Posted: September 12, 2017 Filed under: communications, Journalism | Tags: birmingham, birmingham live, birmingham mail, future of comms and pr, future of journalism, marc reeves
I saw the past and I saw the future of newspapers within a few days of each other.
The past? A glorious documentary on the Birmingham Evening Mail from 1993. Unbroadcast it emerged on YouTube from an old VHS copy.
The future? A blog post from the newspaper’s successor as editor Marc Reeves. In it he explained the push towards a digital-first approach that will see a re-brand as Birmingham Live.
What the past looked like
The newspapers of the past were glorious places. They were staffed by journalists whose craft had not changed for a hundred years. Build contacts. Talk to them. Build stories on what they told you. It’s as simple as it is hard. I worked in the largest district office in the largest regional newspaper in the UK. There were 12 of us and three photographers and we were a team.
The Birmingham Mail documentary captured some of that. Big stories saw a reporter go out accompanied with a photographer. The deadline was print. There were some characters.
What the future looks like
For all that I loved working on those old school newspapers when I left in 2005 they were already changing. Journalism was changing too. Where I learned how to write the new journalist wrote, took pictures, blogged, worked with FOI and posted video.
As my career in communications has evolved I’ve seen what you need to do change and evolve. There are at least 40 skills you need. You can’t do all of them but your team should.
Just this month the Oldham Chronicle closed its doors for the last time a victim of the change from print to digital. In its heyday 40,000 copies were sold. When the last rites were read there was little over 6,000.
It is tempting to be sad and declare local journalism dead. From the evidence of those who are doing it, that’s not the case. The old newsrooms are dead. I get the pain of journos who have lived through that. But I also get the excitement of new thinking too.
Birmingham Mail editor Marc Reeves in his Medium post ‘I Do Run A Newspaper’ shows the path he is taking. There will be a print team. There will be a digital team. There wikll be a bit of cross-over. The digital team will focus on communities. Part geographical and part community of interest.
Two lines in particular stand out:
In an analytics-driven newsroom, you go for the stories that engage more people more meaningfully — and tell them using audio, video, data and graphics, if that’s what’s needed.
In the smartphone age, only 5 per cent of the average person’s attention is devoted to news on their device. Can we build a business by limiting ourselves to 5 per cent of people’s attention, or can we own more of the remaining 95 per cent?
Why comms people should be bothered
When I started the comms team was geared around the needs of the newspaper. Some newspapers live on. But if there is no newspaper as we know it, or it has changed from the 1993 model what should the comms team look like?
It should have more than one skill for a start.
It should have the 40 skills I blogged about and more. It should be able to articulate the organisation’s own stories in content that can be shared.
It should see the changes in the tectonic plates.
It should plan a new path while articulating why these changes are being made to those inside the organisation.
It should also be able to listen, be answerable and create content for the new newspapers of the future as well as the bloggers.
Above all it shouldn’t fear change.
Posted: September 8, 2015 Filed under: local government | Tags: birmingham, Dave Briggs, local government, localgovcamp, nick booth
So much of what I do comes indirectly from one small event in Birmingham eight years ago.
The event was the first localgovcamp in 2009. More than 100 people turned-up on a Saturday to a converted Mission church which had just been converted into a tech start-up hub. There was no agenda for the day and I only went because a few people I rated from Twitter were going.
The aim of the event was to work out how the web could be used by local government to make the world a better place. Social media was new and we were all busy experimenting with it. IT and most comms teams hadn’t even woken up to it all.
Looking back, much of what is common digital comms currency was worked out at some stage by people who were at the event. People like Nick Booth and Dave Briggs were early innovators and others followed. Election results on Facebook, frontline staff on Twitter, answering questions on social media? They were first pioneered by people who went. Small steps? Tiny now but huge Neil Armstrong leaps into the unknown back then. What has been built since came because of those experiments.
