PRINT TALE: What journalism can teach you about where communications should be headed

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I remember where I was when the old news media died for me. It happened in a phone call from a journalist.

“Look,” he started off. “When you write something on Twitter could you do me a favour and give me a call, please?”

I said I couldn’t. Not because I was being awkward but because it wouldn’t work.  I suggested he join Twitter himself. This was when Twitter was in its infancy.

Time has passed and the news media is being re-born. Many of the old ways have gone. Digital first has come into play. In other words, not sitting on news until the next edition but publishing it as soon as it breaks and driving traffic to the website.

Time was when all the innovation was happening in local government. There are still bright people doing bright things but as the sector has suffered austerity many have moved on. Newspapers are now working out what the future looks like. They have swapped print dollars for digital dimes. It’s not always pretty to look at for time served journalists. But their need to find an audience to survive teaches lessons for communications people.

One of the best places to see where the cutting edge is is through the Reuters Institute of Journalism.  Based at the University of Oxford the body brings academic rigour and research to the sector. There are lessons for communications people too in their Digital News Report 2017.

Resistance to change will be punished

Newspapers have had 20 years to make sense of the internet and have largely failed, the report says. Who creates the news is less important to people in 2017 than the places where they can get it. Audiences and advertisers have embraced new technology. The brighter news organisations have too. But whether the public sector has or not, I’m really not sure. If the expectation of the public sector is that people will come to them for information because they are the public sector history shows a shock is in store. The audience has moved away from newspapers who thought just that.

News in the UK is consumed mostly online

The art of writing a press release is still part of the mix. But as people move away from print media they are consuming news online. But the content of news online is often sharable content from video, images to infographics. Is your content mirroring this trend?

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People consume the news online but can’t remember where they read it

‘I read that on Facebook,’ is the response. ‘But I don’t remember who told me.’ This is really significant. It means that people are consuming information without looking too closely at the masthead of what delivered it. Reuters Institute research showed that 47 per cent couldn’t remember the people that served the news they’d read. The important thing for me is to have content on Facebook. It is less important where that presence can be found. So, sure, a Facebook page. But it is most important just to get your content out and circulating.

Whats App as a channel for news is important

We can’t see it so we can’t measure it. But 40 per cent in the UK use Whats App for news and 36 per cent use Facebook messenger. The Guardian, for example, deliver a daily message through Facebook Messenger. If that can be done for news, why not for public sector news?

People prefer an algorithm to serve their news more than an editor

More than half prefer an algorithm setting their news agenda as opposed to 44 preferring an editor, the Digital News Report says. For under 35s the algorithm figure rises to 64 per cent.

So, if people are happy to have their news served to them doesn’t it make sense for your news and messages to be in the places that are going to be hoovered up? This points to Google News and Facebook. There is no direct footprint a public sector organisation can have in Google News but there is in Facebook.

In summary

If you work in communications and PR look outside the sector too for clues on how to communicate better. Newspapers, or rather media companies, are evolving as well as dying. Their business model is based around reaching an audience. There are things they are doing which can teach us all. Often I’ll talk about public sector communications. There can be an inherent laziness sometimes about reaching an audience because there is no bottom line or sales target. But that’s not good enough.


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


CAFE SOCIETY: How the secret of coffee and cake can network your organisation’s comms

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For five years I worked in the public sector trying to embed digital communications across the organisation and in that time we found two secrets.

We won an award and we managed to get people on the frontline keen and engaged.

But what ingredients made this happen?

Two things. An open social media policy that allowed people from across the organisation to use it after some training. But a piece of paper only goes far. It opens the door but it won’t send everyone charging past and into the warm water. Here’s what really did. A regular meet-up where everyone who used social media was invited. We had three topics. No slides. We would try and meet off-site too to encourage creative thinking. A cafe was best.

The sessions were deliberately open and we encouraged people who were trying new things to talk about what they had learned.

Why involve people from across the organisation?

