PUNK ATTITUDE: Today’s comms person needs to learn three chords and form a band over and over to still have a job in 20 years time

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It’s funny how two things collide and you start thinking about things in new ways.

Take today. I’m reading Jon Savage’s history of punk  ‘England’s Dreaming.’ It talks of Sniffing Glue fanzine’s revolutionary advice on forming a band. Learn two chords. Then a third. Now form a band.

Why? Because punk was simple. Anyone could do it. You needed a lot of attitude and some talent.

Later today, I’m reading Paul Sutton talking about the music industry and how society will change in 20 years time when there are those who’ve only ever known social media.

It got me thinking.

Never mind society. Will there even be a place for today’s comms people in a world in 20 years time when there are people around who’ve always known social media?

Your music collection is shaped by someone you’ve never met

Here’s a story. Bear with me. Once, when I worked in local government comms I worked with the museums service on an exhibition to celebrate the life and career of a bloke called Steve Jenkins.

Steve who?

Steve Jenkins.

The exhibition ‘Kylie, Britney, Justin and Me’ was about Steve’s behind-the-scenes role in the music industry across 25 years. He was a hugely powerful figure who had a role in more than 140 top 40 UK hits. He was part of the talent-spotting team that signed Britney Spears as part of a two year project to find the new Madonna. He was MD of Jive Records and the marketing brains behind Stock, Aiken and Waterman. He is a fascinating bloke.

He was also a press officer’s dream. Pete Waterman? They both used to plan campaigns in the back of a car going to Walsall games. Or the time they HAD to get Kylie’s album in the Top 40 or Pete faced ruin. They did. Just. And a pop star was born. Boom.

I met Steve back in 2009 and we’d only just started to use social media. He was intrigued by it. I’d love to go back and use what I’ve learned to promote it.

Save yourself by being a geek

Steve Jenkins got good because he was a geek about music and how the charts worked. As a record industry marketeer, he discovered that by promoting your record in Woolworths on a certain day with certain strategies would be the difference between a new entry at 38 – and the boost of a mention on Top of the Pops – and one that would stall at 42 and sink without trace. So, he signed an exclusive deal with Woolworths that saw only him place promotional content in their chain of stores. If you were a record exec who wanted to break top 40 you’d have to deal with him and his marketing company.

I often think of Steve when today I hear comms geeks speak about a way they’ve maybe got the algorithm to work for them. You’ve got to know the topic, love it, be able to take it apart and put it back together again and think about nothing but it when you’re walking down the street.

And once you’ve cracked it you need to do it all over again.

Why is this relevant?

To understand ANY landscape you need to be a geek and that won’t change. How people use social media shifts rapidly. For people who’ve only known social media understanding it in 2038 would be no trouble. They’d be fascinated by it but would they be a geek about it? Some will. Some won’t.

What the landscape will look like in 20 years

Today, it’s fine to have a range of traditional and digital skills. But the dial is turning slowly towards digital and it’s not turning back. Two things not to be fooled by? That the future will be 100 per cent digital. Or that your ability to write a press release will save you. It won’t. There was a pitch at commscamp last week about Analogue Comms and what role it still plays. If I’d have gone to that session I’d have said that what we’ll need are not skills but an attitude.

Your challenge? You’ll have to float and adapt

But the big challenge for those of us around today and who want to be in 20 years is in attitude. You’ll need to be able to float and adapt. Lessons learned in the early days of the internet are already as out-of-date as 1976’s payola tricks for today’s music pluggers. Those who have made their name in working out what the social web is for need to know this.

The gap between head frying innovation and mundane expectation has never been shorter. Once, telling people election results on Facebook in real time was ground-breaking. Today? That’s bread and butter.

When Punk came, new lessons had to be learned.

History tells us that not everyone will adapt.

To survive, you may have to ditch every single thing you know.

You’ll need to learn three new chords and form a new band.

Over and over.

That’s going to be your challenge.

Excited by that yet?

Picture credit: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr 


PATHWAY: We are alone together

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You need good boots and a wise head to walk the Appalachian Trail. It is 2,190 miles long and cuts through the lonely American wilderness.

Almost 3,000 people walk it’s daunting dark length from end-to-end every year and from time-to-time people go missing.

