LOVE ACTUALLY: When you’re communicating head v heart, heart wins

24959597261_299c0c94d4_b“How?” said one person in the packed room. “How the hell did that happen?”

More than 20 people were crammed into a small room with a dozen chairs at commscamp in Birmingham for the topic on Brexit.

After 40-minutes of pulling apart the claim, counter-claim and post-fact democracy one moment of clarity emerged of how the campaign ended as it did.

Leave won because they appealed to the heart not the head.

Remain lost because they appealed to the head.

As a piece of clarity it’s drifted into my head several times since.

That big pile of numbers you’re trying to communicate? Can you find something that appeals to the heart?

Stop. Think of times when you’ve been moved by the heart. Me? More than 12-months ago the refugee found that when three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned and was fetched from the surf by a policeman.

In the US, the family of the dead war veteran Donald Trump picked on appealed to the heart too.

Look around you and you’ll find more.

The ability to understand with the head but tell a story to appeal to the heart is priceless for someone looking to communicate.

Do you?

Picture credit: Bex Walton / Flickr 

MEDIA TODAY: ‘We are not in a 24/7 news cycle. We are in a 360-degree, 3D news cycle.’

20564510232_d7215a736d_b“I love newspapers,” legendary Sunday Times editor Harold Evans once said, “But I’m intoxicated by the power and possibility of the internet.”

I get that.

It’s hard not to be a participant or a watcher in the media landscape in 2016 without being fascinated at how fast it evolves.

There was an excellent interview by Alex Spence on political website politico with the outgoing director of communications at the Prime Minister’s Office. Craig Oliver spent six years in the post. Leave politics aside, he has some really useful observations. You can read full post here. Here are a few highlights:

On the changing political media: “The reality is that we are not in a 24/7 news cycle. We are in a 360-degree, 3D news cycle, when news is coming at you all the time, constantly, and the next headline is not the top of the next hour on a 24-hour news station, but in the time it takes for somebody to type out a tweet.”

On which media — TV, radio, newspapers, digital, social — now has most influence on political news: “You’re saying, ‘Is the TV news the most important thing?’, and actually that feels slightly dated as a question. Yes it’s massively important but I still think, what are we saying to the newspapers, what are we saying to the broadcasters, what are we saying to social media, I treat each of those quite equally. They all bleed into each other. Increasingly you have news organisations that do websites, podcasts, vodcasts, you know, essentially mini-TV programs, little videos, little audio bites, it’s all merging together. It’s how are you impacting traditional newspapers, how are you impacting the traditional broadcasters, how are you having an effect on social media and that kind of digital world. It is starting to mesh and move but you still do have to think in each of those three ways about each story.”

On the enduring influence of the newspapers: “Anybody who did this job who didn’t think that newspapers had a very powerful influence on the political debate in this country would not be understanding the situation properly.”

These are points that any comms, PR or social media person needs to understand. It echoes something I’ve been saying for a while. Know your landscape. Know your stats. Don’t be a channel fascist and close things out entirely. Use the best channel. Not the sexiest.

Picture credit: Hakan Dahlstrom / Flickr


SIMPLE TIPS: How to run your own unconference

19647936231_193292f98c_kMy favourite day of the year from a professional point of view is one where I earn no money and work like a Trojan with others to make happen.

Commscamp has been staged for the past four years in Birmingham and brings 180 largely public sector comms people together.

It’s an unconference which means that the agenda is decided on the day.

But aside from the conversation, ideas and connections from the day the best thing was hearing some people also want to stage an unconference too. There may be one. There may be two. Who knows? Fantastic. I really hope they do it.

The basics about unconferences I learned from Dave Briggs, Steph Gray and Lloyd Davies. All wonderful people. We staged unconferences because we’d been to a few and fancied having a go ourselves. John Peel used to say punk made it easy. All you had to do was push over a telephone box and sell your brother’s motorbike and you had enough money for a demo. It’s not that different with an unconference.

So here are a few tips.