To share the sweets, of course. It’s something I’ve blogged about before. Social media shouldn’t be a communications thing. It should be an every service area thing. And sometimes we need our enthusiasm re-fired and a lesson shared to re-charge our batteries.

And one of the biggest challenges in all of this is for this not to be a comms’ own meeting. This shouldn’t be the head of comms lecturing everyone how it should be. It should be people from across the organisation working it out together. But more than that. Open it up to partners too. And anyone who is interested from the public. Widen the circle.

Here’s a secret. Two actually

Very often organisations can have more than 100 channels. Often they work seperately from each other and there can be painfully little collaboration.

That’s where the cake and coffee come in. Here’s the thing: if you talk to each other you’ll share ideas and very often work better. The customer services person, the librarian and the media officer. None of them have a monopoly on good ideas.

Try it. Let me know how it goes.

Shout if I can help. I’m dan@comms2point0.co.uk and @danslee.

Picture credit: Susanne Nilsson / Flickr 

 

 


COMMS CHANGE: You need to re-think what post-truth comms looks like too

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Reading through the post-Trump and post-Brexit assessment of where we are one passage stood out.

It’s from David Simas, Barack Obama’s political director, in a lengthy New Yorker piece you can read here.

It’s touches upon Facebook fake news and echo chambers:

“Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said.

“The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”

And I read this in former CIPR President Stephen Waddington’s Facebook timeline.

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It’s public so I’m not betraying confidences. You can see it here.

I don’t have immediate answers to what post-truth comms needs to look like. But it feels like UK diplomat Tom Fletcher’s words about communicating like an insurgent form part of it.  I’m heartened there are people looking for the answers. But I’d say that that’s not enough. You can’t outsource it. It cuts straight to trust, audience and effectiveness. If you are working in the field of communications in the public sector this is something you need to tackle too.

Picture credit: Duncan Parkes / Flickr


POP STAR: What I learned from one of the most powerful men in pop music: be a geek

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A few years ago I did the PR for the most famous man in Walsall you’ver never heard of.

Sure, the borough is not over-stocked with famous people. Three Men in a Boat author Jerome K. Jerome came from the place and so did Noddy Holder, swimmer Ellie Simmonds and drum and bass pioneer Goldie. All good within their own field, sure.

So, in that list most people wouldn’t add Steve Jenkins.

Steve who?

You will have bought, listen to or hummed any of the more than 150 top 40 hits he was connected with. Think Billy Ocean, Steps, The Stone Roses, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Steps, Kylie Minogue. They wouldn’t be where they are without Steve Jenkin’s role in the machinery behind them.

Steve started his career in the music industry in the 1970s with The Beatles’ management company before moving through the industry to become MD of Jive Records. He did the promo for Stock Aiken and Waterman. He was part of a team who signed an unknown Britney Spears. In the industry he was one of the most powerful men for a very long time.

How did I get to know him?

He’s proud of Walsall so we staged an exhibition of his gold discs, fan memorabelia and the social history of pop music. It was great. He brought Pete Waterman along and a load of others.

So what?

I was reminded of him by this YouTube interview he gave where he talked about the slightly dark art of targeting record shops that featured in the chart returns. His team would go from store-to-store, offer free records for display and then quietly move them to the front of the rack. So, people browsing through ‘K’ would be met with Kylie Minogue straight away, for example. As Steve says, this was all above board and would only have a marginal impact. But if persued energetically it maybe the difference between a new chart entry at 29 and 35.

Here he is talking about it:

So why is that on a comms blog?

Simple. During the months of working on the exhibition one thing above all struck me. He was a geek. In the best sense of the word. He was a geek about the pop charts in the 70s, 80s, and 90s especially. He knew everything about it. How it worked. How it didn’t work. Because he knew it backwards he knew where the difference could be made. So, he knew when to release a record and which Woolworth stores to promote it in. Him and Pete Waterman would plan the promo campaign for bands while on the way to Walsall games.

