FUTURE PROOF: A collection of writing that asks questions as well as celebrates NHS comms


Here are two myths about the NHS and neither are true.

Everyone who works in the NHS is amazing.

Everyone who works in NHS comms is amazing, too.

The NHS-focussed third edition of #futurePRoof came out this week. Published to mark the 70th anniversary of the service it is a collection of 26 essays around NHS communications. You can find out more here.

This could easily have fallen into the bear trap of being a big old back-slapping love-in but the value of this collection of writing is that it does start to ask difficult questions. It is a critical friend as well as cheerleader. Denis Campbell, health policy editor of The Guardian and The Observer, is brought in to give an objective view and bangs the table about the mixed quality of NHS comms people. There are some good and some bad, he says, but it is so important there are more good ones:

“I need the former to win out over the latter for both myself and for the sake of the service itself.”

After reading #futurePRoof, it’s a sentence that I keep coming back to.

Good, honest, hard working communications that takes a leadership role and speaks truth to power is something that cuts through many of the chapters in the book.

Here’s a truth. I love the NHS. I think it is the finest thing that Britain has given the world. But not everyone in the NHS is amazing and neither is everyone who works in NHS comms.

Everyone’s view of the NHS is shaped by their own experience

I grew-up in Stafford. My local hospital was the Mid-Staffs General hospital. When the news broke that up to 1,200 people died early across 50 months my Facebook timeline lit up with my friends’ families own horror stories. Some of my friends’ families were amongst the 1,200.

A short time after the news broke, I was at a conference where I overheard an NHS comms person attack everyone who ever criticises the NHS. It is a service that needs defending, he argued. It is a valuable service. It is. There was an embarrassed quiet when I pointed out that I was from Stafford and I genuinely wished that someone had listened to the criticism. So, while I love the NHS I know that sometimes it doesn’t work well and that shouldn’t be spun under the carpet but acknowledged and listened to.

The journalist who writes in the collection is right. We need the good NHS comms people to win the battle over the poor ones. Not just for my sake, but the sake of the service. Comms people should be the canary in the mine as well as being those seeking to explain the work of the organisation.

My family’s experience of the NHS 

At its best, the NHS is amazing, My two children may not be alive but for smart-thinking midwives. My brother-in-law almost certainly wouldn’t be here. You probably have your own story, too. Ipsos Mori research puts Doctors and Nurses as the top two trusted professions trusted by more than 90 per cent of the population and there is a reason for that.

There is much good practice in the the third #futurePRoof. An account of the NHS visual identity update for 600 organisations is a useful starting point for someone struggling with the visual identity of one organisation. Ideas on working as part of the leadership team not the comms team are valuable. The importance of data and delivering against corporate objectives can’t be repeated too often. The NHS is an institution that needs critical friends and this book is that.

It should also be celebrated for focusing on the public sector. Here, good communicators can literally save lives.

LIVE TALK: A Facebook Live on GDPR and council websites


Well, that was fun.

I’ve just completed the first Facebook Live to the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group. More than 200 people watched the live broadcast and more than 50 asked a question or took part.

If you are a member of the group you can watch the replay here.

Big thank you to John Paul Danon from Council Advertising Network and to Eleri Salter from Haringey Council for taking part and sharing some valuable expertise.

A few things really shone through from the exercise.

  1. As a platform, a Facebook Live is a good way to talk on an issue and solicit questions and discussion.
  2. There is a perception that GDPR is a scary stick to beat people with. If you want it ti be it can be. But the glass half full view is that its an opportunity to get your act together on how you are use people’s data. You are still fine to use it. You just need to make sure you’ve got permission is all.
  3. If there is a hit-list of people to be gone after by the Information Commissioner those at the top of the list are likely to be people who buy-up email lists and then spam them relentlessly.
  4. Speaking of which, it’s amazing the amount of GDPR spam I’m getting in my inbox. Which undermines the authority of the sender somewhat.
  5. You can do bright things with audience insight. It’s helping Haringey Council to better target those who may want to be foster carers, for example.
  6. As a comms person, you need to know this stuff. Or at least have a working knowledge of it. It’s pretty fundamental.
  7. You need to have permission to take someone’s picture or shoot them in a video. You need to set out explicitly what you’ll use that content for. The ‘general marketing on social media’ line won’t wash anymore.
  8. I do wish someone would hurry up and built an app that comms people can use to capture permission and then turn into a searchable data base. There’s a massive opportunity for some bright person.
  9. It’s always a bright idea to test broadcast a Facebook LIve before running the main broadcast. I did and spotted a few glitches.
  10. Responding to people who join by waving and saying ‘hello’ to them isn’t such a bad idea.
  11. The Information Commisioner’s Office will be running a public facing education campaign about GDPR. It would be useful for your organisation to build trust by getting right across that.
  12. Council Advertising Network employ bright people who know their stuff.
  13. Most councils use a lot of tools which may fall under GDPR. Don’t rip them out just to comply. Work out what you need to do.
  14. Don’t delete your existing entire image library. Mark it with ‘don’t until the GDPR process is complete’.
  15. The CIPR have got some really good resources if you are a member and Govdelivery have some useful stuff.

