RED LIGHT: Why be a comms person in the NHS if you can’t stop a bleed?


In the worst half hour of my life, my wife struggled to give birth to our first born whose heart kept stopping.

It was too late for cesarean. The baby needed to be born right now. Two mid-wives shouted at my wife to ‘push’ as the heart monitor dipped in and out. Within half an hour he was. Why the crisis? A perfect knot in the umbilical chord had been blocking oxygen.

Thank God for the NHS. Without them my son may not be here.

So when the Daily Telegraph run an NHS knocking story from a right-wing pressure group about a comms issue I paid attention.

Every hospital, the piece said, must change its logo and online footprint at what is a time of crisis for the NHS. ‘What a waste,’ was the underlying tone. Even a pro-NHS Facebook group got caught up slamming the changes as ‘shameful.’

Blogger James Turner wrote an excellent takedown of the Daily Telegraph story from a designers perspective. No, all signs don’t have to be changed straight away. In summary:

YES: The NHS has new identity guidelines which include new rules on how the logo should be used.

NO: No one has to spend money updating signs, letters etc until they were going to be changed anyway.

YES: It did cost some money to NHS England

NO: It didn’t cost money to Trusts and was infact, a pretty cheap exercise considering what design can cost.

YES: Design is important to the NHS, it’s what helps people access services and engage with healthcare.

NO: Design isn’t a “non-job” you patronising arse.

What’s the point of a NHS comms officer if they can’t stop a bleed?

For me, this raises the wider problem. Should you have an A&E nurse or a designer?

Or, as someone asked on Facebook, why have an NHS designer if they can’t stop a bleed?

Faced with such a simple question, you can see why people think what they do.

But life and death is a much more complicated than that.

In the NHS, there are 450,000 doctors and nurses. Supporting them is an army of people. Porters, medical secretaries, cleaners, finance people and receptionists are just a few of the army of people needed to make an organisation work.

What’s the point of an NHS porter if they can’t stop a bleed?

What’s the point of a housing web manager if they can’t change a window?

Or what’s the point in a council press officer if they can’t fill in a pothole?

I’ll tell you what their point is. They play a part in in making the organisation work just like a porter or a finance person does. But I think comms people need to make people see this.

The simple fact is that communications, marketing, web people and yes, designers are needed. Why? Forget reputation for a minute. Because they can help make a difference to people’s lives and to the bottom line. The Come Back to Nursing campaign to re-recruit lapsed nurses my colleague Darren Caveney played a part in helped save £90 million, for example. The flu jab campaign helps save people’s lives.

Be the difference and tell people

‘You’re just a bunch of non-jobs. Why should I bother doing what you say?’

This cheery greeting came when I worked in local government. The then minister Eric Pickles had made another attack on local government communications.

I’ve said this before. The only way to dispel this falsehood is by demonstrating worth. Not just by making nice things but by making a difference in the bottom line. So, it’s not enough to have a logo or communications. It needs to show the pounds, shillings and pence difference that it makes. That campaign to get people to go to the chemist rather than A&E. Look at data over different periods. Can you say how many people did that? And what the benefit was?

NHS branding? Why bother? It’s a sensible question. Here’s six reasons.

You can cut down on missed appointments. Missed appointments cost the NHS £1 billion a year. My mother-in-law gets post from a range of people. If it doesn’t have an NHS logo she doesn’t know the letter is from the GP or NHS Trust. If it does she’ll leave it on the mantlepiece so my wife can make sure the appointment is on her calender. As a result she doesn’t miss an appointment costing the NHS money. That’s branding.

Finding the right place in a really big building… part one. I had a sad episode in a hospital three weeks ago. I got the phonecall at 11pm and travelled 30 miles to a hospital I didn’t know in a town I wasn’t familiar with. Bleary-eyed I knew I was getting to the right place by the hospital’s NHS branding and the clear lettering that pointed me towards A&E. There’s a reason that NHS branding is as it is. Same as British Railway typography. It’s clear, authoritative and you get the information you need from a glance. That’s branding.

Finding the right place in a really big building… part two. Hospitals are big places at the best of times. Sure, if you work there you know where it is and how it works. I’m struck by how the thought that goes into the NHS typeface can help signpost people clearly. If it’s doing that job quietly it means it’s not people turning up late for appointments or accosting staff in the corridor more than they do. That’s also branding.

Getting your message out. Your comms team have a job to communicate to people a big raft of messages. Having the templates and approaches laid out means that they’re job is easier. The have the tools and people who they want to talk to can know straight away that its the NHS trying to talk to them. That’s branding.

It saves cheaper to have one lot of branding Here’s a thing. In the NHS there are 242 separate trusts, providers and social enterprises. At £10k a pop that could be £2.42 million which I’m guessing the NHS doesn’t have. That’s branding.

It’s professional. The NHS has 1.3 million staff. They are often highly skilled professional people who do an amazing job. Not having decent branding can make the operation look a bit amateurish, to be honest. I think the people who work in the NHS deserve better.

