PUBLIC DATA: How can public sector comms get around its lack of respect as a profession?


I’ve blogged the CIPR’s annual state of the profession report and a really interesting spread of data.

Across the profession, there are issues around large numbers of white privately-educated communicators and not enough diversity.

I’d also add not enough young people to the debate prompted by the numbers.

You can read the CIPR data here and my blog here.

But one thing really does emerge from asking a set of additional deeply unscientific set of questions I asked of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group.

They in no way replace or undermine the CIPR data but one thing absolutely shines through for public sector communicators and that’s a lack of respect.


The strawpoll results

182 – Lack of respect for comms as a profession.

108 – Lack of resources

49 – Lack of planning and prioritisation 

39 – Most of them, TBF.

8 – Stress

And what to do about a lack of respect

For me, comms people often are their own worst enemy. One cog in a large organisation the easiest way is to go along with the request for a poster even when a poster isn’t what’s needed.

There are only so many times you can push back against someone with more years of service and a bigger salary and I get that. But I keep coming back to the idea that unless you do challenge and offer advice there’s really nothing between you and a glorified shorthand typist.

I’m a member of the CIPR. Why? Because broadly, they’re an organisation heading in the right direction.

If I was in-house I’d be looking at the work that LGComms, GCS and communicators in the NHS do too.

I’d be looking to train and learn as much as I could.

But at the end of the day, while there are organisations around, the need to be taken seriously as a communicator begins and ends with yourself. If you don’t take yourself seriously how can you expect others to?

I’d be interested to hear your view, too.

Picture credit: Documerica  / Flickr.

STRESSED: What the CIPR survey says about public sector comms


Have you seen the meme doing the rounds about journalism?

“Journalism it’s a tough job with insane pressure and pretty crappy pay. But on the other hand, everyone hates you.”

Thinking of public sector communicators, its a line I thought of when I read the CIPR State of the Profession report.

This is a remarkably fine document that maps where the wider profession is.

In the public sector, its a tough job being a communicator with insane pressure with okay pay and if you read the Daily Mail you’d think everyone hates you.

But what does CIPR’s report say?

Across the profession as a whole, two thirds are women and a third men with the median income £30,000 pa.

In the public sector, its closer with 49,660 men and 43,889 women and an average salary of £44,292 – which falls behind the industry average of £51,804.

That male – female split surprises me seeing as I do teams where men are in the minority.

But that’s just it. The stats don’t lie.

You can download the full report here.

The top line for public sector comms: #1 stressed

Almost one in four public sector comms people have been forced to take sick leave because of stress, anxiety or depression, the report says. That’s almost double the national average.

In addition, public sector comms is also the second most stressed sector behind consultancy and agency work.

But the report also says that 73 per cent of the public sector have a policy in place to deal with the issue which far outranks other sectors.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

What strikes me talking to public sector communicators is that stress on its own is rarely mentioned. But the factors behind the stress are. A lack of resources. A lack of respect. Those two issues shine through.

The top line for public sector: #2 men still hold the top jobs

When I’m training I tend to see a sea of female faces. The LGComms Future Leaders intake are overwhelmingly female, for example. But the survey has a slight majority of men over women.

But the study says that across the profession, there is a £5,000 pay gap between men and lesser-paid women and the top jobs are more taken by men.

Are other across the board issues an issue for the public sector?

Across the profession as a whole a series of additional issues are raised.

  • A growing trend to privately educated communicators with across the board more than a quarter coming from a fee-paying background.
  • A lack of representation from minorities.

Are they issues in the public sector?

Hard to say.

On my travels working across the public sector, an issue with a battalion of Public Schoolboys trying to communicate with working class communities isn’t one I’ve come across.

However, I think the issue of a lack of ethnic minorities is an issue in the public sector.

Comms is an ageing profession

One thing that did come through from the survey, however, was just how few younger people there are in communications.

This can’t be healthy.

Just four per cent of comms and PR people are under 24 when more than 30 per cent of people are in the UK.  Tacked together with the fact that almost 60 per cent have been in the profession for more than nine years it makes me question if the profession has the life skills to communicate to younger people in such a rapidly changing landscape.

The skills needed at the start of older people’s careers are quite different in many ways.

The skills of 2019 are better evaluation, a need to be web-savvy and a knowledge of how people are using channels.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

The public sector is the largest sector

What is fascinating to me is that the public sector is the largest sector outside of London everywhere apart from the East Midlands.


Pic: CIPR State of the Profession report 2019.

A video summary


Public sector communicators are the bedrock of the industry in the UK.

But this remains stressful and pressurised work.


