affected by this want. Related to: ‘Can you do some consultation but not too much’ and ‘I’ve just been consulted at.’

Digital by default (idiom). We have a webform and a corporate Twitter.

Smarter working (idiom). We’re giving you already out-of-date laptops, hot desks and red paint on one wall. 

Keep a watching brief (idiom). I’m doing literally nothing.

I need your input (idiom). I have passed this from my to do list to yours.

A soft launch (adjective). We’ll do it but I don’t want too much come back on me.

Open and transparent (adjective). Translation: Can you put this consultation out? It closes next week.

Open brief (idiom). We’ve not decided what the brief is.

You’ve got to pick your battles (idiom). Fundamentally, leadership don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks.

It would be helpful if you would just (idiom). Just do it.

When you’ve got a minute (idiom). Just do it.

You need to be more solutions focused (idiom). Just do it.

Have you got five minutes? (idiom) I’m taking an hour of your time if you’re lucky.

I have concerns (idiom). I think this is shit.

I share your concerns (idiom). I agree. I think this is shit.

I’ve cc’d Dave so he is aware of our concerns (idiom). I think this is shit and I’ve just thrown you under a bus by telling Dave.

It was disappointing (idiom). I’m livid.

We see this as a comms issue (idiom). We’re too busy.

Thanks to contributers Andy Mabbettm Louise Reeve, Rah James, Josie Rylands, Rebekah Dade Duffin, Patrick Fletcher, Sarah Lay, Kaylee Godfrey, Stephen O’Hanlon, Paul Darigan, David Grindlay, Suzie Evans, Hazel Parsons, Michalle Welsby, Steven Welsby, Emma Raczka, Jo Walters, Ed Thake-Adams, Jon Phillips, Adrian Osborne, Neil Gibson, Ben Falconer, Marianne Marshall, Joe Robinson, Alastair Smith, Vikkie Page, Sarah HamiltonDavid Crosby, Cornelius Alexander, Ben Solly, Eimear Fitzpatrick, Lynette Lee, George Barbour, James MortonKeziah Leary, Jane Woodall, Martin Rollins, Zoe Hebden, Charlote Pearce, Emma Louise, Vicky Croghan, Karen Rowley, Suzanna Arnold-Fry, Alex Duffy, Neil Gibson, Pauline Roche, Josephine Graham, Alison Donovan, Jane Harris, Kim McGreal and Kelly Harrison.

STILL SHOT: Creating a business case to buy kit to shoot video


I’ve lost count of the number of people shooting good video despite the kit work supplies them with.

Yet drawing up a business case for the kit to shoot video needn’t be this hard and yet often is.

So. I’ve blogged some pointers for you.

There isn’t a specific one size fits all business case but here’s some pointers for you to personalise for the organisation you work in.

YOUR AUDIENCE // Your audience is consuming media on the go. They’re online across all age ranges for between two and fours a day depending how old they are. If that’s where they are it makes sense to communicate with them there.


For video, 70 per cent of the internet is video and 85 per cent of people are more likely to act on a video call to action compared with the same in print. There’s more stats for you here. So, people are consuming video.

TECH  // Most smartphones after 2014 can shoot broadcast quality footage. Android or ios is fine. However, Windows phones and BlackBerries are not up to scratch because there isn’t the editing or social apps. Avoid.

EMERGENCY PLANNING // This is a strong card to play. Talk to your emergency planning person and enlist their support for you. You’ll need a device to communicate in an emergency and out in the field. You may even have an emergency planning comms plan that requires this. So, of course you need the kit to make it work.

POLICY // Have a chat to your policy people. Ask about the policies that talk about ‘digital by default’ and other tech. There’s often something that suggests this. If there is great. Include this as further justification.

CONSTITUTION // Have a look at your constitution. I know, I know, this isn’t something you usually do. But there’s often something that you can find that’s helpful in the document. In the council I used to work for there was something that talked about the need for the required equipment and also that the advice of professional bodies carry weight. So, that means the CIPR and there’s things you can pull in from there.

KIT // Aside from a phone, at the workshops I run with my colleague Steven Davies we  recommend a small tripod I’ve got one like this one and a clip-on microphone like this Rode SmartLav+.