Risks faced by the traveller include the American black bear, mosquitos, yellowjackets, poison ivy, biting flies and dangerous streams.

The trail is linked by camping points a day’s walk apart. Sometimes they are just clearings but they are places walkers pitch a tent, meet and swap trail stories. Knowing there is a ford ahead can make the next day safer.

Five years ago we launched commscamp on a clear blue sky excited about the power and possibility of exploring the green empty space of the internet.

This year, there was the sense that things have evolved. There was a feeling more people used the event as safety trail camp. New things to learn? Yes. But most of all a sanity check.

The world has changed and we are trying to all change with it. Fractured channels. New audiences. New demands on time. Income targets. Bad intranets. Bad comms plans. Bad managers. Not enough time. Time taken over by an emergency. Not enough budget.

Not enough regard for what we do.

There are still people looking to innovate and get good at new things. But there are less people wide-eyed at the possibility. The militant optimists from the early years have moved on. I miss them. Those that remain on the trail are quieter somehow but more determined. They know that they are still travelling through uncharted forests. Through the trees they can sometimes hear the crunch of nearby footsteps of fellow travellers. We are alone together. We know this path will take years to complete.

It’s things like Commscamp, the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group and other places that are the safe camping points to rest.

Knowing you are not alone is just as important today as it was five years ago.

Picture credit: VinceTraveller / Flickr


FIFTH LIST: 23 things and a safety net from commscamp

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A couple of days on from the 5th commscamp in Birmingham and the dust has settled a little. I’m on a train reflecting.

1. There is a need for this. The first batch of tickets went in two minutes. The second in four. That’s 70 tickets in six minutes. There isn’t a need for gimmicks. Just a room and good people.
2. This is our tribe. Someone used these words to describe the people in the room. I get that. They’re people impatient to do a better job.
3. Around three quarters of the live video session had tried live video. That’s a figure that surprised me. Last year it would have been a handful.
4. You can’t get to all the sessions you want to even when you organise the thing.
5. Cake is a force for good.
6. Kate Bentham is a force for good.
7. We are starting to be faced with the idea of talking to people in Facebook groups. But we are very nervous about using our own profiles to do this.
8. The trend in sessions seems to have evolved from tech to safety net. It is important that people have moral support. It is tough in the public sector at the moment.
9. After a major incident, you need to look after the comms team weeks and month after the event.
10. It is getting harder not easier.
11. There is still a place for print.
12. Commscamp has led to other ideas and events just like other events led to commscamp.
13. If you are not competent at video you need to be.
14. The real value of an unconference comes not on the day but in six months time.
15. The fax is more popular than the press release.
16. With live video the important thing is just to do it. You can refine and improve with experience.
17. Windows phones and blackberries don’t allow you to fully communicate.
18. Steph Gray is very quick at writing good content. An engaging post within a couple of hours.
19. Nigel Bishop takes good pictures.
20. Emma Rodgers is a good person to plan an event with.
21. Anyone can run an unconference.
22. When we started these, it felt like the war to convince people to use digital wasn’t won. Now it is. But the struggle continues against ignorance, box-ticking and bad digital just as it always has done. Are we winning? I think we are. We can look over our shoulders and see where we’ve come from. But there are battles ahead. Nirvana isn’t instant. It is hard-won.
23. The volunteers, sponsors and attendees who came and made this a success are brilliant.
24. I’m glad we tried Friday but it feels too close to the weekend and I’m not sure its the best day for the event.
The next commscamp will be in Birmingham on July 12 2018. There may be others before. You can sign-up for updates here.

LOVE ACTUALLY: When you’re communicating head v heart, heart wins

24959597261_299c0c94d4_b“How?” said one person in the packed room. “How the hell did that happen?”

More than 20 people were crammed into a small room with a dozen chairs at commscamp in Birmingham for the topic on Brexit.

After 40-minutes of pulling apart the claim, counter-claim and post-fact democracy one moment of clarity emerged of how the campaign ended as it did.

Leave won because they appealed to the heart not the head.

Remain lost because they appealed to the head.

As a piece of clarity it’s drifted into my head several times since.

That big pile of numbers you’re trying to communicate? Can you find something that appeals to the heart?