POLL READING: You know you work in public sector comms when…


Growing up my Dad was a town planner and he’d talk about the draft UDP over the dinner table. I thought this was normal but it turns out it wasn’t.

Growing up dad would be awake at 2am editing committee reports by writing in the margin with a biro. I thought this was normal but it turns out it wasn’t.

Overall, around a quarter of the working population work for the public sector.

There are some brilliantly talented people in that number who literally save lives.

But to be a communicator in the public sector brings a whole boat-load of headaches. No budget, no time, no staff and not much professional respect at time, either.

For almost 15 years I’ve been part of this tribe as a communicator in-house in the public sector and then self-employed working with them.

What are public sector communicators like?

Stoic, talented, long suffering and determined.

I thought I’d crowd-source a list of other opinions too via the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group.

You know you work in the public sector when…

Everyone can do your job. – Kate Pratt.

You spot grammatical errors everywhere – Donna Veasey

You can’t post anything on social media without someone being upset – Mary Willis

You’re actually a magician in disguise – Debra Kerr

You do the best you can despite the red tape that is trying to strangle you – Lynnette Lee

You have no budget – Menna Rowlands

Someone asks you to promote their event and sends you a publisher file full of wordart – Nick Moore

The team really needs a toolkit to promote their roadmap…. there are no tools, there’s not a road – Maria Vidal Read

When your team has shrunk by 60% over the last nine years, you’re doing 2.7 jobs, you haven’t paid for training since 2011, but you’re still doing an effing great job every day. Josephine Graham

 It takes a month to get sign-off for a press release about a coffee morning – Scott Watson

You spend too much time getting the perfect photographic angle of the ladies toilets for an intranet post. Richard Birch

Every day you find people doing a bloody fantastic job, but they’re not telling anyone because they think it’s no big deal. – Lisa Potter

When the solution to everything is a poster – Jane Harris

Your private sector pals go to New York for work. You go to meetings across town & feel like you’ve had a proper day out – Penny Allison

When sometimes you do, in fact, make a small difference. And that is good enough. – Sara Hamilton

You ask for a one page summary and they give you seven – Sally-Ann Watts

There are three CIPR courses you want to attend. They offer member discount. Joining and getting the discount is cheaper than paying full price for the courses. So you join, book the courses and save the council £250. Finance then get in touch and say “we don’t pay for professional memberships, so you’ll need to repay us the membership fee out of your own pocket”.

Friends ask you to design their small business logo all the time. No mention of payment. – Kirsten Woods

You get all the calls that should go to IT – David Burrows

Your work phone is a blackberry – Katie Stephenson

You take great delight in track changing a non-comms colleagues ‘draft press release’ and sending it back to them – Royce Coates

You get an email saying “just a quick heads up that X is happening…” on the day it’s actually happening. – Chris Gomm

 When your only budget is a metaphorical pot of glitter and you’ve become a dab hand at rolling do do and winging it – Sacha Taylor 

When purdah starts and people think you suddenly have nothing else to do and have lots of capacity. – Julie Heath

People think your job is to whiz up a PowerPoint presentation or come up with a snazzy diagram – Alison Hollinshead Tobin 

You have a Mac and IT hates you – Mark Roberts

Telling the service’s bad news to politicians, becomes a comms thing. – Kim Inam

Your log in password is longer than your phone number and YouTube is blocked by IT so you can’t watch the videos you’ve created! – Paul Fearn

All of the above – but you still do the job and love it! – Paula Duxbury Lowe

Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica


SHORT GOLD: Another NINE videos that work effectively


When I first started to offer video skills training with the excellent Steven Davies for years ago good examples were hard to come by.

The data said it was getting more important but the examples were sometimes hard to track down.

Not so these days.

Rarely a day goes by without me saving something to take a closer look at.

Here are NINE more than impressed me.

Human stories shine through as a trend in this collection from men talking about suicide to a young cancer victim and sisters who serve in blue light services.

A video that runs through the life of an officer as a vlog

A New Zealand police officer talks through her day in a candid style.

Shot like a vlog the nine minute long video is longer than the usual YouTube clip but made an impact in the country.

In part, the clip made an impact because the officer was not just female but also quite attractive. The video as a whole mimics a vlogging style that is popular with young people.

A video that celebrates an achievement

Lobke Marsden is a nurse who helps children navigate cancer treatments. She’ll paint the mask they’ll have to wear so they’ll feel better about it. Getting through radiotherapy or chemotherapy is an achievement. Ringing a bell celebrates that achievement. Here she is helping a child mark that moment.