He was a joy to do press with. Five journalists would spend 20 minutes with him one after another and all leave with a brilliant different anecdote, He has an autobiography you may like.

If only the social web was around when we ran the exhibition. We could have by-passed everyone and gone straight to the fan sites.

Take this lesson from him… know your stuff backwards. Kick the tyres. Learn. See what others do. See where you can get better. Experiment. Be bold.

Above all, pick a subject. Love it. Be a geek on it.  Know it backwards.

Picture  credit: Marco Verch / Flickr


#FUTUREPROOFED: A book to bang a table with

fp2-cover-shotWhen I worked in the public sector there was a bunch of people a decade ago who would bang the table not being satisfied with business as usual.

They would experiment and try different things. If there was no rule book they would write their own with a spirit of JFDI – just flipping do it. Sometimes they’d put their career on the line just to try something out.

So, I’d learn more from bloggers, coders and engineers as to how to use the social web than I did from the PR establishment. Bold experiments of yesterday quickly became today’s routine.

It’s an approach that has shaped my approach and for many others in the public sector.

I’m happy to say, there is a movement centred on private sector PR just as happy to write new rule books where there are none. Through challenge, experiment and boldness there’s a feeling that there is a better way.

Stephen Waddington in his introduction to the first Future Proof: The Go To Guide For Managers of Agencies and Communications Teams talks of there never being a more exciting time to be in the industry. I’d agree with that. You can download that here for free.

Now, Future Proof: Edition Two has been published.  I’m hugely excited to have written a chapter on the role of video in communications in this book. But I’m far more excited to know that there are more than 30 chapters from fellow travellers who aren’t satisfied with business as usual too.

Hats off to those who wrote chapters and to Sarah Hall for pulling this together.

You can buy the book here in print and kindle here.

A chapter a day handily is set to be released here if you can’t afford the book.

Future Proof: Edition Two chapters

COMMANDING THE RESPECT OF THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND THE PITCH TO EMPLOYERS by Francis Ingham

STRONG TOGETHER: WORKING TOWARDS A COMMUNITY OF THEORY AND PRACTICE IN PUBLIC

RELATIONS by Stephen Waddington

WHAT BREXIT TAUGHT US ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY FOR PR Rob Brown

ECONOMICS SOCIAL DIALOGUE AND PUBLIC RELATIONS Ezri Carlebach

SERVING THE MEMBERSHIP: IS IT TIME FOR THE CIPR AND PRCA TO MERGE? Richard Houghton

MAXIMISING THE TRUE VALUE OF MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS TO DRIVE IMPROVEMENT

Matthew Hopkins

FROM PURPOSE TO PERFORMANCE: A RADICAL APPROACH TO STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT

Sean Trainor

CHARTING THE COURSE OR JUST KEEPING YOU AFLOAT: IS HUMAN RESOURCES TAKING YOUR

BUSINESS WHERE IT NEEDS TO GO? Elizabeth Baines

SOCIAL MOBILITY IN PR: A CAREER OPEN TO ALL Sarah Stimson

STITCHING TOGETHER GOOD CORPORATE BEHAVIOUR Karan Chadd

STORIES VERSUS FACTS: DO COMMUNICATORS HAVE A PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY TO ENSURE THE

PUBLIC ISN’T MISLED? Stuart Bruce

CONTINUOUS PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT (CPD): CAN IT HELP YOU IN A CHANGING WORLD?

