OMG PR: Weirdest Questions Asked by Journalists of Public Sector Comms and PR people


15964303314_63273b31ba_bFor a while now I’ve been banging on about the importance of Facebook groups. Not pages but groups.

For even longer I’ve been going on about the importance of doing and sharing.

So, the two things have come together as the PublicSector Comms Headspace group. You can join here if you are from the sector.

Sure, it’s a chance to ask work-related questions and there’s a pile of them. Out-of-hours calls, Facebook advertising and plain language comms have all been covered. But it has also been a chance to kick-off the shoes. In just over a week almost 500 people have signed-up.

For this blog I crowd-sourced a list of the weirdest questions asked:

The War Memorial Query

As part of WW1 commemorations we were asked if we had email addresses of local people who served in the War. They wanted to take a picture of them beside the war memorial. And if we could, can we tell them what memorial has their name on it ‘so we could get their reactions’.

– Amanda Waugh

The ‘Skylightgate’ query

Journo: “what’s a skylight?”

Me: “what do you mean, what’s a skylight?”

Journo: “There’s a planning application in for one and it sounds like it could be an interesting story.”

Me: “Trust me, it’s not an interesting story.”

– Ian Curwen

The is a fatal fatal query

A radio reporter once called me and asked: “Were the fatal injuries serious?”

I don’t know how, but I played it with a straight bat and answered: “Yes. The victim died.”

– Anonymous.

The spiritualist question

Weirdest ones tend to come in via FOI: how often has your Council employed a spiritualist? How often has your Council received reports of ghosts in Council buildings. Really disappointed that answers to both questions were nil.

– Lisa Potter.

The weird Body Part question

Literally JUST got a call asking whether we were planning to use the A1 Motorway to transport any giant body parts, for a BBC Daytime series.”

– Sophie Ballinger

The weird siege question

“Can you tell me how long the siege will be going on for? Do I have time to get a photographer there?”

– Jeni Harvey.

The Teenage Mutant Turtle question

Journo: “I’ve been tipped off that there are some sort of mutant ninja turtles breeding in the ponds at the country park and they are killing ducks… can you check it out for me?”

Seriously. That call really happened to a colleague. How we laughed when said colleague had to gently explain who the teenage mutant ninja turtles were and that someone must have been pulling their leg. The reporter however, didn’t find it as funny.

– Kathryn Green.

The weird eclipse question

“How many working hours were lost for people going out to watch the solar eclipse in 199X – this was while I was working for the Local Gov Ombudsman as a press officer – not sure why he thought we’d know, but I helped him work through an example maths problem.”

– Ingrid Koehler.

The weird horse question

“Do you have any CCTV of that horse loose inside your Hospital?” – in my time in the NHS, probably the only media enquiry I’ve ever had from Horse and Hound.

– Adrian Osborne

The weird time travel question

Journalist: “I saw a piece on Twitter about Councillors visiting a site. Will this go ahead given this morning’s incident at the site?”

Me: “Well as the piece on Twitter was video and photos of the Councillors visiting yesterday, and we haven’t invented time travel yet.”

– Lisa Potter

The weird mafia question

Reporter: “Can you confirm that your hospital received stolen body parts from the mafia in New York?.”

– Maria Vidal.

The weird nudist question

Reporter: “We’ve been told a clothed nudist has been stopped for cycling across a public square in the city centre”

Me: “surely a clothed nudist cycling is just a cyclist”

Reporter: “well yes but he’s known to be a nudist”

– Johno Johnson

The War Memorial question

Reporter: “I’m just putting together some copy, and looking at the photos I can see Great War but can’t make out the dates…”

– Jon Phillips

The weird helicopter question

Him: “Can you tell me what the helicopter is doing please?”

Me: “Sure, where about is it?”

*awkward pause*

Him: *deadly seriously* “Well, it’s in a sort of Sky position?”

Me: *Stifles giggle* “Umm I kind of meant what town”

Him: *nervous laugh* *sounding very embarrassed* “Oh right… I see…”

– Charlotte Parker

The weird dancing horse question

“In a previous existence ‘can you make the horse dance while we film it?’ I may be able to do many things but making a horse dance in Mexico I had to draw the line at.

– Emma Rodgers

Picture credit: Wes Dickinson / Flickr.

LIVE MESSAGE: Now Facebook Live has come of age

Late Saturday night just as I was going to bed somethingremarkable happened.

Shortly after midnight, my timeline was filled with people sharing live streams from US airports. Pop-up protests were taking place. People angry about a ban on people from hand-picked Muslim countries were making their voice heard.