A video that gets across a complex point as light entertainment

It’s hard to explain to people how the budget for 1,200 services is spent by local government. So, why not present it as a Saturday night quiz programme?

This fantastic video from Swindon Borough Council has real people taking part in a short shiny floor quiz programme. You can see their Facebook post here.

A video that encourages women to be a police officer or a paramedic

People connect better to people like themselves so it makes sense as part of a recruiting drive to feature women.

The twist in this short clip is that twins have both joined the emergency services.

We see them chatting about the job and finishing each others’ sentences with cutaways of old pictures of themselves. You can see the Met Police Facebook video here.

A video that tells a human story of how a charity turned a life around

Samaritans answer the phone to people who are at their lowest ebb.

Darran was one of those people who was helped by the charity. A short sub-20-second clip on Instagram signposted people to a website with a longer story and a 1 minute 55 second YouTube clip here.

I love the fact that its a real story with a shorter clip on instagram compared to YouTube as these lengths work better.

“When I had been at my lowest, I had used the Samaritans and they were a massive help.” Darran turned to Samaritans when he was finding life tough. #RealPeopleRealStories (Link in bio)

A post shared by Samaritans (@samaritanscharity) on

A video that tells a human story of how horses help Alzheimers patients and their carers

The first three seconds of a social video are vital and the first three here are taken with someone telling a horse: ‘I love you very much’ make an impact.

This is a BBC Breakfast package that can be seen on the BBC Four Facebook page here.

We can absolutely learn from news social media through their use of something to grab attention in the first three seconds and then run sub-titles to tell the story with interview and cutaways.

A video that shows children telling what makes a social worker

Caring and hope giving are two of the qualities that make a good social worker.

Sefton Council enlist school children from their patch to run through the qualities such a worker needs. It’s bright, eye-catching and never stays still.

It has a fine bed of music, sub-titles, local voices and real people whose friends and family are likely to share it online.

Read the rest of this entry »

MODERATING SUCCESS part II: How and when to moderate contentious comments on your Facebook page

facebook pic

I’ve blogged this week about the need to look out for Facebook comments on your page.

The example given was from a media site getting bombarded with racist comments covering a hammer attack on mosques across their city. You can read it here.

But there is little black and white and a lot of shades of grey.

Here’s an example where the questions posed are far trickier.

Step 1: The appeal for a suspect

Hampshire Police posted an appeal for information about a suspect with a slightly unusual name that would remind you of baking and bakeries. I’ve left out the name as it has been taken down from the police Facebook page.


Step 2: Witty comments

Firstly, came the witty comments around the name.

“The family are kipling him hidden.”

“I crust the police are doing a good job…”

“Bakery puns have cheered up a crumby day.”

But, hey, that’s okay because it means the content is reaching more people, right?

But then this happens…

Step 3: The suspect’s Mum turns up

Mum turns up. Her requests not to make fun are met with… more jokes at the expense of the family name.  More than 60 of them on her one comment alone.

She goes onto say that there has been a death in the family but is met with derision.

It’s about this point that the post starts to raise questions.



Step 4: Things start to go a bit dark

It now appears that there has been a death in the family.

When Michael’s Mum points this out she is met with the line:

“Cheer up cupcake.”

Now, I don’t know about you but this feels as though its moved past ‘bantz’ and into a duty of care not just to the suspect, who is exactly that, a suspect, and onto the Mother of the suspect who is being exposed to hatred, ridicule and contempt facilitated by a police Facebook page.

Things are starting to get uncomfortable.




The need to act as a Facebook page admin

Legally, the admin of a Facebook page are not responsible for what someone posts until they are alerted to it and the expectation is that they take appropriate action.

But the question needs to be asked once this happens what the best course of action is.

This is really difficult. This exact case is unlikely to be repeated but the comments

What Facebook’s standards say

One way of seeing if you should act is to check Facebook’s own community standards. This is a yardstick of how Facebook expect its users to behave. They’ve been tightened-up in recent years. They’re clear on things like hate speech and nudity. But they’re less clear on sarcasm.

cakebread 8

On the face of it, there are steps under Facebook’s community standards.

But under the narrow standards of Facebook’s community standards the Cakebread comments don’t appear to have breached anything.

cakebread 9

Check your own Social Media Policy before acting

I’ve long been an advocate for having your own Social Media Standards that set out what you’ll do and what you’ll expect of people. New York City Council have one here. Bradford City Council have one here and South Lanarkshire Council have one here as an example.

Across all of those three examples, there are grounds to take down comments that are harassing and you also have the ability to switch off comments.

As with media companies, the aim of using Facebook is to communicate and do the right thing. Not to chase numbers at any cost.