Sally Keith

THE JOURNEY OF THE ENGAGED EMPLOYEE Bea Aar

PREPARING FOR THE SKILLS GAP IN THE WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE Tim Hudson

DELIVERING A 24/7 SERVICE; INTRODUCING AN AGILE MODEL IN PR Dualta Redmond

MANAGING THE INTEGRATION OF BUSINESSES: MERGING COMPANIES, DISCIPLINES, AND

CULTURES Ella Minty

EMBRACING AGILE STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT Betteke van Ruler and Frank Körver

HOW TO AVOID #SOCIALMEDIAMELTDOWN Nathaniel Cassidy

A LISTENING AND INSIGHTFUL FUTURE: CHANGING PR PRACTICE TO DELIVER AUDIENCE LED

COMMUNICATIONS Sarah Clark and Professor Jim Macnamara

SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE OF PROCUREMENT Tina Fegent

STRENGTHENING CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS AND MANAGING RISK Farzana Baduel

MANAGING CLIENT EXPECTATIONS Andrew Reeves

STAFF SALARIES: HANDLING WAGE INFLATION AND SALARY BANDINGS Steve Earl

GROWING PAINS: MOVING FROM AN ENTREPRENEURIAL TO A PROFESSIONAL STRUCTURE

Alicia Mellish

COMPANY CULTURE: MANAGING STRESS, PRESENTEEISM AND MENTAL HEALTH Paul Sutton

WHY GREAT LEADERS ARE GREAT COMMUNICATORS Lucia Dore

INTERNAL COMMS: LEARNING FROM THE PAST AND EMERGING TRENDS Rachel Miller

SEIZING INFLUENCER RELATIONS’ OPPORTUNITIES Scott Guthrie

HOW TO USE THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY TO ACHIEVE EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT Ciara O’Keeffe

VIDEO AS A COMMUNICATIONS CHANNEL Dan Slee

LIVE STREAMING TOOLS: A BEST PRACTICE GUIDE Leonardo Stavale

OVERHAULING PUBLIC AFFAIRS: MUCH NEEDED MODERNISATION Iain Anderson

PUBLIC CONSULTATIONS: ENGAGING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE Emily Osborne

HOW THE #FUTUREPROOF PR CAN EMBRACE THE OPPORTUNITIES OF SEO Darryl Sparey

CROWDFUNDING: UNDERSTANDING, INFLUENCING AND MANAGING GROUP BEHAVIOUR

Paul Cockerton

HORIZON SCANNING Stephen Davies

CREATIVITY IN PR – ARE PRACTITIONERS SUCCESSFULLY HARNESSING THE POWER OF

STORYTELLING AND NARRATION? Andy Green

#FUTUREPROOFING COMMUNICATIONS EVALUATION Richard Bagnall

THE IMPORTANCE AND ART OF ARTICULATING THANKS: LESSONS FROM NON-GOVERNMENTAL

ORGANISATIONS (NGOS) Dr Nicky Garsten, Dr Ed de Quincey and Professor Ian Bruce

 


SOMME ECHO: It’s simple… as #wearehere shows, just be human

I’m writing this on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

Just a week before the UK voted to leave the European Union. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to stay. A majority in England and Wales wanted to go.

Division, spite and rancour is in the air.

Yet, for all sides, the First World casts a long across Britain. It helped make the country we live in. Never such innocence, as Siegfried Sassoon wrote, as when we marched to war in 1914. Never such shattered innocence as the first day of the Battle of the Somme. If there was a day when modern Britain was born it was this.

I’m writing this to capture the #wearehere project. At key railway stations across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland volunteers dressed in First World War battledress appeared. Talk to them and they quietly give you a card with the name of a soldier who was killed on this day a hundred years ago.

It’s a gentle reminder that those who were lost were people too. Just like you.  It’s beautiful. I’ve blogged about my own family’s First World War story and the pain it caused.

As a child, a teacher taught us how much the First World War had changed Britain not with numbers. He pulled three empty chairs to the front of the classroom.

“Those chairs,” he said, “are empty. But they would have had three children just like you sat on them. But they weren’t born because their grandfathers were killed in the First World War.”

I seem to spend a lot of time telling people in training that the key to good communication is to be human. It’s why #wearehere works. It’s a real thing with real people. And the real people who saw it and were moved shared images and thoughts online.

I don’t know who is behind the project, but thank you for a chance to say ‘thank you’ to the 704,803 who died like cattle to show us that modern war was something to avoid.

But thank you too for a reminder that we are all human.