VR PR: What virtual reality can do… for children and old people[VIDEO]

18011630494_b2683a87d1_bFor the last 18-months or so I’ve been helping deliver video skills workshops with one of the brightest people I’ve come across in a long time.

Steven Davies is a freelance cameraman, University lecturer and throughly good chap. A while back I asked about how he saw the future of video.

Virtual reality, was part of the answer.

Virtual reality is footage shot that allows someone with a headset to be immersed in a different world. Google cardboard can be bought for a few quid and is a way to view the content.

For young people

I’ll paraphrase him, but the problem with talking about virtual reality is that it’s like dancing about architecture. It doesn’t really work. So seeing this Google clip at #firepro on what virtual reality – or VR – can do in classrooms is inspiring. If you are not sure what it is take a look at this for 90 seconds and see the reaction of schoolchildren. It’s amazing.

And it’s older people too

Don’t think it’s just for young people, too. There is this example where VR works with old people. It puts them in a safe recognised environment and works well with dementia sufferers. You can take a look here. The older person is immersed in an environment.

The opportunites for PR people are immense. It is entirely a new exciting blank piece of paper. The ability is to place the VR headset wearer in an environment. I’ve blogged about this before.

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

Picture credit: Maurizio Pesce / Flickr


#OURDAY: One day a year like this to see you right

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It’s the annual local government Twitter event today and it got me thinking.

Five years ago I was part of a team at the first local authority to tweet what they were doing across 24-hours.

We won an award for it. But it wasn’t until 10 minutes before the 7am start time that I really thought it would work when I posted a tweet from the corporate account to say that environmental health officers were investigating a noisey cockerel on a deprived housing estate.

In following years the LGA picked up on it as a model and have run sector-wide events.

I’ve had high hopes for the model to help tell the day-to-day story of all the 1,200 activities that local government does. I’m not at all sure that it has managed to do everything it can. It’s not collectively banged a call-to-action drum for social care, for example. Or for people to join libraries or some other service task.

As Twitter slips from third to 5th most popular social media platform maybe the time is right to expand it in future to other platforms. However that may look. Evolve, adapt, learn, iterate.

But maybe that’s not the point. Maybe its enough purely a chance for local government people to be bold, stand tall, be proud of what they do and celebrate all the day-to-day things that build a bigger picture.

If for one day a year local government people can be proud of themselves and each other then that’s no bad thing. If you’ve taken part, well done. If you’ve persuaded someone else to too, even bigger well done.

Or ‘One day like this a year will see me right,’ as Elbow singer Guy Garvey once sang.

Picture credit: raql / flickr


BE LEGAL: A guide to surviving tricky elected members in three minutes and three hours

SONY DSCIt can be truly great working with politicians. It can also be tricky. You can be pressured to help one side or the other. But if you do you’ll be in the cross-hairs of rival politicians. Here’s a simple guide to avoid pitfalls. Not just during Purdah but all year round.

Here’s a scenario for you. You pick up the phone to an important politician who is up for election.

They’re asking about that picture you took of them at the launch of the new play equipment.

Can you just send it across?

You’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the image will go into her campaign leaflet. So you ask what the picture will be used for.

Of course, if it is for a leaflet you don’t send it. It was taken using public resources so shouldn’t be used for political campaigning. But how do you say ‘no’ constructively?

Take it from me, unless you have chapter and verse in front of you that conversation is going to be a little bit tricky. At best, you are going to look a bit evasive and unhelpful. At worst, you are going to look uninformed and when the politician complains you may have more pressure put on you to do the wrong thing.

Of course, in an ideal world, every elected member knows what they can and can’t expect you do and wouldn’t dream of leaning on you to bend the rules. But, of course, we aren’t in an ideal world.

In my experience, every authority has at least one elected member who will try and push the rules. Especially with junior members of staff. And every authority has at least one elected member who will spot what you’ve done and attempt to nail you to the floor. Comms teams can often be accused of being ‘political mouthpieces.’ Mainly by people who don’t understand the role they do. My advice is don’t let them. But to do that successfully you’ll need to know very, very clearly what you can and can’t do.

