Posted: April 3, 2016 Filed under: local government, Uncategorized | Tags: cipr, cllrs, elected members, guidance, local government, members, NUJ, officers
It can be truly great working with politicians. It can also be tricky. You can be pressured to help one side or the other. But if you do you’ll be in the cross-hairs of rival politicians. Here’s a simple guide to avoid pitfalls. Not just during Purdah but all year round.
Here’s a scenario for you. You pick up the phone to an important politician who is up for election.
They’re asking about that picture you took of them at the launch of the new play equipment.
Can you just send it across?
You’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the image will go into her campaign leaflet. So you ask what the picture will be used for.
Of course, if it is for a leaflet you don’t send it. It was taken using public resources so shouldn’t be used for political campaigning. But how do you say ‘no’ constructively?
Take it from me, unless you have chapter and verse in front of you that conversation is going to be a little bit tricky. At best, you are going to look a bit evasive and unhelpful. At worst, you are going to look uninformed and when the politician complains you may have more pressure put on you to do the wrong thing.
Of course, in an ideal world, every elected member knows what they can and can’t expect you do and wouldn’t dream of leaning on you to bend the rules. But, of course, we aren’t in an ideal world.
In my experience, every authority has at least one elected member who will try and push the rules. Especially with junior members of staff. And every authority has at least one elected member who will spot what you’ve done and attempt to nail you to the floor. Comms teams can often be accused of being ‘political mouthpieces.’ Mainly by people who don’t understand the role they do. My advice is don’t let them. But to do that successfully you’ll need to know very, very clearly what you can and can’t do.
It’s not just councils, either. This covers partners, police, national parks and very often fire services too.
Why three minutes and three hours?
It’ll take you three minutes to read this post. It’ll then take you three hours to do the groundwork you’ll need to do. Put it off until the merde hits the fan and it could be too late. Do you and your team a favour and put the work in ahead of time. It’ll be one of the best things you ever do.
What do you need to do? You need to read through several key documents. You need to cut and paste the passages that govern what you can and can’t do for elected members. Don’t paraphrase. It’s far more effective to read back the page, paragraph and chapter and verse. Make sure all your team know it, have a copy and have access to it.
Read your media protocols
Every communications unit needs a media and publicity protocols document. This sets out what you’ll do for elected members. It also sets out when and where the team get involved. Normally, this will be agreed between you, the chief executive and Leader. It can change and be updated two or three times a year. It’s an important document but not the best one in your armoury.
The Council DCLG Code
The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued eight pages of guidance on what councils should and shouldn’t do. In England, the guidance from 2011 can be found right here. You may want to cite one of the key principles of the guidance that it is even-handed, for example. For Scotland and Wales the guidance dates back amazingly to 1988. You can find it here.
If you work in a local government comms team you should know your guidance backwards. It’ll also give you some good ground rules on what you can and can’t do.
Your authority’s constitution
It’s a funny thing but your constitution has a power over politicians that is practically unmatched. Your protocols they can debate. The DCLG code they can decide to defy. The constitution? That’s a whole different thing. It’s the day-to-day rules they are governed by. You’ll find things in there about publicity, sure. You’ll also find things about the staff – elected member relationship and probably some safeguards against undue pressure too.
Professional codes of conduct
Back when I was looking through my council’s constitution there was explicit reference to professional codes. For comms people this can provide two helpful routes. Firstly, the National Union of Journalists. Their code applies to comms people just as much as reporters as they have comms members. The line: ‘Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair,’ is a particular favourite.
Secondly, you can also draw on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations code of conduct too.
The LGA have written some excellent Purdah guidance for 2016 which you can see here. We’ve also blogged some guidance on Purdah and social media and you can read that here. If you are central government, look out for Cabinet Office guidance that will be published ahead of elections.
In short, there’s some legwork involved here. Yes, I know you are busy. But this could save your skin in the long run.
Once you’ve pulled things together, publish it on your web pages and make it public. Let the leaders of each group know the contents on the internal guidance too so they can’t pretend to be in the dark.
