PRO TIPS: Chuck Norris and Pre-Election Survival Tips for Comms People

deltaforcezEvery year the swallows who nest in the eves of our house head off back on a flight
that lasts thousands of miles.

Nobody tells them to do it, but off they head travelling 200 miles a day with just the urge to head south.

Swallows, ladies and gentlemen, are rather like politicians.

At some point the beacon of the election pings and they start changing behaviour. The normally relaxed cabinet member starts to behave differently. Requests for coverage become more pressing. There can be the photo requests, the press releases and the subtle pressure can sometimes begin.

By subtle pressure, I mean the request to maybe send across that stock pic. Or maybe the request for a quote that damns a different parties’ policies. In short, the local government comms team can risk being ‘leaned on.’

It doesn’t happen everywhere of course. Sometimes it’s an innocent question asking to help them out.

Q – That stock picture of the town hall. Can you send it across? The printers are waiting for it. 

A – It may only be a stock picture of a town hall but if public money paid for it it can’t be used for political purposes.

Q – That quote in the cabinet members’ statement? He wants it changed so he can attack the Prime Minister.

A – It may only be a quote but you shouldn’t be allowing political comments into content you are issuing.

There is so much more to comms than Purdah. That’s the period where it is acknowledged that politicians can’t be quoted. Knowing what you can and can’t say and do is just common sense.

You can have a row very easily. But what you need close at hand is the chapter and verse of what you can do and say before it escalates.

As the comms visionary Chuck Norris once said, men are like steel. When they lose their temper they lose their worth. So don’t lose your temper or get the politician to lose theirs. Have a list to hand of what you can do and say and make sure your team know too.

Remind yourself of what you can and can’t say…

It’s an uncomfortable time of year and there are steps that every head of comms, comms manager, press officer, web officer and marketing assistant needs to know about. Make a list of exactly what document says what so when challenged they can quote it.

One of the best afternoons in my career was spent going through a sheaf of documents that governed my job. What was in that sheaf? The authority’s constitution, the DCLG recommended code of practice for local government publicity and the media protocols. The Holy Trinity of local government comms documents. By all means start off with the media protocols, but people will argue the toss. A few people may mess with the DCLG. You’ll find very few people mess with the council’s constitution.

The DCLG recommended code of practice for local government publicity

Contrary to myth, comms teams do not work for the Leader or the administration. They work for the Chief Executive and the authority. The comms team that forgets that is likely to land up in trouble.

Councils are required by legislation to consider the code of practice before they make decisions. You can download it here.

Here’s a couple of keepers:

19. Where local authority publicity addresses matters of political controversy it should seek to present the different positions in relation to the issue in question in a fair manner

34. During the period between the notice of an election and the election itself, local authorities should not publish any publicity on controversial issues or report views or proposals in such a way that identifies them with any individual members or groups of members. Publicity relating to individuals involved directly in the election should not be published by local authorities during this period unless expressly authorised by or under statute. It is permissible for local authorities to publish factual information which identifies the names, wards and parties of candidates at elections.

The media protocols

This document will set out what you do and don’t do. Know what it says. Make sure your team knows what it says. In all likelihood, this document will have been worked out in advance and possibly when an administration is incoming. This gets them signed-up in peacetime to the governance of the comms unit.

Why the constitution is like Chuck Norris

It’s difficult to describe the reverential awe that the constitution has in the place of local government. When faced with the constitution they ususally don’t argue.

What is great about the constitution is that it governs the behaviour of the officer and politician relationship. It may mention that undue pressure may not be put on officers. It may also refer to bullying, intimidation and a list of other things you’ll probably never need but it’s useful to have at your finger tips.

Like Chuck Norris, nobody messes with the Constitution. If they do, there’s a chance they’ll come a cropper.

Professional standards

Often the Constitution will point to professional standards being standards to be observed. There are three for comms teams. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the National Union of Journalists and the Public Relations Consultants Association.

Will the constitution insist you belong to them? Take a look and I’ll bet it’s not vital although I’d suggest you do.

You’ve read all this, what next?

Put the salient points and the sections they come from onto one side of A4. Two at most. Get your legal team to add their name to it to give it an added layer of Teflon.

If you work in the public sector, you’ll have your own guidance, constitution and approaches. But the principles remain the same. It’s best to be independant as a public servant rather than partizan. And as housing, the NHS and the work of government gets more politically charged its useful to know where you stand.

It’s also good to know what you can and can’t say and do. That’s worth knowing all the year round.


NOTE PASSION: What Makes My Heart Sing

065/365: Show us your smile!I’ve been thinking a bit about what makes my heart sing. Not what you are passionate about. Anyone can be ‘passionate’. It’s a word that is rapidly losing its meaning.

What I mean is what makes your heart truly sing.