As a former journalist and as someone is interested in the changing media landscape this was fascinating. Protest has made Facebook Live come of age just as protest in Iran eight years ago helped embed Twitter.

An unscientific snapshot at the time showed short clips and commentary on Twitter and live streaming on Facebook.

For previous generations the route for moving images was TV news. Now, protestors as well as online media were just filming what was going on. In this case, they look like they were using their own web-enabled devices rather than an outside broadcast truck.

This one stream from Rewire News recieved 1.2 million viewers within 24-hours. You can watch here:

The live experience is different

While the footage viewing back on Facebook Live above looks clean and straight forward the livestream on mobile was also showing a feisty battle in the comments box between those in support and those against. You can watch here:

Mainstream media picked-up the footage

Channel 4 news in the UK picked-up the footage and repackaged it in an edited short news video. You can see it here:

Ten thoughts

  1. It’s ephemeral. A day after the live footage was hard to track down on Facebook and on the Periscope Live. Once it’s gone, it’s pretty much gone.
  2.  Your smartphone is like an outside broadcast truck in your pocket. Live streaming is powerful and an instant way to beam pictures so long as you have a good WiFi connection.
  3. It can spread the word quickly. By plugging into the networks of social media the link with the video can be widely shared.
  4. The experience live and later is quite different. With live viewing you get the cascade of likes and comments. Looking back later once the broadcast is over you don’t.
  5. The role for mainstream media is as aggregaters. With dozens of streams and lengthy broadcasts the role of the journalist is to spot, share then aggregate and explain.
  6. The quality of the footage doesn’t matter... the value is to see what is happening at that particular moment in time.
  7. The echo chamber still exists. As widely shared as it is it is still likely to be shared within a network of like-minded people.
  8. The corporate comm, policy maker and emergency planner needs to keep man eye on what is going on. Live insight is needed to help shape decisions.
  9. There’s a lesson from history. Public mood turned against the Vietnam war after protests at Kent State University saw protestors killed. What happens next will be interesting to see.
  10. Crisis comms and emergency comms need to take account of Facebook Live – and Twitter’s Periscope in their forward planning. 

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

TRAINER TALE: What a student’s Adidas advert can teach the public sector

There’s been a trend for story telling by video that packs an emotional punch.

The Polish Christmas commercial and the John Lewis advert are things I’ve blogged about.

There’s been a second trend of students making ads in the style of these. The lad who made the pastiche John Lewis ad which was so good it was taken for the real think springs to mind.

Another one has dropped into my timeline. It’s beautiful. It’s an old man in a home whose yearning to break free is awoken when he re-discovers his old trainers. You can see it here:

It’s lovely. It’s emotional. But stop. Adidas don’t need the extra help.

So much of what I do is in the public sector.

So, what story telling can be made of things in the public sector?

The child whose imagination comes to life through a trip to the library?

The widower who has discovered a new lease of life through a regular visit?

So many potential stories.

What stories could you tell if you tried harder? And communicated differently?

SOCIAL RIPOSTE: The greatest public sector tweet in a long time is also mildly depressing

​This is the greatest tweet I’ve read from someone in the public sector in a long time.

It may also be one of the most depressing.

It was sent by a police officer to a football supporter complaining that his tax was being spent on an officer tweeting.

The reply pointed out that he was doing most of it in his spare time:

Why is this great?

A police officer pointing out politely that he was doing this largely unpaid because he and others saw the value in it.

Reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive.

Why depressing?

Because surely we’ve reached a point where using the social web to keep people informed is core activity.

That’s not to have a go at the officer. Far from it. He deserves huge credit. Not just for tweeting but the way he handled his critic.

But almost a decade since the first public sector social media accounts emerged this isn’t seen as a fundamental requirement? 

CAKE TALKING: why #brewcamp is back

brewcamp-cinemaIts back… and God, how I’ve missed it.

A few years ago long before comms2point0 was a thing me and a few friends staged a few events to help us understand this new online landscape that we were intoxicated to explore. One of them was brewcamp. This was a simple idea. Find a cafe or a pub. Pick speakers for three topics. No slides. Discussion. Cake. Coffee.

It’s huge and genuine joy for me was listening to people outside of my area of expertise explain what was possible. We’d stage it every two months and we’d move it around the West Midlands.

One time Lloyd Davis came to Walsall and turned Starbucks into a cinema. Another time we went to Oldbury and the Sandwell Council chief executive Jan Britton helped start a winter gritting project.