It’s not just councils, either. This covers partners, police, national parks and very often fire services too.

Why three minutes and three hours?

It’ll take you three minutes to read this post. It’ll then take you three hours to do the groundwork you’ll need to do. Put it off until the merde hits the fan and it could be too late. Do you and your team a favour and put the work in ahead of time. It’ll be one of the best things you ever do.

What do you need to do? You need to read through several key documents. You need to cut and paste the passages that govern what you can and can’t do for elected members. Don’t paraphrase. It’s far more effective to read back the page, paragraph and chapter and verse. Make sure all your team know it, have a copy and have access to it.

Read your media protocols

Every communications unit needs a media and publicity protocols document. This sets out what you’ll do for elected members. It also sets out when and where the team get involved. Normally, this will be agreed between you, the chief executive and Leader. It can change and be updated two or three times a year. It’s an important document but not the best one in your armoury.

The Council DCLG Code

The Department for Communities and Local Government has issued eight pages of guidance on what councils should and shouldn’t do. In England, the guidance from 2011 can be found right here. You may want to cite one of the key principles of the guidance that it is even-handed, for example. For Scotland and Wales the guidance dates back amazingly to 1988. You can find it here.

If you work in a local government comms team you should know your guidance backwards. It’ll also give you some good ground rules on what you can and can’t do.

Your authority’s constitution

It’s a funny thing but your constitution has a power over politicians that is practically unmatched. Your protocols they can debate. The DCLG code they can decide to defy. The constitution? That’s a whole different thing. It’s the day-to-day rules they are governed by. You’ll find things in there about publicity, sure. You’ll also find things about the staff – elected member relationship and probably some safeguards against undue pressure too.

Professional codes of conduct

Back when I was looking through my council’s constitution there was explicit reference to professional codes. For comms people this can provide two helpful routes. Firstly, the National Union of Journalists. Their code applies to comms people just as much as reporters as they have comms members. The line: ‘Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair,’ is a particular favourite.

Secondly, you can also draw on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations code of conduct too.

Purdah guidance

The LGA have written some excellent Purdah guidance for 2016 which you can see here. We’ve also blogged some guidance on Purdah and social media and you can read that here. If you are central government, look out for Cabinet Office guidance that will be published ahead of elections.

What next?

In short, there’s some legwork involved here. Yes, I know you are busy. But this could save your skin in the long run.

Once you’ve pulled things together, publish it on your web pages and make it public. Let the leaders of each group know the contents on the internal guidance too so they can’t pretend to be in the dark.

Picture credit:  Clemens v Vogelsang / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/iWUJBn


140 CHANGE: Twitter may change but who cares? you still need to embrace chaos

22435524039_7431c7fa21_bTwitter is not the last word in digital communications and maybe it’s about time you remembered that.

There’s been a lot written just lately about how Twitter is changing.

If you’ve missed it, the way you are presented with tweets is going to change. Gone will go the timeline of most recent first. In comes a Facebook-style algorithm of things they think you’ll like first. It may be optional when first introduced. The unique 140-character limit may also go too.

Of course, being Twitter, there was a meltdown on Twitter and a hashtag #TwitterRIP.

It may be the end of Twitter. It may just evolve as Facebook has done.

But all this talk of change poses you three questions.

  • Where else can I now get what I get from Twitter?
  • As the ground shifts beneath our feet should we really be surprised?
  • Do I even care?

Do you care? Many people do. If you have been using the platform you will. If you won’t it won’t trouble you. But if you aren’t a bit interested in how all this will affect how you do your job, that troubles me.

Once-great platforms like Friends Reunited, AOL or MySpace have withered. Why should Twitter be any different?  Besides, as broadcaster and historian Dan Snow wrote in The Guardian, if Twitter didn’t exist someone would have to invent it.

What makes this an important question to think on for UK public sector comms people is that Twitter has become hugely important. It’s precisely that the most recent tweet gets shown first that makes it useful to it. Realtime matters. What was first truly shown during the riots of 2011 was confirmed yet again this year by flooding.