Big thanks if you chipped into the discussion or watched and also to John Paul and Eleri. This is the first of a series of occasional Facebook Live broadcasts from the headspace group.

SMILE EXPERIMENT: Heard the one about #gdprjokes?

Okay, heard the one about the unsolicted email from someone offering GDPR services?

I know. Funny, isn’t it?

Or an inbox full of emails asking you to re-sign-up to an email list?

There are changes looming with how people look after other people’s data. It’s causing a lot of people to look nervously for a golden bullet. There isn’t one, of course. You need to read some stuff on the subject youself rather than outsource it.

So, as a break from it all, here are some jokes captured from Twitter. Why a hashtag? To see if people would see the funny side of GDPR. They did.  If you can’t laugh you’ll cry. The Erasure one is my favourite. How about you? I promise not to share.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the hashtag and who came up with jokes.

30 days of human comms: day #44: Gateshead Council shoots down a street light urban myth

For a while I’ve been noticing that social media admins have been drawing a line in the sand.

Rather than letting fake news drift and look the other way people have been being proactive.

‘That’s wrong and here is the answer,’ the approach runs.

This post from Gateshead Council is marvellous shooting down an elaborate urban myth.


The 1,900 likes and 1,500 shares shows the thumbs-up that people have given.

Class, be more like Gateshead Council.

30 days of human comms: day #43 a Down’s Syndrome campaign video

Often when I’m co-delivering video training I’ll tell a story about one of the first lessons I learned as a journalist.

“News is people,” I was told. “People connect to people.”

It was true today as it was then.

“Be human,” I tell people in organisations when I’m training them. “Humans connect to other humans.”

This crowdsourced video from Down’s Syndrome blogger Jamie McCallum could not be more human if it tried. It’s a lip synch car pool karaoke that cuts together footage of 50 mums and children with Down’s Syndrome singing to Christina Perri’s hit ‘A Thousand Years’.

The media law student in me assumes they got permission to use the track.

Take a look at the video:

It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

Looking on social media, the parents involved trailed the video and then shared it with their networks who then shared it on.

And that’s how a campaign is run in 2018. Involve people. Ask people to share.

My own family’s Down Syndrome story

My God daughter Darcey Slee was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome.

Darcey’s parents, my brother Paul and his wife Teresa, often say that Darcey is just like any other little girl. She doesn’t always do as she’s told. She can be exasperating, funny, tiring and charming just like any other girl.

See those Mums in the video? They’re just like any other Mum.

See those children? The ones clambering into the backseat when they should be signing to the song? They’re just like any other children.

And their mums think they’re great and so do their families.

And that’s the point of this video.

World Down’s Syndrome Day is March 21. Find out more here.

Thanks to Jude Habib for flagging this video up with me.

NEW TACK: We’re mad as hell and we’re just not going to take it any more, so we’ll be polite, human and factual… a new approach to online snark


There’s a change in the air with how the public sector is using social media. 

Back in 2008, a public body would get credit for even using the platform.

Over time, that changed. Train companies and others with spot-on online customer services raised the bar.

Trouble is, digital expectations grew just as public sector services were cut through waves of austerity. What the public sector used to do, they sometimes no longer do. That’s a tough message to explain. It’s led to a backlash of frustration, anger and abuse online and often the frontline is the comms officer updating social media. I’ve lost count of the number of people who just switch off in the evening where they used to try and help with customer service questions.

“I get told I’m an idiot 9 to 5 online,” one person who looks after social accounts for a council said. “Why do I want to switch on to get told that in my own time, too?”

My advice for dealing with snark online used to be to play the Uncle Keith card. In short, don’t argue with an idiot. To a passer-by its just two idiots arguing. Swearing? Have a zero tolerance.

But over time I’ve seen a new approach.

It’s a very human approach that draws a clear line in the sand. It calls people out when they are wrong and uses facts and humour.

Importantly, it’s an approach that very often goes down very well with people online. Using the crude measurement of likes and comments, public sympathy can be very often with the human and factual public sector response rather than the troll.

I’ve lost count of the number of times in training when I’ve showed people examples of this approach they’ve practically whooped with joy.

“That’s brilliant.” They say. “I wish we could do that.”

The reality is they can.

Of course, each response needs to be judged on its own merit. But if its factually accurate, polite, professional and maybe a touch witty too then, why not?

Some examples of the new polite, human and firm to snark

Example 1: Bournemouth Council

Take, Bournemouth Council. When they asked people to report potholes they were met with snark. Did they back down? Did they heck!


Example 2: South Somerset Council

South Somerset District Council were sent an FOI demanding to know how their council tax was spent. The response is factual but also calls upon Ancient Rome.


Example 3: Dorset Police

I’ve blogged this before, but it’s such a great example I’m blogging it again. They could have left this inaccurate piece of fake news but it was important to challenge it.


human 3

Thanks to Tina Stokes and Kristian Ward for this.

Picture caption: Flickr / Documerica.