  1. No-one owns it. Lloyd is quite right in saying that unconferences are not owned by anyone. So have a go.
  2. Find some likeminded people.
  3. Just book some space.
  4. Put up an eventbrite to distribute the tickets.
  5. Scrape together a smidge of sponsorship and UKGovcamp can help with that.
  6. Shout about it.
  7. On the day relax and have fun.
  8. That’s it.
  9. That’s really it.

See? It’s that simple.

I’d also be tempted to do it slightly seperate with what you are doing at work. So, it’s not the day job. But it’s a seperate thing helps the day job. That way you get all the fun stuff but none of the middle manager barriers.

One absolute true-ism from Lloyd is that everyone who goes tends to to love them. But then would like to make a minor change. ‘It was great, but if only we could pre-plan the sessions, that would be marvellous.’ Or whatever the suggestion is.


Keep it simple.

Just have some space. A Facebook group works to get people thinking about sessions beforehand. Decide what you are going to talk about on the day. Then give the thing to the people in the room and they will always, always, always deliver.

Picture credit: Sasha Taylor / Flickr


UNCHANGE: There’s never been a more useful time for commscamp


It’s happening again, I can feel it.

I wasn’t sure if the magic would return somehow but it feels as though it has already.

The magic is Commscamp. It’s a sort of magic that happens once a year when 150 people come together determined to make brighter ideas.

What makes the magic? People who give a damn and want to do things better. People who want to help see that too. And people who like cake. Definitely, people who like cake.

The truth is it also feels like there’s never been a more important time for an event like commscamp. It feels as though it is really needed this year.  Against the backdrop of Brexit, cuts and rapid change there is a need for people to come together compare notes and work things out.

And yet

The phrase that runs through what I’ve done over the past seven or eight years is ‘militant optimism.’ At its heart is a resolve to do things better despite everything

At times, optimism takes a battering. A change of boss. Cuts. More cuts. Brexit. Change. New platforms. Keeping pace. The firm request for a back of bus ad you have to push back on. The easier thing would be to throw in the towel.

Why I think the magic is back

Planning an event like this is easier the more you do it. Writing emails to printers at 11pm when you haven’t seen your family all day is not ‘fun.’

But one moment this week made me think the magic was back. Late night I was looking down the session idea pitches in the Commscamp Facebook group.

  • Income generation. How do we?
  • Live streaming video. How should we?
  • If everyone is a comms expert how do I make my professional advice heard?
  • How can you stay politically restricted and still have a voice?
  • How can I put a cat amongst the pigeons?
  • Coping with guilt and reality post-cuts.
  • Virtual reality video: a beginners guide.
  • A cathartic session just to let rip a bit.

I want to go to them all. Reading them I was reminded why I love it. And I looked at the list of people who want to volunteer to make that happen.

If you can’t come you can still play a part

There’s a limited amount of room and we know that not everyone who wants to come can come. We’ll look to livestream some sessions, post to Twitter on the #commscamp16 hashtag and blog. If you are out of the room we’ll try and find a way you can catch-up.

But one thing makes it worthwhile

If there is one issue that makes commscamp this year really worth it for me it’s Brexit and how we cope with it. I’ve got this strong sense that there’s a strong sense of uncertainty that we would do well to tackle.

It would be great if we could tackle that together.

It feels like the magic is back.

Let’s make it so, shall we?

Commscamp is staged in Birmingham on Thursday July 14. Tickets are sold out.

Picture credit: Ann Kempster / Flickr

SOMME ECHO: It’s simple… as #wearehere shows, just be human

I’m writing this on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Just a week before the UK voted to leave the European Union. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay. A majority in England and Wales wanted to go.

Division, spite and rancour is in the air.

Yet, for all sides, the First World casts a long across Britain. It helped make the country we live in. Never such innocence, as Siegfried Sassoon wrote, as when we marched to war in 1914. Never such shattered innocence as the first day of the Battle of the Somme. If there was a day when modern Britain was born it was this.

I’m writing this to capture the #wearehere project. At key railway stations across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland volunteers dressed in First World War battledress appeared. Talk to them and they quietly give you a card with the name of a soldier who was killed on this day a hundred years ago.