Stop. Think of times when you’ve been moved by the heart. Me? More than 12-months ago the refugee found that when three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned and was fetched from the surf by a policeman.

In the US, the family of the dead war veteran Donald Trump picked on appealed to the heart too.

Look around you and you’ll find more.

The ability to understand with the head but tell a story to appeal to the heart is priceless for someone looking to communicate.

Do you?

Picture credit: Bex Walton / Flickr 


SIMPLE TIPS: How to run your own unconference

19647936231_193292f98c_kMy favourite day of the year from a professional point of view is one where I earn no money and work like a Trojan with others to make happen.

Commscamp has been staged for the past four years in Birmingham and brings 180 largely public sector comms people together.

It’s an unconference which means that the agenda is decided on the day.

But aside from the conversation, ideas and connections from the day the best thing was hearing some people also want to stage an unconference too. There may be one. There may be two. Who knows? Fantastic. I really hope they do it.

The basics about unconferences I learned from Dave Briggs, Steph Gray and Lloyd Davies. All wonderful people. We staged unconferences because we’d been to a few and fancied having a go ourselves. John Peel used to say punk made it easy. All you had to do was push over a telephone box and sell your brother’s motorbike and you had enough money for a demo. It’s not that different with an unconference.

So here are a few tips.

  1. No-one owns it. Lloyd is quite right in saying that unconferences are not owned by anyone. So have a go.
  2. Find some likeminded people.
  3. Just book some space.
  4. Put up an eventbrite to distribute the tickets.
  5. Scrape together a smidge of sponsorship and UKGovcamp can help with that.
  6. Shout about it.
  7. On the day relax and have fun.
  8. That’s it.
  9. That’s really it.

See? It’s that simple.

I’d also be tempted to do it slightly seperate with what you are doing at work. So, it’s not the day job. But it’s a seperate thing helps the day job. That way you get all the fun stuff but none of the middle manager barriers.

One absolute true-ism from Lloyd is that everyone who goes tends to to love them. But then would like to make a minor change. ‘It was great, but if only we could pre-plan the sessions, that would be marvellous.’ Or whatever the suggestion is.

Don’t.

Keep it simple.

Just have some space. A Facebook group works to get people thinking about sessions beforehand. Decide what you are going to talk about on the day. Then give the thing to the people in the room and they will always, always, always deliver.

Picture credit: Sasha Taylor / Flickr

 


UNCHANGE: There’s never been a more useful time for commscamp

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It’s happening again, I can feel it.

I wasn’t sure if the magic would return somehow but it feels as though it has already.

The magic is Commscamp. It’s a sort of magic that happens once a year when 150 people come together determined to make brighter ideas.

What makes the magic? People who give a damn and want to do things better. People who want to help see that too. And people who like cake. Definitely, people who like cake.

The truth is it also feels like there’s never been a more important time for an event like commscamp. It feels as though it is really needed this year.  Against the backdrop of Brexit, cuts and rapid change there is a need for people to come together compare notes and work things out.

And yet

The phrase that runs through what I’ve done over the past seven or eight years is ‘militant optimism.’ At its heart is a resolve to do things better despite everything

At times, optimism takes a battering. A change of boss. Cuts. More cuts. Brexit. Change. New platforms. Keeping pace. The firm request for a back of bus ad you have to push back on. The easier thing would be to throw in the towel.

Why I think the magic is back

Planning an event like this is easier the more you do it. Writing emails to printers at 11pm when you haven’t seen your family all day is not ‘fun.’

But one moment this week made me think the magic was back. Late night I was looking down the session idea pitches in the Commscamp Facebook group.

  • Income generation. How do we?
  • Live streaming video. How should we?
  • If everyone is a comms expert how do I make my professional advice heard?
  • How can you stay politically restricted and still have a voice?
  • How can I put a cat amongst the pigeons?
  • Coping with guilt and reality post-cuts.
  • Virtual reality video: a beginners guide.
  • A cathartic session just to let rip a bit.

I want to go to them all. Reading them I was reminded why I love it. And I looked at the list of people who want to volunteer to make that happen.

If you can’t come you can still play a part

There’s a limited amount of room and we know that not everyone who wants to come can come. We’ll look to livestream some sessions, post to Twitter on the #commscamp16 hashtag and blog. If you are out of the room we’ll try and find a way you can catch-up.