But hold on. Maybe we got lazy. Maybe we just thought that Twitter was everything. So, maybe it’s actually quite healthy to rethink that.

What can do what Twitter does?

Thinking about LinkedIn. Sharing a useful link to help you with your work was one thing Twitter was brilliant at. But more and more when gathering links for comms2point0 it’s been to LinkedIn that I’ve been turning. What was once an ecosystem for grey people is now a thriving network.

Thinking about blogging. Again, LinkedIn scores well. Blogging functionality was introduced in early 2014 and engagement rates are good. Anecdotally, people are far more likely to comment and share on a post on LinkedIn than in on a blogging platform.

Thinking about email. With a decent list and decent content your organisation can duck below shifts in platform changes. Almost everyone has an email address. A cinderella platform it is quietly being effective for many places. Ask Amazon.

Thinking about other platforms. As social media grows and evolves an ecosystem of channels for sub-groups has developed. WhatsApp. Instagram. Snapchat. It means your job has got harder to understand how each works. Know enough to know when it is relevant for what you are trying to do.

Thinking about Facebook. If you want Facebook you can have Facebook. Why would you want Twitter? For organisations without a budget to advertise and reach key demographics will continue to struggle.

Thinking about serendipity. Of course, one of the great things about Twitter was the stumbling across something a friend had just shared that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s hard to see how this won’t be affected. Email bulletins like Nieman Lab, Feverbee or econsultancy do that for me. You’ve probably got some good ones too.

Thinking about how Twitter used to be. Back in 2008 it was an amazing place where many people were connecting for the first time. Events were organised through it and friendships grew. Much of my Facebook timeline is now those original Twitter people I’m connected to.

It’s foolish to think that disruption and change won’t stop. It will. Maybe these Twitter chances will be seismic. Maybe they won’t. But as Robert Phillips writes in ‘Trust Me: PR is Dead’ to embrace chaos is one of the most important things a 21st century comms person needs to do. So, who cares? Embrace it.

Picture credit: Sebastian teer Burg / Flickr / https://flic.kr/p/AbxVDZ

15 predictions for public sector comms in 2016… and one for 2020

3747527884_81f7e9d19a_zThe best political reporters don’t make predictions, Judi Kantor once said.

So, seeing as I’m not a political reporter for the last few years I’ve made predictions about what may happen in my corner of the internet.

Looking forward, 2016 will be my seventh year of blogging, my 23rd year in and around the media industry and fourth year in business. I’m struck by the pace of change getting faster not slower. It’s also getting harder.

Last year I made predictions for local government comms that both came true and failed. Ones I got right? Some councils no longer have a meaningful comms function. Evaluation become a case of do or die. People who bang the table and say ‘no’ to stupid requests will stand a chance. Those who don’t won’t. There are fewer press releases. Video did get more important. Customer services, social media and comms need to become best friends. Facebook pages did become less relevant unless supported by a budget for ads. Linked

I was wrong about some things. There was experimentation with social media and new platforms like Instagram, whatsapp and snapchat were experimented with. Not nearly as much as people need to.

The jury is out on content being more fractured. There are still too many central corporate accounts and not enough devolved. I’m still not sure that enough people are closing failing social media accounts.

Public sector comms in 2016…

For the last few years I’ve looked at social media in local government. But the barrier between digital and traditional has blurred and the barrier between sectors also blurs so I’ve widened it out.

The flat white economy will form part of the future. Economist Douglas McWilliams gave the tag to web-savvy freelancers and start-ups with laptops. To get things done in 2016, teams buying in time and skills for one-off projects will become more common.

There will be more freelancers. There’s not enough jobs to go around and more people will start to freelance project to project. Some will be good and some bad.

Video continues to grow massively. For a chunk of the year I talked about Cisco estimating that 70 per cent of the web would be video by 2017. By the end of the year some commentators said that figure had already been reached. People are consuming short-form video voraciously. But can you make something that can compete with cute puppies?