At the most basic level, you need to respond to issues raised by the people who like your page who may do so through Facebook itself. But beyond that, you need to keep an eye on your page, too.

Your responsibility is to keep your corner of Facebook decent.

Note: I’ve anonymised all names from the original post.


MODERATING SUCCESS: Keeping a close eye on Facebook comments


Social media these days can be a pretty grim place at times. 

Stephen Fry a while back described the darkening of some people’s attitudes and the more sinister trolling as like seeing a turd released in once beautiful pool.

This week I was reminded what he meant when I read comments posted to Birmingham Live’s mosque attack coverage from a minority of people.

If you missed the news, five mosques were attacked overnight by someone armed with a hammer across Birmingham. Coming days after the murder of 49 Muslim workshippers in New Zealand this is a build of tension that wasn’t welcome by reasonable people.

The state of abusive comments in 2019

Marc Reeves, editor-in-chief at Reach Midlands who looks after Birmingham Live once remarked that you were never more than seven or eight comments away from a racist comment.

It’s a comment that may strike a chord with anyone who looks after a public sector Facebook page, too. I’ve seen posts on plans for a new mosque, the welcome of Syrian refugees or the return of the London schoolgirl ISIS recruit that I’d hate my children to see.

The need to admin your Facebook page at key times

There is a clear need and responsibility to keep a close eye on Facebook comments at key times. Social is social. People will talk to you. But just because they can doesn’t mean you should tolerate abuse to yourself or any sector of the population.

Birmingham Live assigned a member of staff to keeping an eye on moderating comments. At a time of thin resources it would have been easier to have not to and maybe even for a media company to encourage it to generate traffic.

But media companies just as the public sector have a heavy moral duty not to allow the abuse of anyone.

Hats off then to Birmingham Live’s politics and people editor Jane Haynes who tweeted this:

The need not to duck

There’s a temptation to duck out of posting about that refugee family who are being housed in the borough or about the mosque attack.

I seriously don’t think that anyone should. That’s giving in and I don’t think that will make for a better world to live in.

But I do think you need back-up to moderate the comments.

BELFAST LEARNING: Five brilliant things about PSNI’s digital comms


One of the great delights of travelling is being able to see at close hand what other people are doing.

American writer Henry Miller once wrote that travel was never a destination but a new way of seeing things.

This is spot on for this week’s trip to Belfast to speak at the Northern Ireland Public Sector Communications Forum. A room of excellent people doing some really good work.

As a former in-house public sector communicator, the work of Police Service Northern Ireland really stood out. Had I still been in-house I’d want my organisation to be communicating online as they are.

Let me count you the ways PSNI’s Fiona Williamson impressed the heck out of me.

They share the sweets

It galls me that we are still faced with comms teams who won’t devolve access to social channels. I’d long thought that the argument between the Lord of the Rings-style One Corporate Account That Rules Them All had been settled. Share the sweets, for heavens sake.

So, they have accounts based on the areas they serve rather than a one-size-fits all account. If you live in East Belfast you want East Belfast news not news from Ards or Newry.

They have more than 30 Facebook and 20 Twitter accounts as well as YouTube and Instagram. They also have a single web page here where you can find the ones you want to follow.

They’ve made mistakes… and learned from them

Refreshingly, PSNI’s Fiona Williamson was honest about how they have got things wrong and the negative coverage that has attracted. But they’ve learned from it rather than shut down the operation.

One key early learning was to gather channels into a social media management tool to help co-ordinate responses and exercise a degree of control.

They pay attention to the Facebook comments in real time

Fiona spoke of a high-profile incident that generated more than 1,000 Facebook comments.

Having an officer work to monitor and delete comments where required is such a refreshing thing to see and hear. All to often incidents can bring out the worst in communities. The recent attacks on mosques in Birmingham, attracted some pretty vile comments on the Birmingham Live Facebook page, for example.

Unhelpful comments in policing terms I’m guessing can not only raise tension in a community but can also jeopardise an investigation.

This is probably the biggest single point of learning I took.

They have a good use of video for bigger incidents

The PSNI YouTube channel has a number of witness appeals and other pieces of content. Video footage clearly plays a role in what they do.

They resource social media just as much as the press office

This really caught my attention.

A decade on from the first UK public sector accounts and some teams still operate by tacking social media onto what their day job was a decade ago. Understandable. But I’d strongly question if this makes for a team that are set-up for 2019.

Resourcing digital comms as much as traditional is wonderful to hear.

I’m often saying that take inspiration from where you can.

Go look at Belfast.

Picture credit: Derek Flint /Flickr.