Picture credit: Clemens v Vogelsang / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/iWUJBn
Posted: February 15, 2016 Filed under: communications, Uncategorized | Tags: communications, future, independent, newspaper, newspapers, PR, print, Public Relations, skills
You 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 / https://flic.kr/p/uUcuRJ
Posted: January 18, 2016 Filed under: Uncategorized
You. If you are willing to learn new things there’s a chance you’ll still have a job in 2020.
This is not a bold statement. It’s surprising how many people quietly have contacted me to say that line resonates.
A few weeks ago with the old year fading and the New Year upon us I wrote that. It means just as much now you are into the swing of things as it did on New Year’s Day.
Around 12-months ago I wrote about the 40 skills a comms team would need. There’s probably something like 42 or 43 now. Relax, I don’t think everyone can know them all. But I do think that you should be a specialist generalist able to do a range of things but be really good at a handful.
I was reminded of all of this need for learning twice in the last week. Firstly, gazing over London on top of the BT Tower for a Government Communications Service event to celebrate good communications in the past year. Secondly, watching the response to three free comms2point0 masterclasses to help share the learning from unawards.
The London event saw examples of world class communications in a range of fields by central government. The Britain is Great campaign, for example. And the Blood Donation Service.
The unawards masterclasses sees examples of world class communications from the public sector in events in Leeds, Birmingham and London. Props to the Local Government Association for getting behind them together with sponsors Alive With Ideas and Govdelivery. Shout too to Darren Caveney my comms2point0 oppo whose baby this is.
There are four ways you can learn things today to still be in a job in 2020.
By far the best. Just do it. Try things out. Experiment. Fail. I get the need for data-driven comms. But I also see the need to try things out to see if they work without those rockets being powered by data.
Hear what people have to say. It may be at an event or reading a blog post. But take time every day to read and reflect.
Try out new ideas with others. It’s more fun that way. If it succeeds there are more happy people. If it fails you can spread the learning. At its heart this is what still excites me about an unconference where the agenda is decided on the day.
Once you do something worth shouting about share it. Tell others. Write. Blog. Talk. Tell people. It’s the only way people will share the learning.
The unawards masterclass will take place:
24 February, Leeds – The Studio
9 March, Birmingham – The Studio
23 March, London – Mayor’s Rooms, Westminster City Hall, 64 Victoria Street, London
For more information about ticket releases click here.
Posted: December 17, 2015 Filed under: newspapers, Public Relations, Uncategorized | Tags: Facebook, newspapers, radio
This is significant: printed newspapers have become the least popular way that people use to keep up to date with what is going on in the world.
According to a report in the Guardian the annual Ofcom news consumption study will say that 31 per cent of the population read a printed newspaper to keep informed. This is a fall from 41 per cent the previous year.
On the other hand, TV news on 67 per cent, the internet with 41 per cent and radio 32 per cent are all comfortably ahead of breaking news on the news stand.
To anyone interested in the media landscape this feels like hugely landmark news in itself. To communications teams geared-up to service the needs of newspapers first and foremost this feels especially important.
It’s also further evidence that while newspapers used to be practically the only show in town they are not any longer.
The full report doesn’t appear to have been published on the Ofcom site. Their reports always bear reading and the Ofcom Communications Market 2015 report should be required reading for all comms and PR people. I’ve blogged the findings here.
To look at this from a newspaper perspective, they would argue their websites and social media are included in the internet column. So, ‘it’s complicated’ maybe one summary.
The Guardian report also had a few more significant bulletpoints:
- 25 per cent of people use their mobile phones to keep up to date – up four per cent.
- 14 per cent of people use word of mouth to get their news – up three per cent.
- Young people are more likely to go online (59 per cent) than watch the TV (‘around half.’)
- BBC1 was the top news source on 48 per cent, ITV second with 23 per cent, the BBC app or website 23 per cent, BBC News channel 14 per cent and Facebook 12 per cent along with Sky News.
Here’s a link to the full document Ofcom document News Consumption in the UK 2015.
Creative commons credit: Soon / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/hHpXV