It’s a gentle reminder that those who were lost were people too. Just like you.  It’s beautiful. I’ve blogged about my own family’s First World War story and the pain it caused.

As a child, a teacher taught us how much the First World War had changed Britain not with numbers. He pulled three empty chairs to the front of the classroom.

“Those chairs,” he said, “are empty. But they would have had three children just like you sat on them. But they weren’t born because their grandfathers were killed in the First World War.”

I seem to spend a lot of time telling people in training that the key to good communication is to be human. It’s why #wearehere works. It’s a real thing with real people. And the real people who saw it and were moved shared images and thoughts online.

I don’t know who is behind the project, but thank you for a chance to say ‘thank you’ to the 704,803 who died like cattle to show us that modern war was something to avoid.

But thank you too for a reminder that we are all human.



BOAT SKILLS: You can’t do more with less. You need to be realistic with the size of the boat you’ve got

HOT DIGITAL: What lesson does the decline of print journalism have for comms and PR?

18968690604_ffda899120_bYou know the good old days of newspapers have gone, don’t you?

You know that the press release is at best dying too?

If you don’t, here are three more nails for the coffin.

Firstly, the digital first Manchester Evening News have been telling PR people, apparently, they won’t look at what you send unless there is an image or a video attached.

Secondly, when Birmingham New Street re-opened central government comms people by-passed the Birmingham Mail and the BBC and went straight to the Birmingham Updates hyperlocal site with a video for their 200,000 Facebook page.

Thirdly, the Independent newspaper is to scrap its print edition and concentrate on the web. ‘There are not enough people,’ Independent editor Amol Rajan wrote ‘who are prepared to pay for printed news, especially during the week.’

A downward spiral for print

But it’s not just one national title that’s fading from print. More than 300 have closed completely in the UK in the last 10 years.

Brian Cathcart, a journalist professor and Hacked Off co-founder on the day the Independent announcement was made wrote in The Guardian mapped the decline:

“Trace the downward curves of print sales over the past couple of decades and then extend those lines into the future: you will find they all hit zero at some point in the next 25 years or so – and of course they will have to cease publication long before that zero moment comes.

“Indeed for most people under about 25 it is already extinct – a couple of years ago I stopped talking to my students about newspapers because even budding journalists don’t see the point of buying a wad of newsprint every morning.

“The grand tradition of newspapers, sometimes noble sometimes shameful, is coming to an end. Connections that go all the way back to Gutenberg are fraying and we will soon be left with little more than old people’s memories.”

But let’s not be sad

I love newspapers. I worked on them for 12 years and started my career on a Staffordshire weekly carrying pages of type on a hot metal newspaper that used 1880s technology. I’ve had printers ink under my finger nails. It’s sad to see an industry in decline. But watching this trend for communications and PR people is a red herring.

People aren’t consuming the media through newspapers in print or web in the numbers they were.

The future of news debate, I once heard it said, is the most boring debate imaginable. The only people having it are hacks and ex-journalists. Everyone else was already hearing Osama bin Laden was dead on Facebook.

Stats confirm it. Ofcom say the average UK adult spends 15 minutes a day reading newspapers in their hand or online. That’s just over half the amount of time they spend scrolling through their Facebook streams and on their other social media sites. Newspapers are also the least popular way of getting news.

Yet there is an unhealthy fixation with the newspaper industry in some parts of public sector communications. The tyranny of the local newspaper frontpage is a thing.

Print may go but journalism evolves. This is the death of a redundant medium and not the message, Brian Cathcart in The Guardian says. He’s right.

The lesson remains the same

But communications people shouldn’t smugly ignore the lesson here. You may not have to live or die by newspaper sales. Your .gov website may be well placed for SEO. But nobody is queueing up outside their town hall, head office or headquarters for their press release. They’re too busy reading the BBC website, watching a 20-second Facebook video or finding out the football score on Twitter.

Newspapers have woken with a jolt to realise that shorter, sharable, engaging content is what people want. Communications people should pay heed.

The lesson remains the same. Change and get new skills or be irrelevant.

Credit to Albert Freeman for spotting the Independent editor’s comments.

Picture credit: Peter Burka / Flickr /