What prompted this was reading ‘Talk Like TED’ by Carmine Gallo which looked at what makes the best TED talks work. TED, if you don’t know, stands for Technology, Education, Design and has snowballed from an exclusive conference for the super rich to a global franchise of affiliated events.

They are short talks. 18 minutes is the most you’ll get. They’ll have a bit of powerpoint. But the slides help the speaker tell a story rather than provide a script.

Last April I left local government to work on comms2point0 full-time. It’s taken me to meet some fascinating people doing great work across Britain.

A few weeks back myself and my comms2point0 colleague Darren Caveney travelled to Jordan at the invitation of the Foreign Office to facilitate a two-day comms event for Middle East and North Africa comms staff. We also staged a half day unconference. There was never any doubt in my mind that the unconference aspect would work. It did. The people in the room rose to the task.

I began at the start of the event by asking the question . There were some puzzled looks at first. Then some great answers.

But what makes my heart sing?

Over the years many things. It used to be watching Stoke City and when I was a journalist writing a frontpage story. My children do. But I’m their Dad, so I’m biased.

What makes my heart sing now is working out the best ways to tell a story and communicate with people. The web has taken everything and thrown it up into the air. Who wouldn’t want to try and explore how those pieces fit?

My heart sings when I see people understanding how to communicate in an area I don’t know about.

Even though I love Twitter, I don’t care for people who think Twitter is the answer to everything. It’s not. If some print works, then go for it. That’s fine. There’s no point being a channel fascist.

Here’s a comment made at the Middle East event by a locally engaged comms professional who does brilliant work for the FCO with the Arab regional media.

“In Libya, people have Kalashnikovs and want to kill each other. There are four tribes. Just because an infographic works in the USA it doesn’t mean it works in Libya.”

You need local knowledge. You need the passion to understand the media landscape wherever you are whether that’s Derbyshire or Dubai.

Hats off to Steven Hardy and Craig Morley from the FCO for staging the event and to the 70-odd attendees who made my heart sing.

Pic creative commons credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25178143@N04/2765083201/


OUR AWARDS: Celebrating the #comms20unawards

IMAG1205So, we’ve gone and hired a cinema for a bit of a celebration and it would be wonderful if you could join us.

More precisely, we’ve hired the Electric Cinema in Station Street, Birmingham which is the oldest working cinema in the UK. The date is Thursday December 11.

We’re doing three things. We’re having an awards ceremony, we’re watching a film and we’re showing that you don’t have to spend a fortune and go to London for an awards bash.

The event is the comms2point0 unawards and I’d like you very much to come along and to enter. It’s going to be great. December is a chance to celebrate and its a chance to think back to what you’ve done well.

If there’s one thing that irks me about comms teams it is their inability to celebrate their own work. Stop it. It’s not clever.
So pick a category, enter by November 12 by emailing dan@comms2point0.co.uk or darren@comms2point0.co.uk. More details are here.

If you don’t fancy picking a category come and watch the film. It’s Armandoi Iannucci satire ‘In the Loop.’

1. Best communications team chosen by the overall event sponsor

2. Best communications officer (this includes digital too) public vote sponsored by Alive – The Ideas Agency 3. Best small team (from one-man band up to three people max) public vote sponsored by David Banks Media Law 

4. Lifetime achievement to comms public vote sponsored by Touch Design 

5. Best post on comms2point0 in 2014 public vote sponsored by Alive – The Ideas Agency 6. Best internal communications campaign sponsored by All Things IC

7. Best communications for change activity sponsored by Public Sector Customer Services Forum

8. Best piece of creative comms sponsored by Capacity Grid

9. Best freebie or low cost communications campaign

10. Best email marketing sponsored by GovDeliveryUK

11. Best social media campaign sponsored by Digital Action Plan

12. Best private sector/agency comms campaign or initiative

13. Best ‘Worst comms’ (this can be anything from use of clip art, worst poster, silliest random request – feel free to be creative) sponsored by Alive – The Ideas Agency

14. Best collaboration sponsored by Knowledge Hub

Big thanks to Emma Rodgers who is helping stage the event and Andy Mabbett who will compere.


DIGITAL CLASH: Comms and Social: Have we won the War?

272900992_18af4400c3_oA few things have crossed my timeline of late that reminds me that comms and social for all their outward signs are struggling to fit.

Sure, there are still dinosaurs. But they’re dying out and have lost the battle so let’s not bother with them.

Ignorance is being replaced with the realisation that social media can’t be ignored by comms and PR people. Great.

But have we truly won the war? I’m not at all convinced we have.

There is a mindset that sees digital as a one way tick box exercise that exists only to generate likes or calls to action. In other words, it’s an extension of what traditional comms has always tried to be.

I absolutely get the need for comms teams to demonstrate worth. You sit down with the organisation, you listen to how you need to recruit 10 more carers to save £100k. Then you communicate to the right people at the right time in the right place. You record the new carers. Then you report back what you did.

