In Dunkirk, its Johnny Mills as a British corporal steering his men to safety.
In Pulp Fiction, its Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta getting away with accidentally shooting Marvin in the face.
One if the biggest challenges facing press offices and communications teams is how to blend the old with the new to stay relevant.
There was a fascinating post by Ann Kempster who works in central government about what comms teams should look like. You can read it here. Emer Coleman from the Government Digital Service and others made some excellent comments.
A couple of years ago I blogged about what comms teams needing to adapt and have traditional and digital skills. I probably over-sold open data. We’re not there just yet but will be but the basics I still hang my hat on.
Back then I said the communications team needed to be both digital and traditional so calling something a press office these days is a bit of an anachronism. It would involve the basics:
- Have basic journalism skills.
- Know how the machinery of local government works.
- Write a press release.
- Work under speed to deadline.
- Understand basic photography.
- Understand sub-editing and page layouts.
But would need to have these too:
For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:
- Add and edit web content
For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:
- Create podcasts
- Create and add content to a Facebook page.
- Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
- Create and add content to Flickr.
- Create and add content to a blog.
- Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and theblogosphere.
- Develop relationships with bloggers.
- Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
- Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.
For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:
- Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
- Create a data set.
- Use an app and a mash-up.
- Use basic html.
- Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.
So how can we make the joint traditional and digital press office work?
There’s no question that the traditional press office and the digital press office should be under the same roof.
There’s no point in having an old school team with spiralbound notebooks and in the next room a digital team with jet packs and Apple macbook pros not communicating.
So what can help make the joint digital and trad comms team work?
Press officers won’t all head voluntarily to this bright new dawn. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Some won’t change and will be left behind.
The bright ones will adapt and are adapting to a place where a bog standard comms plan will include old media + social media + web as a matter of course. After all. We don’t all have specialists for TV or radio sat in most press offices and certainly not in local government where I work.
We all need a specialist digital comms officer to help blend the old and the new
Once I knew a man who was a mechanic. He used to repair petrol engines. At night school, he learned how electrical generators worked.
When his company changed to electrical generators he alone had the expertise for both and was invaluable in training staff.
That’s the approach we need for press officers.
In other words, what will blend old and new in the short and medium term is the dedicated social media or digital communications officer.
On Ann Kempster’s blog the anaology was made about digital cameras. We don’t refer to cameras as ‘digital’ these days. They are just cameras. That’s true and that’s where we need to go with comms teams.
But in many ways there’s more to it than that. I remember working as a newspaper when the first photographer – who was not a popular man – walked in proudly with a satchel with the paper’s first digital camera and laptop. “Schools broken up early has it?” came the dry-balloon bursting quip from the long-serving deputy chief reporter. The same quip was made every time the photographer walked in until the whole of the company’s photographers had them. Somehow, knowing the characters involved that made it funnier.
There was a cross-over period while photographers adapted to the new technology but the basic work of the photographer remained the same. Composition was unaltered. They were still building the same things through their view finders. But with digital communications it’s asking people to use a completely different set of skills. Like asking a photographer to become a sculptor overnight. But still take pictures when needed too.
From experience, the shift from the traditional to the traditional + digital takes time but it has to be coaxed and encouraged. That’s where the digital specialist in the comms team comes in so long as they share the sweets, horizon scan and work to give back-up to help others gain confidence. They also need to flag up the successes. They need to do some measuring and reporting back. We need to include digital stats along with traditional media ones so when the cabinet member in local government, or whoever, gets told what’s happening in the media they’re getting the digital picture too.
Just because an organisation has given the green light to social media doesn’t always mean the influential people in an organisation get it. One of the big complaints is that digital is tacked onto the busy day job. Well, if the day job means press releases churned out to dwindling newspapers maybe that work needs re-calibrating. But you need to convince the powers that be that it’s not 1985 anymore and digital and traditional is the way forward.
Why do comms need to share the sweets?
That’s something I’ve been banging on about for a long time. Comms needs to train, give advice, shape policy where needed but most importantly hold the door open for others to go through.
Across the country these either formally titled or informally tasked digital comms people can be seen doing good things. Look at Helen Reynolds in Monmouthshire County Council, Geoff Coleman at Birmingham City Council and what Al Smith did at Newcastle City Council and elsewhere as a couple of examples.
It’s the path that Walsall Council’s comms team has taken too thanks to bright leadership. As a result we now have press officers like Tina Faulkner and Becky Robinson who by no means are digital natives putting together inspiring campaigns like this one which saw a morning with a carer and her husband who suffers Alzheimers. They found magic in this approach which told a human story beautifully.
The challenge is to find the innovator in every comms team and gently give others room and confidence to grow if they need it.
Creative commons credits
That’s something that runs through Helpful Technology’s excellent Digital Engagement Guide like a golden thread.
It’s basically a rather wonderful collection of practical guides, strategies and case studies that are a treasure trove of ideas. Best of all these are ideas based in battle-hardened reality.
Steph Gray, who built it, deserves immense credit for putting it together. Based in the South East, a former head of digital communications at BIS he has done a lot of good work across Central Government. For my part, I was rather honoured to add a smidge of local government content along with Al Smith of Greenfinch and a man who I rate terrifically highly.
But digital engagement? How does that affect comms people? Isn’t that a bit of a touchy-feely way of saying consultation? Frankly, as web 2.0 develops boundaries are being blurred ever more often and the strict distinction between many job titles is starting to look obsolete. Besides, if you are looking to use social media as a comms channel it just won’t work unless it’s a listening channel too. For the press officer used to firing out press releases into the ether that’s a big change. But an exciting one.