For more information about the ESSENTIAL VIDEO SKILLS FOR COMMS workshop head here.

LOVE HEART: Why I think South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue’s new social video is one of the greatest ever made


You may have seen the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue video.

In the film, firefighters and staff from across the organisation read critical comments left for them last time they added a rainbow flag to their social media profiles to mark LGBTQ history month.

The comments are hurtful and smallminded.

But reading them with a straight face the firefighters, senior staff and office workers shoot them down.

The video is here:

So far, 12-hours after posting the video to Twitter it has been liked 8,400 times and RT’d 2,000 times. It’s been viewed 170,000 times. On Facebook there’s been a similar reaction reaching 230,000 people.

Numbers are good because they can measure things.

I’d love to know how many negative comments there’s been because I can’t see one.

What makes this good

A chum who is a member of the LGBT+ community sent me a link to the video. He loved it because he likes feeling seen by the organisation in LGBT+ history month. Thinking about it, I can see what he’s getting at.

What makes this good for me as a keen seeker of good public sector content is that it includes real people from all parts of the organisation. It has junior and very senior. It shows that South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue employ real people.

There’s wit and humour there, too, like the toy cat up a tree.

But that’s just one level.

What really makes it fly is this.

All too often it feels as though the Bad People are winning.

Here, it felt as though the Bad People won last year. But the organisation got up, put all those barbed words into a bun, ate it and by doing so BECAME MORE POWERFUL thereby rendering the Bad People VANQUISHED.

And that’s what makes it truly brilliant.

Full disclosure: I worked as a freelance with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue service a few years ago to help their social media approach but I wasn’t involved in this project.


SOCIAL ADVICE: Don’t take it personally, but if you manage a social media account you don’t have to make the world smell of fresh paint

Red vintage typewriter with white blank paper sheet

I’ve been troubled for a while with the thorny problem that managing a public sector social media account can be stressful.

Of course, there’s the big things and the little things.

The big things are things like a terror attack. The stabbing in the London area of Streatham at the weekend again showed in an emergency having one trusted source online saying that something has just happened and they’re onto it is so valuable.

It fills the information vacuum that will follow.

Stress around managing a live situation is real and acknowledged. Greater Manchester Police’s account of managing the Arena terrorist attack is a lesson.

But what about the little things? The routine day-to-day low level? It’s not a terror attack so that can’t be stressful, can it? Actually, it can have a far deeper damage.

A public sector person recently told me about the draining effect of managing an account.

“It’s hard and draining being told that you’re crap a dozen times a day. In the end you just start to believe it. And you don’t want to post any good news because they’ll ‘just remind you how crap you are.”

In some way it chimed with an interview with former Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson where he spoke of the brutality of his experience.

It made me think.

‘It’s hard and draining being told that you’re crap a dozen times a day.’

That line stuck with me.

Very often not actually telling YOU you’re crap at all. They’re complaining about something your organisation has done and its so important to remember that and remind each other of this, too.

The lesson of Mid Staffs Hospital

I was born and grew-up in Stafford and lived on a housing estate that was build in the late Sixties. It was an ordinary place to live and was a town of 100,000 people with one non-league football club, a town centre and a hospital. Mention the name of the hospital – Mid Staffs – to anyone from the NHS and they audibly wince.

The Francis report into care at Mid Staffs Hospital sent shockwaves through the NHS in 2013.  An early claim of 1,200 deaths was later withdrawn when no evidence was found to support it but the damage was done and the reputation stuck.

If only the NHS Trust had been receptive to complaints about treatment, I often say, then maybe the worst of the damage could have been avoided.

The lesson of the live Q&A

A friend who has a senior comms person once told me that the council he was at was had run a Twitter Q&A on a hot topic for the first time. All well and good but in his opinion the cabinet had been actively uninterested in anything the residents had to say for the previous five years.

When the Q&A came, there was volleys of angry people raising issues that had been festering for years in some cases.

They first had to plough through these before they got to the subject they wanted to talk about.  Once they had, only then they could earn the right to be listened to.

It’s a lesson that’s stuck with me.