An accidental by-product of what really happened that day is that a network was built on Twitter of people who have gone onto do great things. A couple of years ago, sad man I am, I sat down with the attendee list and linkedin and created a google doc. Of the 118 attendees 28 were from local government itself and almost a third went onto start their own businesses. That’s an incredible stat. Digital Matchbox, Digital Nomads, Pigsonthewing and Data Unlocked all came from localgovcamp attendees. Comms2point0 too. Why so many? For my part, because by coming together and bouncing ideas I started thinking differently. From those still inside local government the localgovdigital network emerged too.
Stuart Harrison from Lichfield Council brought his decks with ‘Chuck D for President’ and played the tunes. He’s doing cool things with data with Tim Berners-Lee’s organisation now.
But, what is localgovcamp?
It’s an unconference which means the agenda is drawn-up on the day. Tickets are free. It’s for people who work in and around local government. That can mean engineers, policy people, web developers, librarians and comms people. From the first event in 2009 it’s happened most years. This year it is in Leeds.
Here are 10 things anyone can learn from localgovcamp
- You can learn an amazing amount about digital comms from non-PR people. Back in the early days it was bloggers, web developers and policy people who blazed the trail. They still do. They don’t care about tradition. They just build things and see if they work.
- The unconference is still a brilliant model for learning and sharing. I’ve been to many events since the first localgovcamp. I’ve never felt inspired by a PowerPoint presentation. I have by an unconference session where a room full of people have challenged, debated and worked out some answers although not every unconference session works.
- There was an era when local government raced ahead with digital.I look back really fondly on the two or three years at the start of the decade when it felt the rule book for digital comms was being written by junior people who ‘got it’ and were bouncing bigger and better ideas off each other.
- Learning about what other people do is important… even if its nothing to do with your job.Comms people need to get out more. They really do. Hearing what other people do is valuable. If you feel as though you’re in a bubble you probably are. Get out more. Listen to other people. See what they are doing.
- Local government is brilliant, but…. There can be more than 700 services delivered by your council. It’s strength is also it’s weakness. Try and name more than a dozen and you are struggling. It’s strength is it does so much. It’s weakness is it does so much. Very few of those services are used by everyone which means that people can think that helping older people is a waste of money. As a comms challenge that’s really tricky.
- Running an unconference is pretty straightforward. Find a room. Persuade some sponsors to pay for it and some rooms and away you go. Put up an Eventbrite to issue tickets. It’s the idea that led to commscamp. Easy.
- The best idea can come from the most unexpected place. The number of pips on the shoulder is no guarantee of great ideas. The best ideas I’ve heard at localgovcamps have been from people I may not have ever met doing a job I never would have thought much about.
- Giving stuff away is good. I first started blogging in 2009 to try and contribute to the debate and think things through. I share links because I think they have some value. Doors that have opened-up in my career have opened because of the stuff I’ve given away.
- It’s important for people from a sector to come together to be reminded ‘it’s not us, it’s them.’ There’s a value of being able to connect and let off steam a bit. That’s really important to local government – and any sector – at a time like this.
Stuart Harrison Arun Marsh / Flickr
Posted: January 3, 2015 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: birmingham, impact hub birmingham, kickstarter
There is a real tangible mood of optimism sweeping Birmingham and the West Midlands as 2015 comes into view.
Lonely Planet named Brum as one of the 10 best cities in the world and there have been a raft of stories of the flow of 30-something entrepreneurs and tech people leaving London for Birmingham and finding life better there. It’s nice to get external recognition. But in our corner of the world the West Midlands has been a bit great for a while. There’s a community of digital people. Many first met at events like the long-running Birmingham Social Media Cafe or at coffee houses or unconferences where people collaborate and meet people.
We’re also backing the Impact Hub Birmingham Kickstarter to build co-working and events space in Digbeth. It’s a venue and an idea whose time has really come. You can read more about it here.
Why are comms2point0 backing Hub Brum?
A couple of reasons. We’re backing it so we can have some co-working space a few times a week to get things done, use the WiFi and enjoy a cup of coffee. In my first year concentrating on comms2point0 full-time I’ve recognised the need for a regular space. But not a full-time office. Sometimes, this is to stick headphones in and zone out. Other times, this is to bounce ideas around and contribute to other ideas. We also rather like the social change stuff too. The people behind it are keen to collaborate on projects to make Birmingham a better place to live. That rather appeals. There is work to be done and there are people who want to see it happen.