But one thing makes it worthwhile

If there is one issue that makes commscamp this year really worth it for me it’s Brexit and how we cope with it. I’ve got this strong sense that there’s a strong sense of uncertainty that we would do well to tackle.

It would be great if we could tackle that together.

It feels like the magic is back.

Let’s make it so, shall we?

Commscamp is staged in Birmingham on Thursday July 14. Tickets are sold out.

Picture credit: Ann Kempster / Flickr


Commscamp: 29 things from me and a thank you

ccA couple of days after a good event is often the time to reflect and make sense of things. So with a cup of coffee that’s what I’m doing.

Commscamp was that good event and one that drew 154 comms, PR and digital people from across the public sector in the UK.

As an unconference, the day has no agenda, with the sessions getting decided on the day by people who came along. There were NHS, local government, Welsh Government, UK government and one or two third sector.

Was it a good event? It seems slightly self-regarding to call something you helped organise ‘good.’ But I’m sure my fellow co-organisers Emma Rodgers and Darren Caveney would agree that it really, really is the attendees who make it. We just provide the space.

Here are 20 things that struck me.

  1. I love the look in the eyes of some people who came for the first time who revelled in the permission to talk, think and do with freedom. It’s important that everyone is on the same level. Organisers included. I’m quite nostalgic for that.
  2. A pre-event curry and drinks are a good thing.
  3. Cake really does bring people together and Kate Bentham is brilliant at building that spirit. So is Andy Mabbett.
  4. Music playlists also bring people together. Big up Sarah Lay and everyone who contributed.
  5. The spirit of the event can be summed up by a first time attendee called Chloe ending up helping out on the check-in desk minutes after she arrived.
  6. Twitter running commentaries by John Fox are a good thing.
  7. There is a need for people who are trying out new things in their organisation to come together face-to-face to remind themselves that it is not ‘you’ but ‘them’ who are the problem.
  8. Birmingham in the sunshine looks great.
  9. Next year we are hiring a canal barge and running a session in it.
  10. David Banks is on the money with media law in a changing landscape. You really should make friends with him. Or sign-up for his regular emails.
  11. It would be great to get a handful of private sector people along who came in the spiurit of sharing not selling.
  12. It would be great to get some third sector and not for profit people along. Catching-up with Laila Takeh at the post-event pint made me even more convinced of that.
  13. A junior media officer can have better ideas than a self-appointed thought leader or head of a big department. No-one has the monopoly.
  14. Media teams should stop doing things that aren’t their job at all. First, do so by being polite. Then by banging the table a bit. This doesn’t happen in planning or legal. Stop under valuing your job.
  15. Sitting round for a good whinge is quite theraputic.
  16. Sitting round to be deliberately optimistic is also theraputic.
  17. Bad intranets are a symptom of an organisation that doesn’t care about or trust staff.
  18. There’s no point replacing the intranet and building something better until you tackle the culture. Sorry.
  19. Musterpoint is a hootsuite for the public sector built by someone from the public sector.
  20. There are still some people who think that giving staff social media should be controlled and treated as an extension of core trad comms. I fundamentally disagree.
  21. Maybe we don’t need intranets.
  22. No matter how many unconferences you go to you end up wanting to be in two places at once.
  23. A first ticket release that went in less than three minutes is quite something.
  24. Nigel Bishop takes good video and pictures.
  25. Big up Sasha Taylor, Sian Fording, Rob McCleary, Nicky Speed, Kelly Quigley-Hicks and Amanda Nash and James Cattell for their volunteering.
  26. I’d like to be part of the team of volunteers who does another one of these next year. It was good to see old faces and new. I hope co-founder Ann Kempster can come next year.
  27. There’s still so much to do.
  28. Having good sponsors helps. Thank you Christine at MusterPoint, David and Paul at Govdelivery, Liz and Jason at Knowledge Hub, Kirstie and Scott at Touch Design, Steph at Helpful Technology, Pete at IEWM, Nick at PSCSF and supporters Alex and David at GCS, Hannah at LGA, Rachel at All Things IC and Phil at the NUJ.
  29. Thank you if you came because you helped make it a success.