But then all of us slowly left local government and it was put on the shelf for a rainy day without ever quite being thrown out.

Why is it back?

Myself and the excellent Andy Mabbett have taken the idea down off the shelf and are running it again. Why? For me, it’s because purely of a thirst to learn things. And that there are some good people still I don’t see enough of. i love running events for comms2point0 where people leave with a skill. This is a place just to kick around a few ideas.

Where is it and what are the topics?

It’ll be at Cherry Red’s cafe bar in John Bright Street in Birmingham. It’s 6pm for a 6.30pm start on Wednesday January 25.

Post and Mail: a 100 per cent digital news engine. The Post & Mail have led the way in digital innovation. At the centre of this has been Marc Reeves Trinity Mirror’s West Midlands editor-in-chief. Marc will talk about what newsgathering looks like in 2017 and beyond and why that matters for the public sector.

Why Open Rights matters. Open Rights Group is the UK’s only digital campaigning organisation working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online. Francis Clarke from Birmingham’s Open Rights group explains.

Fake news and the public sector. The Trump election and Brexit have highlighted the serious problems that can face institions if rumour dressed as fact go unchallenged. comms2point0’s Dan Slee and Andy Mabbett, Wikipedian-in-Residence with the likes of Ted Talks and the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Can I have a call to action right here?

You can. You can get a ticket here. Do come along.

VR WOW: What virtual reality journalism and comms may look like

syria“One of the most boring debates to have is the future of news debate,” someone I rate once said.

“The only people who care about it are journalists. Everyone else is off getting their news from Facebook.”

This is largely true.

I’ve been keeping a weather eye on virtual reality for a while and came across this fascinating TED talk by US virtual reality journalist Nonny de la Pena. In it, she explains about how she is turning story telling on its head by taking the facts and audio from real life scenarios and creating  them in virtual reality.

In other words, you can be standing on the site of a key news event.

She re-created based on source footage a bomb exploding in a street during the Syrian civil war. You can see it around 5’30”.

It’s a fascinating idea.

The risk of fake news isn’t far away.

But just journalism? Or can this be used for story-telling and for giving people a flavour of what it’s like to be on a particular spot?

In a fire?

In a warehouse with slave labour?

In a home with a man with dementia and his carer?

COMMS CHALLENGE: How could public sector organisations challenge post-truth?

‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this,’ is the first line of a blog post about post-truth and the internet I never got around to finishing.

Why didn’t I finish it? Maybe because the very tools that I had such faith in when I first came across the social web are the tools that have helped make facts redundant.

If you work in PR or communications you need to know that there is much thinking, reflecting and most importantly doing that you need to do about post-truth.

Stephen Waddington has written a tremendous contribution to this debate as a manifesto for public relations in a post truth world. I suggest you read it and let it soak in. This doesn’t have all the answers but the questions it asks are the right ones.

So what?

Steven is dead right to identify that Trump and Brexit had the stronger message and appealed to the heart not the head.

He’s right to identify that news cycles are gone and will go. The Trump cycle of bombarding the internet and then moving on has proved effective.

Stephen also makes a valuable point:

If you’re working on a campaign for 2017 use tools to establish a hypothesis and then put them down and go into the real world to talk, and more importantly listen to your publics.

He’s also right to say that social capital will play a part in whatever comes next. What’s social capital? It’s the undefinable credit you get for doing something good, kind or useful. You can find it everywhere. In the classroom when you were a kid when you lent someone a pencil. In the office when you pick-up someone’s slack. But here’s a confession. I’ve always struggled with the term. It works for academics. It doesn’t work outside the boardroom or the classroom.

I prefer thinking of it as people who give a stuff.

So, how does a public sector organisation challenge post-truth? Why, on Facebook, stupid

Let’s take the myth that the council’s Deputy Leader gets paid £100,000 for doing his council job. It’s a disgrace. It’s almost more than the Prime Minister. Only, it’s not true.

Where can you find that myth? You don’t have to go far on a community Facebook group or page to find something like it. There are hundreds in every town and city. Even the smallest village usually has one.

So, how do we challenge that?

Shouldn’t council comms people be going to Facebook groups and pages as individuals to engage – factually not personally – with people?

If you think you are too busy, how is it working out for you not engaging?

This is a difficult question to answer. But I’m convinced it needs to be worked out. I did a small part of this myself for five years while looking after the corporate Twitter and Facebook. I added my name because I wanted people to know I was a real person. Was it tiring? Actually it was. Not physically, but mentally if you are doing it round the clock.

What do you think?