SHOW, TELL: Great ideas are likely to die if they’re not well communicated

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The earlier you involve your comms team in a new project the more chance it has of being a success.

There’s some stats behind this, too.

If comms are involved in the early planning stage its an 82 per cent chance of success.

If they are involved after the scheme has been approved its 68 per cent.

If comms are called in just before launch its 40 per cent.

If its after launch its 26 per cent.

If its not at all its 15 per cent.

These statistics emerged from a survey from the #commsforchange event I was involved with a while back in the early days of comms2point0. It’s a figure In keep referring back to.

It was a figure that came into my head when I saw the stream from localgovcamp in Bristol last weekend. Loads of great ideas were being kicked around by bright people in local government. Yet, there was very little talk of who to communicate with. That’s not a criticism of the event or the ideas. Far from it. It’s an event that’s very dear to my heart and has shaped what I do today.

But something nagged at me. The landscape is littered with great ideas badly communicated.

And if you want the idea to succeed you need to tell the right people at the right time in the right way.


TRUSTING ME: A quick guide to who, what and how to deliver a better message

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When you’ve got a difficult message to deliver don’t just send out the next cab on the rank. Instead, use a bit of research to send out the best one.

Who is delivering the message is just as important as what they are actually saying.

But when time and effort gets spent on the the words very little gets spent on thinking through who will say them.

Who will say it? And what will they say? Here is a couple of pieces of research that should help guide who will say what for you.

A case study with trees and angry people

Back when I was in the public sector, an issue blew up with trees being cut down on common land. The simple equation was this:

Trees are good, so cutting them down is bad.

That’s a perfectly understandable response. The thing was, it was more complicated than that. IKt boiled down to:

Trees are good but they’re damaging rare heathland.

The offending trees themselves were self-set. In other words, birds had eaten berries and the seeds had ended up germinating where they fell. Trouble is the heath land they had germinated on needs protecting as there isn’t much of it. Sounds technical? It was. Luckily, we had a named countryside ranger who was using social media for the organisation.  So, she was better able to communicate what was happening.

Why? Because she was a trusted individual and an expert in her field. She had also built a relationship with people. What was the alternative? A politician who wouldn’t have had the same clout.

Who will say it? Trust and shooting the messenger

Our reaction depends a great deal on who is sent out of the door to deliver the message.  If we don’t really believe whoever has been sent out we won’t believe what they say. The 2016 Edelman Trust barometer sets out through extensive polling what people think of people with different job titles. See the board of directors on the right? They’re least trusted. Your employee? Markedly more trusted and the person like yourself even more so.

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Who will say it? Trust in politicians is low

Data from Ipsos Mori was posted on Twitter earlier today by Ben Page. If you don’t already do follow him. He’s often insightful. The research shows that politicians are trusted by 15 per cent of the population and nurses and doctors at more than 90 per cent are the most trusted. The research is here:

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The data is useful if you are in the public sector. While many of us would like politicians to be more trusted the hard reality is that they are not. Seeing as that’s the landscape we’re faced with, I’d argue that we need to be more thoughful in the way we deliver messages. The trusted member of staff is likely to be more effective. This also has the spin-off of making the approval process that bit quicker.

Of course, black is not white and there are occasions when a politician fronting up a message is the best route. This is where the small ‘p’ nouse of a comms officer is important.

Who will say it? Content is king

Of course, there’s a chance the message may be better delivered not by an individual but by a piece of content.  The sharable infographic, the video or the image may be the best way to deliver the message. Especially if it is financial data that frankly, is a bit dull. Make the telephone directory come alive in other ways.

What will you say?: Honest communications, please

One last set of data to check before you respond also comes from the UK edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer. It’s about honesty. The research breaks down the population into the informed public and mass. In other words, college educated and high media cosumers and the rest. The stats here are so striking they can’t be avoided. We all want honest communications. My own take on this is that this is messages that are straight and don’t try and pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.

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So, if that message is honest, straight and comes from people who are likely to be trusted, you’ve got a chance.

If you call cuts cuts and not efficiencies you are more likely to cut through. Especially if they are delivered from someone people can trust.

I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee. Shout if I can help. I’ll be co-delivering a workshop on How to Communicate in a Digital World in Edinburgh on December 9, Birmingham on January 24 and Manchester on February 16. More info here.  

Picture credit: Exile on Ontario Street / Flickr 

 

 

 


#OURDAY: One day a year like this to see you right

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It’s the annual local government Twitter event today and it got me thinking.