It would be wrong to think the NHS is unique in needing to talk about the benefit of good communications. If you work in the public sector you need to tackle that question too. And make sure people in your organisation know why you do what you do.


Picture credit:  WP Paarz / Flickr

NEWS FLASH: Fake news at the Parish pump… and what comms and PR people need to do about it

 2325659252_2006a3cb31_oYou need to think about fake news.

Not the click-bait churned out by Moldovan teenagers in their bedrooms but the stuff on your neighbourhood Facebook group or page and newspaper comments page.

Around the village, estate, town or city where you live and work there are scores of groups and pages. On the internet, it’s often where people hang out. Hyperlocal blogs have been hailed as the new frontier. True, there are some cracking ones.  But it is to Facebook groups where a huge chunk of audience has gone. Almost unnoticed.

Look for stats on groups online and you are struggling. Why? Because Facebook would like to direct you to the highly monetised Facebook pages where there is an abundance of data. Look for data on groups?

So,you’ll have to go digging yourself.

Search your own groups

It’s simple. Go to Facebook. Search for a place. Search again in groups. Have a search ion pages too. A recent project at an urban borough found more than 3,000 pages and groups searching by town and community. Some had only one person. Others had 15,000.

Run your own search. You’ll be amazed. Seriously.

Facebook pages and newspaper comments

And let’s not forget that newspaper comment boxes are there and the public actions very often have thriving Facebook pages too. Let’s be honest, often there is a whiff of mob rule on them and caution is advised.

But you need to engage 

If newspaper comment boxes are a bridge to far I think we should be starting with Facebook groups. I’ve talked about the need to engage on them before. It’s a simple premise. Go to where the eyeballs are. If they are talking about you, go there.

Some of it is true. Some of it is false.

Time after time these past few months I’ve reached the same conclusion. The fact that the public sector is not by and large engaging in these places is deeply corrosive. The fact that some organisations are starting to is a useful step.

Fake news ‘be very, very, very worried.’

This isn’t a new thing. Rumour and misinformation have been going on since the days of cave drawings. Globally, the issue is massive. At News Rewired in London last week journalism academic Claire Wardle told us to be ‘very, very, very worried.’

The ability to fake a photograph is a given, she says. Making fake images go viral is easy. But faking video? Dear God. That’s now here.

Why is this particularly worrying? Because as Wardle says, we have learned to be sceptical about words. We are far less sceptical about images and are hugely trusting about video. She argues that we need to have the same scepticism about our emotional response as we do in other areas of our life.

As the Edelman Trust Barometer says, we are far more trusting of ‘people like us’ and will take on what they say or our Facebook friends say than a chief executive.

Types of Parish pump fake news

Here’s two types to look at.

Misinformation. It’s well intentioned but wrong. Back when I was in Walsall, a Muslim girl tweeted that she’d heard a Muslim boy had been stabbed by an EDL-sympathising Sikh gang. It was wrong. A West Midlands Police Deputy Chief Constable was quick to state there had been no reports.

Or it’s the rumour that polling stations were closed early in the Scottish Independence Referendum.

Or that you need to use a pen rather than a pencil to vote.

Disinformation. It’s wrong and it’s circulated knowing that it’s wrong. That’s the malicious council-bating. Like the humorous but entirely false story of the car park attendant at Bristol Zoo. Or the photoshopped shark in the floods.

There’s a whole sub-area of family court driven disinformation.  The false claim of a child abduction in Surrey that from time-to-time re-emerges. This isn’t unique.

So, is your Facebook group filled with ‘fake news’?

No. Damage isn’t the prime reason they are there. For the most part Facebook groups are community minded and more interested in people find a plumber or posting the picture of the lovely sunset. They are an excellent opportunity for you to engage with real people.

Can the Parish Facebook group be more dangerous than a national far right news site? Not on it’s own, no. But in that community? I’d argue a rogue post has huge potential to cause you damage in that community.

I’ve heard the argument, well made by Euan Semple, that there is a volume control on the mob and we should avoid it. I can sympathise with that. But I don’t think the public sector has that luxury anymore.

If conversations are taking place in dark corners on the web,

So how to engage?

Engaging on Facebook groups

  1. Join groups with your own profile as yourself.
  2. Approach admins from your own profile and ask politely if they can post your engaging sharable content things for you. Make the content you are asking relevant. A history event to entice a group interested in local history, for example.
  3. Build your relationships with the admin and the people on the group too.
  4. Remember you are representing your organisation.
  5. You don’t have to engage with every online conversation.

Engaging on Facebook pages

  1. You can comment on Facebook pages as your own Facebook page.

Engaging on online newspaper comment boxes

  1. Add comments as a named individual. Be human. Signpost. Add a link.

Look, none of this is easy. Some of it you may balk at. But it needs to be done.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

Picture credit: Andrew Feinberg / Flickr

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.