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comms plan and you really don’t want to be sat in a witness box of a public enquiry explaining why yours is six years out of date and you cou;dn’t remember what it said.’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.

ICE FLOW: Four icebergs that can sink your communications strategy and how to avoid them


I was involved in a conversation about a communications strategy a short while back and it made me think.

Firstly, it made me think that its great for communications to be involved at all.

But it also reminded me of the icebergs that looms when you are involved with communications. Any of the icebergs can rip a large hole in your ship and send you to the bottom of the ocean.

Firstly, what is a communications strategy?

A communications strategy is the big picture for the organisation. It looks at how the organisation is going to talk to people in order to make its business plan work. The business plan is all the things the organisation wants to do. No business plan? You’re in trouble. So is the organisation.

Iceberg #1: vague priorities

Go through the business plan and count the priorities. If you’ve got 100 you’ve got a problem. There’s evidence that too many priorities are bad for you.  Academic and business leader Derek Lidlow points to grading the long list into three areas.




Why these three? Interestingly, Lidlow argues that this approach leads to less in-fighting and demotivation between managers in the organisation.

Why should you know this as a comms person? I used to think that comms people shouldn’t get involved from the start. That was when I was more naive and had more faith in people higher up the organisation. Experience has shown that often the organisation has a loose grasp of which priority is important and can’t quantify it. As this vagueness will land in comms’ lap its important to get involved early and pin it down.

If you don’t have a manageable list of priorities you’ll hit the iceberg and sink.

If you start with 100 priorities and end with 15 that are critical that’s an important first step.

Of course, one way to concentrate people’s minds is to produce a comms strategy for all 100 priorities and for it work out how much time and effort it’ll take to deliver all of them properly. It’s unlikely the 10 extra members of needed for this will be recruited. Which means that you can start a discussion on a focussed list of priorities.

Yes, the public sector needs to be responsive to emergencies as they blow-up. But don’t fall for the last minute email that assures you that ‘it’s an emergency that I need 100 posters for that vanity project for tomorrow.’ That’s not an emergency. That’s rank bad planning.

Iceberg #2: vague evaluation

If you don’t know where you are and you don’t know where you are heading, how do you know when you are there?

Decent evaluation should have numbers in. The difference between: ‘Can we  raise awareness about a concert?’ and ‘Can we we sell 500 tickets in the next six weeks?’ is vast. This second approach with numbers will lead to a better chance of a full concert hall and a great event. You know where you are going.

By the way, to help you, I’m a fan of the Government Communication Service Evaluation Framework 2.0 a useful download that can help you advise on the best way to evaluate. It’s a document you can push back against vagueness with.

Iceberg #3: guessing at tactics

By far the most common iceburg is the  problem of not spending time to think about who you want to talk to.

I’d also add that that work you did a couple of years ago may not be relevant today. The pace of change is constant and how people consume the media can change in a surprisingly short amount of time.

But if you work through your 15 critical priorities you’ll know about who you want to talk and how to which leads to…

Iceberg #4: having enough resource

The last iceberg is what troops on the ground to make this all work you have.

By working through things step-by-step you’ll know where you are heading, you’ll know the critical priorities, what you need to evaluate, what that tactics are to reach the right people and what resources you’ll actually need.  This can be the basis of a conversation about getting extra pairs of hands to make it work. Or at the very least being realistic about what you can do.

If you don’t include this in your strategy you’ll hit an iceberg. Possibly all four. And we know how the film ends. Only this time there may not be a wooden door strategically placed for you as there was in the blockbuster Titanic.

Picture credit: Rodrigo Soldon / Flickr



UK ONLINE STATS: In 2019, video and Facebook dominate but we’re getting more concerned about the internet


The world we live is changing by degrees and its only when you stop and look at the numbers you can make sense of it.

The ‘Online Nation’ report has been published by Ofcom and the Information Commissioner’s Office to map how people are using the internet and what they think. It’s a useful document that helps communicators understand how the UK is changing.

What are the trends that shine through? I’ve taken a look from a public sector communicator’s perspective. The kind findings:

– People in the UK are growing more concerned about the dangers of the internet but we’re using it more. 

– Facebook in the UK continues to dominate.

– Video in the UK continues to grow. 

– Smartphones as a way to use the internet in the UK continues to grow.

– People in the UK are receptive to regulation.

Some key points backed by data

Internet use is rising. On average the UK adult is online for three hours 15 minutes – that’s up 11 minutes.

Social media use remains buoyant. A total of 70 per cent of the population have a social media account and use it regularly. That’s 39 minutes of use a day.

But more people have a concern about the internet. Overall, 78 per cent had a concern about an aspect of the internet. Strikingly, younger people are seeing the downside far more. Compared with 61 per cent of adults having a negative online experience 79 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds have had a poor experience. That’s everything from an unwanted friend request to bullying or trolling.

Video IS becoming the internet. In the UK, 70 per cent of internet use by bandwidth is video. That includes streaming services, video calls and online videos. And 92 per cent of internet users use YouTube monthly with the platform on average being watched 27 minutes a day.