Five years ago I was part of a team at the first local authority to tweet what they were doing across 24-hours.

We won an award for it. But it wasn’t until 10 minutes before the 7am start time that I really thought it would work when I posted a tweet from the corporate account to say that environmental health officers were investigating a noisey cockerel on a deprived housing estate.

In following years the LGA picked up on it as a model and have run sector-wide events.

I’ve had high hopes for the model to help tell the day-to-day story of all the 1,200 activities that local government does. I’m not at all sure that it has managed to do everything it can. It’s not collectively banged a call-to-action drum for social care, for example. Or for people to join libraries or some other service task.

As Twitter slips from third to 5th most popular social media platform maybe the time is right to expand it in future to other platforms. However that may look. Evolve, adapt, learn, iterate.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe its enough purely a chance for local government people to be bold, stand tall, be proud of what they do and celebrate all the day-to-day things that build a bigger picture.

If for one day a year local government people can be proud of themselves and each other then that’s no bad thing. If you’ve taken part, well done. If you’ve persuaded someone else to too, even bigger well done.

Or ‘One day like this a year will see me right,’ as Elbow singer Guy Garvey once sang.

Picture credit: raql / 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

 


WATER HERO: Why tweeting from the riverbank frontline works

12253595404_a7240a9652_bSo this, ladies and gentleman, is what I’ve been banging on for years. You give a smartphone and social media access to a frontline worker who ‘gets it’ and gets out of the office and then you sit back.

For the past six weeks swathes of England has been under water with the wettest January for more than 200 years deluging rivers and forcing them to burst their banks.  Platoons of soldiers have been deployed as local government, fire, the Environment Agency and others have battled .

Through it all an army of public sector people have worked on in damp, wet and miserable conditions often without credit or recognition.

One of those is Dave Throup, an Environment Agency manager for Herefordshire and Worcestershire. When the radio need an update it is Dave who is the voice of the agency giving up-to-date updates on river levels, flood risks and advice.

He also uses Twitter to post real time updates that are hyperlocal and county wide. The state of flood barriers in Bewdley, business as usual messages in Ironbridge and advise not to drive through floods. Often they are basic mobile phone pictures like this one:

He’s using basic technology to post real time information at a time when people need it most. He also shares other people’s tweets and blogs here. He posts to Flickr too.

Why is this brilliant?

If you want the science, the Edelman Trust barometer talks of how staff lower down an organisation are trusted more than those at the top. People who are just like you are trusted even more. For communications people, this changes the game and turns on its head everything. To put it simply, the chief executive may not be the best person to front an interview or a campaign. The officer with the smartphone may well be. I say this repeatedly when I’m training people: it’s not enough to do a good job in the public sector in 2014. You need to tell people too. That’s why the people like Morgan Bowers the Walsall Council countryside ranger works really well on social. It’s a real person talking to a real person.

Why is Dave even more brilliant?

Public sector people get a shabby Press. Why? Because it’s always our fault. Often judged by people who proclaim to know the value of everything and the value of nothing and yet far, far more good is done by the public sector than bad. Dave is brilliant because he cares. People get that too. And yet there are so many people in the sector like him but for some reason he’s struck a chord with the folk who have come to rely on the information that he gives.

He’s also got a fan club:

So, here’s to Dave. And everyone in the public sector who does a vital job and that state of mind that elite public sector workers attain to.

Just think about what an army of people like Dave can do for the organisation they work in. Or what they could do for yours.

Creative commons credit

River Severn in flood http://www.flickr.com/photos/davethroup/12253595404/sizes/l/


GOVCOMMS: 7 things to bring local and central government comms people together

9422535872_8e4d08002a_bSo, how do local government and central government comms people work better together?

There was an event the other day in Whitehall which looked at this very topic which I would have loved to have got to. But I work in the West Midlands so that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s a good question and one that I’d given a lot of thought to just recently. Not just because the LGComms Future Leaders course I’d been involved with was asked just this question and asked to come up with a presentation.

One of the good things about being in the public sector is the ability to share ideas and approaches. This doesn’t happen in the private sector. As one person recently put it, they’ll tell you what they did but they’ll just leave out a vital piece of information so you can’t follow. It’s like handing over a car without the spark plugs.

So here are some things that should happen.