The world doesn’t smell of fresh paint

The old way of running PR was about managing the message to ensure you smelled of a new coat of magnolia but in 2020, this is no longer possible.

It is not YOU they’re fed up with.

If they shout and swear then give them the same short shrift they’d be given if they swore at a frontline customer services person.

If they’re fed-up about policy then thank them and report it back internally and point them to the doors they can knock on if they want to take it further.

Sometimes there’s a reason as to why that decision was made that you can explain to people, like this Sandwell Council interaction.


Sometimes, d’you know what? The people complaining may have a point just as they did at Mid Staffs and your job is to be the canary in the mine for any issues.

Tactical things

Of course, the abstract principle is one thing and reality can be something else.

I always think that making sure others in the team take a turn and share the duties gives you thinking time away. Adopting a human tone and signing off with a name is a well worn way to take the stink out of online rows. People will shout at a logo far more readily than a real person.

Above all, just remember, they’re not shouting at you.

NEW DATA: Useful new UK data on how people are using social media

Video camera lens

Having up-to-date data is vital in a landscape of change so bravo for a new report that looks at how older people use social media.

Public Health Wales and Bangor University have published a really useful document that maps how people are online.

While the focus is Wales the data can absolutely be a bell weather for the rest of the UK. The data feels robust. Often similarly robust Ofcom data differs only a few per cent between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, lessons can be taken for other parts of the UK.

I’ve read Population Health in a Digital Age and blogged it so you don’t have to.

What’s striking is that social media is collection of channels that run across ages, health and economic background.

Overall, women use social media more than men. A majority of 91 per cent against 86 per cent.

There’s little difference between the mental wellbeing of social media users and non-users. Eighty nine per cent against eighty six per cent.


Seven out of ten of those surveyed use social media.

If you’re going to use social media you are far more likelier to use it daily. A total of 64 per cent were daily users followed by eight per cent weekly and a similar number less than weekly.

Just a tenth of people shared updates about their health and the majority did so only to family and friends.

A majority of those surveyed were classed as ‘super users’ using social media multiple times a day. 

Economic deprivation was not a factor in social media use. It cuts across all demographics.

There’s also a handy table which shows platform-by-platform which platforms are used most frequently.


Also the report shows that women were more active on social media than men. 76 per cent used it compared to 68 per cent of men.

Older people are active. 59 per cent of those 70 plus had used one or more social media platform.

With the advent of a world health emergency prompted by the Corona virus a document that looks at social media use as a potential channel for public health messages is a timely thing. It’s worth spending some time with it.

UPDATED: What are the optimum lengths of social media video in 2020?

Like glaciers edging towards the sea the media landscape is changing slowly but surely.

When I first started blogging about video six years ago Facebook was putting a toe into the water and and TikTok hadn’t even been born.

And TikTok is probably the largest change over the past 12-months. I’ve blogged about the real short video platform before and it makes its debut in the charts this year.

Video remains a powerful way that people are consuming media. In the UK that’s true and the stats bear this out. Ofcom say that 70 per cent of the internet is video and almost half watch short video.

NEW 2020 video stats


Notes and queries on the research

YOUTUBE: The maximum length of 15 minutes can be increased to 12 hours through a straight forward verification step.  Optimum length is much shorter

INSTAGRAM: Maximum length was increased from 15 seconds to 60 seconds with research via Newswhip suggesting a much shorter length. 

TWITTERMaximum length of 240 seconds   is comfortably within Hubspot’s suggested 45 seconds.

SNAPCHATMaximum length is a mere 10 seconds but Hootsuite suggest five seconds is the sweet spot.

PERISCOPE: A maximum length and the sky is the limit but there is no research on what the optimum length of a live broadcast is.

FACEBOOK LIVE: Can run for 240 minutes but 19 minutes is best say Buzzsumo.

LINKEDIN:  Five minutes is the most you can upload and there is research that the best length is 30 seconds.

TIKTOK. Irritated by the lack of data on the best video lengths I conducted my own measuring TikTok’s top 100 videos of 2019 to reach a 16-second average.

I’ve helped train more than 2,000 people from 300 organisations over the past five years. For more on workshops near you click here. Or give me a shout by email