LinkedIn will be the single most useful channel for comms people. Twitter is great. But the convergence of job hunting, shop window and useful content will push LinkedIn ahead.

Successful teams will have broken down the digital – traditional divide. They’ll plan something that picks the best channels and not have a shiny social add-on right at the end.

Say hello to VR video. By the end of 2015, the New York Times VR – or virtual reality – videos broke new ground. These are immersive films viewed through a smartphone and Google cardboard sets. By the end of the year the public sector will start experimenting.

The most sensible phrase in 2016 will be: ‘if it’s not hitting a business objective we’re not doing it and the chief exec agrees with us.’ Teams of 20 have become teams of eight. You MUST have the conversation that says you can’t deliver what you did. It’s not weakness. It’s common sense. Make them listen. Or block off three months at a time TBC to have that stroke.

‘Nice to have’ becomes ‘used to have’ for more people. As cuts continue and widen more pain will be felt by more. Some people don’t know what’s coming down the track.

People will realise their internal comms are poor when it is too late.  Usually at a time when their own jobs have been put at risk.

Email marketing rises. More people will realise the slightly unglamorous attraction of email marketing. Skills in this area will be valued.

As resources across some organisations become thinner the chances of a fowl-up that will cost people lives increase. It probably won’t be a one-off incident but a pattern of isolated incidents uncovered much later. The kick-back when this does emerge will be immense. For organisations who have cut, when this emerges the comms team will be swamped. At this point the lack of functioning comms team will become an issue and the pedulum may swing back towards having an effective team. For organisations who have retained a team, this will be a moment to prove their worth.

Comms and PR continue to become female. A trend in 2015 was the all-female team. This will eventually percolate upwards towards leadership.

Comms and PR will get younger. Newsrooms when they lost senior staff replaced them with younger people. This trend will continue to be replicated.

As the pace of change continues training and peer-to-peer training will never be more important. Teams that survive will be teams that invest in their staff. And encourage staff to share things they are good at.

Speclaist generalists will continue to be prized. That’s the person who can be really, really good at one thing and okay to good at lots of others.

And a prediction for 2020

Those people with a willingness to learn new skills and experiment will still have a job in 2020. Those that won’t probably will be doing something else. Don’t let that be you.

Creative commons credit: https://flic.kr/p/6Ha4tJ


LOCALGOVCAMP: 9 things anyone can learn from #localgovcamp

3655950711_8d7e022f93_bSo 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Picture credit

Stuart Harrison Arun Marsh / Flickr


NEWS LINE: What I Learned on the Guardian Public Leaders Editorial Board

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It was probably the most fascinating, fun and untaxing job I’ve got on my LinkedIn profile.

The request to serve on it came out of the blue. A phone call asking if I’d like to. I would? That’s great the story was going online later that morning.

As a former journalist who cares passionately about the public sector this appealed to me. My job? Occasional meetings in London as part of a panel of half a dozen or so and the bouncing of ideas.

There’s no question that The Guardian take coverage of the public sector seriously. Jane Dudman and her team have grown that part of the newspaper. If there is an issue you think should be tackled you really should get in touch with her.

What did I learn now my 12-months is at an end?

That broadly speaking everyone is facing a difficult landscape in the public sector.

That The Guardian have very funky offices and serve good coffee.

That from an editorial point of view, one good, well written piece will attract more traffic than lots of not that great pieces.

That an online news platform needs to keep an eye on the analytics but not be slavishly driven by them. The right numbers work for the Public Leaders network rather than buzzfeed list numbers for the sake of it.

That Simon Blake, chief executive of Brook, is as engaging in real life as he is when interviewed on the radio. But I’ll never understand how he cycles around the streets of London.

That editorial ideas in a web-focused newsroom are as much around content as they are about ‘stories’ and word counts.

That stories around how to cope with the stress of public sector life are probably more engaging than a story about who has succeeded who and who loves working where.

So, it all boils down still, despite the internet and everything, the old maxim Iearned early as a junior reporter that news is people and still is. Which is oddly reassuring.