Music video tops the You Tube chart as the most popular use but how-to guides are not far behind. Music video accounts for 62 per cent of use with 57 per cent ‘how to’ with 40 per cent general search.

Home internet and 4G penetration remains high. In the UK, 87 per cent of homes have a broadband connection with 82 per cent broadband and 70 per cent using 4G.

General web communications remains high in the UK. Email remains popular with 74 per cent using them weekly with 49 per cent using messaging apps and 73 per cent using search.

Facebook continues to dominate. Despite a hectic few years the platform remains the giant that bestrides the media stage. Critics would point to the fact that the platform’s penetration amongst internet users is down from 95 per cent to 88 per cent. Supporters would point to the fact that even with this fall the numbers dwarf the competitors.


People in the UK are spending more time on the internet. On average, the UK adult will spend three hours 15 minutes online – up 11 minutes year-on-year.

Smartphones remain the a growing way to use the internet.  The average time online on a phone is two hours 34 minutes.

People spend most time every day on Facebook. If the platform on its own wins the most used prize it also wins the prize for the fact that users use it the most every day.


This breaks down as internet use per day in the UK as:

42 minutes a day for Google sites

38 minutes a day for Facebook sites

27 minutes a day for YouTube**

8 minutes a day for Spotify

5 minutes a day for BBC sites

4 minutes a day for Snapchat, Netflix and Yahoo

Other sites are less than 4 minutes.

Under 13’s are on Facebook in numbers even though they technically shouldn’t be. The platform has a 13-year-old age limit but its really easy to breach it. Research shows that 21 per cent of 10-year-olds, 34 per cent of 11-year-olds and 48 per cent of 12-year-olds are on the site. It’s easy for public sector people’s eyes to light up at this point. But anecdotal evidence of Facebook page insight shows that teenagers are not hooking up with their local council, police, fire or NHS.

Advertising drives social media sites. There is money in them there clicks. But it is being hoovered-up by the big two of Facebook and Google – 61 per cent of ad revenue goes there.

Around one in 10 don’t use the internet and the figure is highest amongst old people. The lowest sector is over 75s with 48 per cent not using it.

Fake news is prevalent. A total of 69 per cent of UK adults have come across it and the most common place to find it is Facebook. But rather than despair this points to the argument that comms people need to use the platform with engaging and correct content.

People are warming to the idea of online regulation. And 70 per cent of UK adults think this wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Conclusion for public sector comms

The numbers change and how people use the web shifts slightly year-on-year.  Like an unwatched pot if you don’t keep tabs on things the pot may boil over. What worked five years ago or even last year doesn’t work in 2019.

All this points to a flexibility of approach, a readiness for adjusting tactics and above all a readiness to explain and educate. The challenge in 2019 is not to argue for web communication but to take account of people who have had bad experiences. Reassurance strategically in the organisation is needed.

If anything, the increased smartphone use looks like catching out the public sector if websites are not compatible.

Strong internet use stats show that people are using the web. But lower take-up amongst older demographics may shine through to decision makers in the public sector who are themselves older and listen to voters – who tend to be older.

To reach an older demographic off-line tools are still needed, the report would say. But for younger people who live by their smartphone a web approach is paramount.

Nothing sums up the challenge to public sector people more than this.

** Frustratingly, Ofcom don’t treat YouTube as a social network and this stat is found elsewhere in the report. 

Picture credit: istock

30 days of human comms #60: Sefton Council’s fostering and adoption video with Josh


It’s not often you see something that borders on greatness but the Sefton Council fostering video does just that.

The 1 minute 13 second video is based on a lad called ‘Josh’ who explains why he is looking for a foster family. His name was changed to protect his identity.

He’d like to feel like he is part of a family again with a Mum, Dad and maybe a dog.

He lives in a children’s home in Manchester and its a long way away from the school he attends. So far, in fact, that he falls asleep.

The video uses the audio of the child but an animation of the child talking so no GDPR and personal data issues

The video is here:

Why borderline greatness?

A quick disclaimer: I helped train Sefton Council along with my colleague Steven Davies on the basics of video.

The video is beautifully human. It’s not stats and its not data. It’s a real human talking a bit about their story. It hits the mark beautifully.

As content it works wonderfully. Posted to Twitter and to Facebook the content is well placed.

To be truly, truly great, it would be useful to first find out how many people asked about being a foster carer and then became one as the result of the video. The second step is to check how much money is saved by recruiting a foster carer. Often this is a five-figure sum.

Of course, the process for recruiting a foster carer isn’t straight forward. It involves meetings, persuasion and time for reflection. It’s a mix of comms PLUS fostering and adoption and the evaluation and resulting credit needs to reflect that.


EVALUATION NUMBERS: What the Barcelona Principles are and how they’ll help you evaluate


A short while back a PR person got very animated that people in the industry didn’t know what the Barcelona Principles are.

For the most part I’d be amazed if the majority know what they are.