We’ll be using Impact Hub Birmingham as a physical base. The comms2point0 website, of course, will continue and thrive.
Why am I excited about 2015?
Eighty per cent of new businesses fail in the first 12-months. We’ve celebrated 12-months being registered with Companies House. Geddin. I’ve been full time. The long nights staring at the ceiling wondering if this can work have gone. They’ve been replaced by a wish there was more hours in the day and more capacity. If I’m honest, time spent with my family has suffered. My wife Clare has been amazing. Time spent with them in Wales between Christmas and New Year has been valued.
Mary McKenna once wrote that running your own business means one day off a year. I can see what she means. When I explain the time, love and effort it requires people almost always look horrified. The man who wrote that you work 80 hours a week for yourself so you don’t work 40 hours for someone else is dead right and I’ve a long list of people to thank who have helped, given advice and have hired both me and Darren.
If 2014 was a start then 2015 is when comms2point0 really takes off. There are ideas in the pipeline we think you’ll love.
Why are we excited about 2015?
In all the fun and excitement often people think that comms2point0 is just me. That’s not true. It’s always been a collaboration between myself and Darren Caveney. The original idea for the platform was Darren’s and we fleshed out how it would work watching a game of cricket. Our plannning meetings are a thing of wonder and it is amazing what you can produce when you have enough cake and coffee. But the black and white images and the look and feel of the website? That’s all Darren, that is.
I’m pleased to say that 2015 will see an even greater input from Darren and ideas that will push things on.
Posted: August 4, 2014 Filed under: communications | Tags: #commsforchange14, birmingham, bond company, comms2point0, commsforchange, event, local government, PSCSF, public sector
I’m pleased to say that comms2point0 is joining forces with Public Sector Customer Services Forum to stage an event which we think will deliver a stack of value.
We think this will work for comms and PR people but we think this will also be valuable for people who are working in your organisation on projects big and small that need communicating.
We could just give you a list of speakers but want to tell you about how this came about.
We had a conversation with someone a while back about big public sector projects and what separates the good ones from the bad.
As we talked we pictured a very real scenario and we came up with two options to choose from.
First, the scenario… part of your organisation has a great idea that could change how something is done, save money and lead to a better service.
What could go wrong?
Well, here are the options…
Option one: Project team don’t really bother with the comms until the end because they’re too busy and anyway, they don’t see the point. The comms team get left in the dark by the project team until the end… and the idea fails. “Clearly, it was the comms team,” the project team mutter. “There was nothing wrong with our idea. That was brilliant.”
“If only they’de spoken to us earlier,” the comms team mutter back.
Result: failure, unhappy project team, unhappy comms team and an angry chief executive.
Option two: Project team sit down with the comms team from the start. They shape a comms plan that they both know will work. There’s a project objective. There’s a comms objective that’s identical. There’s something to measure to know if the comms is working. The idea gets well communicated by the comms team. It’s a success.
“Hooray,” say the project team. “Our idea that we had in a room with six people in it has become a success amongst thousands,” say the project team.
“Hooray,” say the comms team, “we took that bright idea and we worked with you to tell the right people outside the room about it at the right time and got them to do the right thing.”
Result: happy project team, happy comms team, success and a happy chief executive.
Of course, we’d all choose the second scenario, wouldn’t we?
The thing is, life is not like that, and we can all reel off a long list of times when it hasn’t and fewer times when it has.
What you’ll get out of #commsforchange14
So, at the end of our conversation we grew convinced of the need to put on an event that would set out the reasons for getting the project team and the comms team together early to make the thing a success.
We wanted comms people and project people speaking to share how they did it.
We wanted comms people to be fired up to go back and knock on the doors of big project people so they could get involved to help make a difference.
We wanted public sector people to be fired up to go back and make friends with their comms teams to see how they could make their project a success.