6 things to bring local and central government comms people together

1. Realise that each side isn’t the enemy. You’d be forgiven for thinking sometimes reading the Daily Mail that local government was to blame for the banking crisis, Northern Rock and the nationalisation of the banks. Just think what would have happened had local government mis-sold products. Step aside from the headlines and realise that there is more to bring  civil Service and local government comms people together. We both face the question ‘what does communications mean in 2014?’ for example.

2. Paid secondments both ways. A few years ago a secondment from local government into the civil service could have been do-able. Not now. There isn’t the spare capacity anymore in local government. But funded posts could help backfill and share the knowledge. Even better if they are French-exchange-style two way affairs. Better still if they involve co-operation on the same project.

3. Open up central government training to local government. The Goverment Communications Service (formerly the Government Communications Network) stages a range of good training opportunities. It would be great if this was open to local government too.

4. Open up local government seminars to central government. Places like LGComms put on some excellent sessions. The different perspective of a Whitehall comms person would be useful. Just as the comms person more used to dealing with the community would be a benefit to a central government person.

5. Encourage events like commscamp. In February last year more than 130 comms people from Whitehall and local government came together in a joint event for what must have been the first time. There were more than 400 on the waitlist when it was turned off.  The agenda was decided on the day by those who went. Anarchy? Not really. It worked beautifully. It was organised by people in central and local government in their own time. (Disclaimer: I’m biased as I helped co-organise commscamp.)

6. Realise that neither side is better. They’re just different. As government departments put more focus on stakeholder groups local government listens to residents more. At a time when the Foreign Office is putting more effort – rightly – into answering queries on Twitter there’s pr people in Staffordshire or Norfolk who could tell them a few things. They are two different skills. It made me realise that neither side is better. We’re just different.

7. We both work in the public sector and should be proud of that. Sure, the private sector does some good things. But we delivered the Olympics, we save lives, we keep the roads running, our children educated and a whole load of other things too. How much better is that than flogging toothpaste?

EDIT: GCS courses are also now available to local government people. That’s welcome.

Creative commons credit.

Big Ben http://www.flickr.com/photos/mahatsorri/9422535872/sizes/l/


OFF SPIN: Why Malcolm Tucker must die

As beautiful illicit guilty pleasures go watching BBC2’s The Thick Of It is not exactly an out-of-control gambling habit.

A satirical fly-on-the-wall Yes Minister for the 21st Century Civil Servants and politicians scheme, plot and manipulate obsessed by the whims of public opinion.

Chief amongst them is the figure of Malcolm Tucker. Like ‘Iago with a blackberry’  as The Spectator calls him in the programme itself, he is the government’s director of communications whose Machiavellian command of the dark arts of spin is direct drawn from the underworld. Nothing is too low.

“Congratulations on your first confirmed kill,” he chillingly writes on a card to a junior who ill in hospital goes along with his plot to unseat the Leader of the Opposition. Out of the box the card comes from drifts a helium baloon with a picture of the deposed Leader sellotaped to it. A perfect blend of malice and slapstick.

Watching the programme is also a secret vice of comms people to talk of the programme illicitly in hushed tones.

A few years ago the subject of The Thick Of It came up in a conversation I had with someone who had worked at the heart of government in the Civil Service. “On a good day it was nothing like it,” the individual said. “On a bad day it was actually a toned down documentary.”

Yet, part of me thinks people will look back in years to come and find that Malcolm Tucker is a bygone relic. Obsessed with newspaper headlines and able to cajole the Priesthood of journalists with bribes and threats.

Or maybe the government comms people of the future will be just as frenetic and just as twitchy about public opinion. It’s just that it’ll be the bloggers and the digital journalists they’ll be obsessed about.

The fourth series ended with Tucker disgraced, chased by a press pack from a police station after handing himself in to be arrested after he perjured himself at a public enquiry.

And Malcolm Tucker to use a very Malcom Tucker word is ‘is damaging’.

Why damaging?

Because he forms people’s warped idea of what a public sector comms person looks like. Which is why he needs to be brought down from grace. It’s why he needs to die. Under a bus. Outside Parliament. With a single bunch of flowers from his ma in Scotland. Leaving a stack of cracking YouTube clips as his legacy.

Comms, like journalism, is a broad church and across it finds all sorts of characters and practices. Yet there is nothing I find in what he does remotely similar to what I do working in an environment that encourages open access to social media and open data. Central government people may disagree.

But as Alastair Campbell, the man who did most to create the late 20th century idea of a spin doctor, said recently the landscape has changed: “You can’t dominate the news agenda now. The agenda is more chaotic but that’s a good thing.”