Here are five belters from the Digital Engagement Guide
Department for International Development Bloggers - This shows how many authors to a single blog can work for an organisation. With stories from around the globe this works because it is written by individuals about human problems.
The US Army Social Media Guide - Few large organisations do social media as well as the US Army. Millions follow their Marines Facebook page alone. But how do they do it? Aren’t there security risks? This link to the guide itself sets out how new channels are used successfully. If the US military can use social media why can’t your organisation?
BBC English Regions Social Media Guidelines - You can almost substitute the word ‘BBC’ with ‘local government’ and it’s a good foundation for how officers should use digital channels. This is excellent. Always post different content to Facebook than to Twitter. Don’t use txtspk. You’ll find yourself nodding like one of those dogs in the back of cars.
New York City Council’s Customer Use Policy - Much gets written on how officers should use social media. There’s not too much about how customers should use it. These public guidelines from New York are an excellent starting point.
Gangway collapse at HMS Belfast - Ben Proctor from the likeaword consultancy is brilliant at crisis comms. He’s also really good at piecing together case studies. In this one he shows how official Twitter accounts working together build a picture and fill the information vacuum that takes place when something goes wrong.
There are dozens more good examples at the Digital Engagement Guide website.
Creative commons credits:
It’s amazing how if you do share good learning end up learning far more yourself in the long run.
It’s something that underpins this blog and powers some amazingly creative people in local government.
It’s also the ethos behind a project called Comms2point0 which I helped co-found. It’s somewhere online that comms people in and around the public sector can make sense of the changing landscape with case studies, resources and ideas. We created it because there wasn’t somewhere dedicated for comms and pr people working in the public sector that did that.
There’s a comms2point0 website where people can blog about an idea or a campaign they’ve tried. You can read it here.
There’s also a Twitter stream that posts six links every workday morning we think comms people may find helpful. They’re delivered on a plate by around 8am. You can follow it here.
I say I helped co-found Comms2point0 but in reality the drive for this has come from the excellent Darren Caveney who I’m fortunate to work with at Walsall Council where he he is head of comms. Darren and his press office manager Kim Neville have created an ethos where good ideas can be tried out and so much of the credit for the good work I’ve done should be reflected for them. Like the look of Comms2point0? That’s Darren that is and his wife Carol Caveney. They built it. They also went for the retro creative commons pictures that illustrate the site. You can find many of them on Flickr as part of the Documerica project. That’s here.
What works on Comms2point0? It doesn’t have to be just cool social media stuff. What’s really good is when it’s a mix of digital and non-digital. That’s when it gets really interesting. It’s how to get an idea or a message through to the iphone user, the newspaper reader and the Facebook enthusiast all at the same time is what really fires my imagination.
Who is it for? Mainly for public relations, communications people and marketing types who are looking to learn. Nobody has it all cracked. But with the old certainties dliding away, budgets disappearing the landscape is changing. Fail to evolve and learn and you are heading for irrelevance.
More than that, it’s for people who are looking to understand the new landscape. No matter what job they do.
Not everyone wants the time and effort to blog. But you’d be amazed at how unphased comms people are at writing 400 words to order on something they’ve done.
Five months on and we’ve reached 2,000 unique visitors a month and we’ve gone past 850 followers on Twitter. We’re a bit proud of that.
We’ve also chipped in with Nick Hill of Public Sector Forums to stage a rather nifty conference in Birmingham where a lorry load of bright ideas were taken away by 60 people – myself included – about Facebook. We put the resources here. Take a look if you didn’t go. We’re off to Glasgow soon too.
All this we’re quietly ever so proud of. Especially as it’s all been done outside of work time sometimes first thing in the morning with a piece of toast in one hand or last thing once the children are in bed and I’ve got Kraftwerk playing on the headphones.
Here are five blogs randomly selected you may like:
Five Comms2point0 belters
Social media and the council mag - in an era of slashed budgets the council magazine is often first to go. Critics would have you believe they are full of spin. The reality is more prosaic. It’s the bin times and the changes to the leisure centre that people don’t always get to hear about. Either because the newspaper isn’t that interested in council good news or because people stopped buying them a long time ago. Northumberland County Council’s Ross Wigham shared this post. I like the fact that there are good things happening in places far away from unconferences too.
Birds in the nest - Walsall Council’s Darren Caveney wrote this and I love it. It’s a mix of personal and professional and gives advice on how to cope with the changing landscape. Learn new things. Do new things. Shout about them too. Everyone working in comms should read this. Or local government.
Twitter… the next industrial revolution - There are things the public and private sector can learn from people. In this post Danks Cockbain PR’s Russ Cockbain tells of how he helped put Black Country manufacturers onto Twitter and how one secured £500,000 of publicity on the back of connections made via Twitter. Thems big numbers. It made me more happy than I can tell you that this case study was cited at UK Govcamp in London. “If Black Country metal benders can do it, what are we waiting for?”
It started with a tweet - There’s some really interesting things taking shape at Cornwall Council. Matt Bond talks about how they are trying digital tacks but are bringing their elected members along with them.
Feeling the love for infographics - Gillian Hudson is someone I came across first at the Home Office. She’s a bit talented. She’s now with the 10 Downing Street press team and in this post she talked through how she used infographics as part of a wider campaign. It’s really good stuff.