We wanted the event to be partly traditional, with speakers and slides so the success stories could be articulated and you’d know what you’d get.
But we wanted an unconference element in the afternoon because we’ve run them before at commscamp and for LGComms and with PSCSF and we know they will work. This sees that part of the agenda drawn-up based on what the people in the room wanted to talk about. Maybe there were lessons to be shared.
We wanted an event that showed why getting comms involved early and them being on the top table will help the organisation.
Of course, the great thing about doing comms2point0 is being able to turn a conversation and an idea into reality and with the excellent Nick Hill of Public Sector Customer Services Forum we’ve done just that andon Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham #commsforchange will become a reality.
Who will be speaking?
There’s a range of hand picked people for you here:
John McPherson, Internal Communications Manager, Leeds City Council
Victoria Ford, Head of Communications, DVLA
Iain Patterson, Chief Technology Officer, DVLA
Adrian Capon, Senior Communications Manager, Yorkshire Housing (TBC)
Dan Slee, Co-founder, comms2point0
Darren Caveney, Co-founder, comms2point0
You can find more out about the event on Wednesday September 24 at the Bond Company, Fazeley Street, Birmingham by clicking the link here.
Make things better
Posted: March 9, 2014 Filed under: blogging | Tags: birmingham, birmingham city council, blogging, chief executive, dancing nut, derek sivers, leadership, local government, mark, mark rogers, West Midlands, YouTube
Three great things happened in local government in the West Midlands last week and it’s been a while since that happened.
Firstly, new Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers posted his first blog in his first week in charge there… and it was human. It didn’t fall into the trap of councilspeak. Or jargon. It felt like it was written by a real person. Online, the mood of staff and those who care about the city rose by several degrees. You can read the blog here and see some of the reaction here.
Okay, so this is a small step and ranged against the good times is the small matter of the £822 million that needs to be saved from Birmingham’s budget, the need to sell-off the flagship NEC, the 1,000 jobs that will go this year and the need to turn around the giant super-tanker pretty darn quick.
The task facing Birmingham City Council is immense. It’s going to hurt. But the knowledge that there is a human being in charge gives an injection of hope and the knowledge that the city stands a chance. You could argue that from this point on Mark will never be as popular. You could also say that times must be bad for public sector when a demonstration of being obviously human behaviour from someone at the top gets such a warm welcome.
And engaging on Twitter
Secondly, Mark started to engage with people online and Twitter saw a few human interactions between the bloke in charge and the bloke who does things for him as a far smaller part of the wheel. He even quoted Joe Strummer.
Lessons from a dancing nut
Thirdly, and rather wonderfully someone in Mark’s network Liz Newton shared a link that Mark suggested people go watch. It’s leadership lessons drawn in under three minutes by a dancing guy in a field at a festival. At first, it’s just one dancing guy but in under three minutes the field is transformed.
(QUICK NOTE: THE YOUTUBE CLIP REALLY IS A KEEPER SO DON’T SKIP IT.)
To quote the narrative spoken by Derek Sivers who posted the video:
First of course, a leader needs the guts to stand alone and look ridiculous. But what he is doing is so simple it’s almost instructional. This is key. It must be easy to follow. Now here comes the first follower with a really crucial role. He shows everyone else how to follow. Notice how the leader embraces him as an equal so it’s not about the leader anymore it’s about THEM the plural. It takes guts to be the first follower. You stand out and you brave ridicule yourself. The first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader. If the leader is the flint the first follower is the spark.
Now here’s the second follower… this is the turning point. It’s proof the first has done well. Now, it’s not a lone nut and it’s not two nuts. Three is a crowd and a crowd is news. A movement must be public. Make sure outsiders see more than just the leader. Everyone needs to see followers because new followers emulate followers.
Now we’ve got momentum. This is the tipping point. Now we have a movement.
Leadership is really over-glorified… there is no movement without the first follower. When you see a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.’
So, that’s three lessons for leaders delivered by social media by one lone bloke in a suit in less than a week.