For the record, they’re a set of principles US and UK private sector PR people drew-up in the Spanish city in 2010. They’re not the be-all and end all but they are an interesting set of rules that stand scrutiny and you can refer to.

For the record they are here:

  • Goal setting and measurement are important
  • Media measurement requires quantity and quality
  • Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) are not the value of public relations
  • Social media can and should be measured
  • Measuring outcomes is preferred to measuring media results (outputs)
  • Organisational results and outcomes should be measured whenever possible
  • Transparency and replicability are paramount to sound measurement.

A more comprehensive explanation can be found here.

The thing I like most about them and the thing that chimes is the concentration of results and not simply coverage.

AVE – advertising value equivalent – is dead. In other words, it’s not that 100,000 people saw the campaign that attracted £70,000 worth of coverage that’s important. It asks a big ‘so what?’ to that.

What did those people do as a result?

If 10,000 fitted smoke detectors and you’re target was 1,000 then that’s your result right there.

In particular it tackles the question that many traditional PR people throw at social media. How do you measure it?

The answer is that it depends on what you are trying to achieve in the first place.

That concentrates the mind wonderfully.

But there is a danger that applying them to unimaginatively to social media means you are not getting the point.

The point of social media is conversation and to take part in the conversation. Things you can later measure come later.

That’s something really important to remember.

Picture credit: istock

FACE TIPS: Facebook have just posted a ‘how to’ guide to make videos that will get seen and it’s really handy


Tucked away on a corner of Facebook is a newly-published blog post about what makes a decent video on the platform. It’s well worth a look.

Often social platforms will hide and leave it to guess work and experimentation as to what works on the platform. That’s fine if you have the time and resources to test. Not so if you haven’t. You can read the full post here.

What’s absolutely clear…

Three minute videos for Facebook… and with a storyline

Facebook are really keen on you making and posting three minute video. That comes as a surprise after years of pushing really short and snappy 15-second content.

The reason for this is that they’d like to put ads part-way through videos that you’re watching.

As Facebook’s post says:

Make longer videos that engage people and inspire them to watch to the end. Research has shown us that people on Facebook find value in longer videos that have a storyline. We prioritise longer videos (three minutes or more) that inspire people to continue watching. So make sure that you plan your video’s opening, build-up, tension, pacing and payoff in ways that will catch a viewer’s attention and hold it until the end.


This is really interesting. I can see from a business perspective why they’d like to make more money from ads. But aren’t people used to watching short snippets on Facebook and scrolling onto the next? I’d say so. But on YouTube people are happy to be served video after video that are longer. The gamble for Facebook is that will be replicated on their platform, too.

They’ve created a new platform for posting video to Facebook

Facebook Admanager is a really good Facebook platform for creating and managing ads.

By the looks of things Facebook have created a platform for video to allow you to keep better tabs and have better insights on what you are posting.  Facebook Creater Studio is that new tool  to help you understand how long people are watching.

They want your video to be original and not re-posted

Facebook would like original videos, please.

That would appear to have really put the kybosh on stock video libraries where you can download footage. That’s not such a bad idea, to be absolutely honest. Often these stock libraries are as original as a stock image.

They’re also keen on stories, plotline and narrative arcs.

You can help give your Page a better originality signal by sharing videos that you wrote, shot, edited and published yourself or with the support of a production partner. The best way to create the type of original content our distribution system supports is by making sure that your Page is participating as much as possible in the creation of the videos that it posts.

They want you to get people talking and sharing

The post also talks about how they’d like to see video that gets people talking and debating. But they explicitly warn against using click bait terms that encourage people to share or create cliffhangers where there are none.

Videos that do this well will:
  • Inspire people to have meaningful, back and forth, respectful discussion in the comments. This has to happen in a way that is not spammy or gratuitous.

  • Be authentically shared. Shares remain one of Facebook’s most powerful tools for organic distribution.

  • Be engaged with. We also look at likes and reactions to help us determine which content should get distribution priority. These interactions should happen organically and not through engagement bait.

They want you to think of the metadata

The metadata is the information that goes with a video that makes it easier to find. That means tags and also a clear headline to explain what your video is.

That’s actually common sense but its worth while just being reminded of that.

Less is more

One conclusion of these changes is that less surely has to be more.

You need to put more thought into what you are posting to create something that’s three minutes long and worthwhile. So, if in the past there were maybe a fistful of 15 to 30-second videos the future surely is one longer video that’s well made.

The challenge is to make something really worthwhile than a blizzard of content.

Create for the platform

For the last couple of years I’ve mapped the research to create a optimum video length post. Last year, it was three minutes is best for YouTube, 45 seconds for Twitter and 15 seconds for Facebook.

That’s now simplified to three minutes for YouTube and Facebook but don’t be tempted to chuck the three minute video up onto Twitter too. I’d argue that making a shorter edit for Twitter, Instagram or your favoured platform. That still makes sense.

Picture credit: istock.

Retro old TV set on the vintage background.I deliver the Essential Video Skills for Comms workshop with Steven Davies For more information and to book head here. I’d love to see you there. Any questions? Drop me a note: dan@danslee.co.uk.