I get that in spades.

I also get enthusiastically the idea that comms is not the size of the audience but what that audience has done as a result of what you’ve done.

I can also get the need to base comms on evidence and business cases to cut out the pointless vanity comms. You know the sort. The sort that needs this doing because we’ve always done it because the Director likes it.

I get that too.

I also get much of Rachel Moss’s post on not slavishly sticking to digital and doing traditional things too. If a poster works, use a poster. There is no earthly point, I’m guessing, for a LinkedIn group aimed at under fives.

I don’t think that comms people have fully realised what social is. It is not driven by likes, sign-ups and results. It is driven by conversation, sharing and stories. The return on investment comes as a spin-off and is all the more powerful for that.

Think of it in postal terms. It’s the difference between junk mail asking you to buy, buy, buy and the handwritten postcard addressed to you on your door mat.

I think of the police officer I spoke to early in my career who was one of the first to embrace Twitter. A senior officer he had a face that looked as though it had been in a few scraps in its time. I would not argue with that face if he asked me to move my car.

He used Twitter, the policeman told me, in exactly the same way as he would use conversation as if he walked down a parade of shops on his beat. He’d say good morning. He’d pass the time of day. He’d share a joke. He’d then ask someone once the ice was broken to remember to shut their windows when they went out in warm weather. Simple. And human.

The real return on investment for that officer comes in an emergency where there is a pre-built network of people willing to share their message.

Police officers get that you need to be human on the social web to be listened to. I’m not sure if comms people look at .

I think of the brands who tried to ‘leverage’ their audience with 9/11 tweets. I think of Pete Ashton one of the first people in Birmingham to use this thing called Twitter and work out what the social web was all about. I think of the chat I had with him on how he had consciously divorced himself from the growing social as numbers professionalisation of social media.

I think of the Best by WM survey that shows that digital comms in the West Midlands social has stalled at Twitter and Facebook and the new channels are not being explored.

It all points to this as a conclusion: social media and digital communications is one set of tools in the mix.

Use them if you think they’ll work but don’t be a channel fascist.

Share, inform, entertain and engage.

Be timely.

Measure if you like. But don’t let the tape measure drive you.

Explore with it. Experiment. Learn. There is so much wide open space to be experimented with.

Always, always, always be human with it.

If a police officer with a broken nose can get this, why can’t more comms people?


MEDIA DATA: 83 gems you’ll need on the UK media landscape from Ofcomm

3100034818_14fe8f64dd_oFour times a year UK media industry watchdog Ofcom publishes a report on the media landscape.

Packed full of insight it is that rare thing of a free report that will help you if you work even just a little bit in digital communications.

It’s also a document that we often keen going back to so this time around we thought we’d fillet it and, because we love you, we thought we’d publish it in bite-sized chunks so it can help you too.

Much attention has been focussed on the fact that adults spend more time engaged with the media – eight hours 41 minutes – than they sleep which accounts fr eight hours 21 minutes.

More hidden in the report is the conclusion that the differing types of communicatin is leading to a generation gap. Where once post and the telephone was universal now young people only send a letter when they absolutely have to while the habit remains with older people.

The figures cover the first quarter of 2014.

An average day for a UK adult aged 16+ (selected)

2’58” watching live TV

1’19” listening to the radio.

0’47” email

0’40” recorded TV

0’36” websites or apps

0’29” phone calls

0’25” social media

0’15” newspapers (print or news website)

0’04” online news but not a news site

0’03” magazines

0’02” photo or video messaging

 

Popular UK social media sites

40.0 million YouTube

35.1 million Facebook

11.9 million Twitter

11.3 million LinkedIn

8.8 million Google Plus

0.9 million MySpace

0.4 million Friends Reunited

eBay overtook Amazon as the most popular retail site with 27.3 million users

 

Social media use by adults

2009 – 30 per cent

2010 – 40 per cent

2011 – 46 per cent

2012 – 50 per cent

2013 – 53 per cent

2014 – 54 per cent

 

News consumption

Television 75 per cent

Internet 41 per cent

Newspapers 40 per cent

Radio 36 per cent

 

General stats

Adults spend more time – eight hours 41 minutes – engaged with the media than time spent sleeping (eight hours 21 minutes.)

We are getting used to following two things at once. We may watch television and use the internet at the same time as 11 hours seven minutes worth f media is consumed in that eight hours 41 minutes.

We watch two hours 58 minutes of TV a day.

There are 83.1 mobile phones in the UK.

8 hours a month is spent on Facebook

Mail has fallen 5 per cent in 12-months

20 per cent of adults didn’t get an item of post in the last week.

77 per cent of all UK households have broadband.

79 per cent of homes have a PC or a laptop.

61 per cent of all adults own a smartphone.

57 per cent of all adults use their mobile phone to access the internet.

44 per cent of all UK households have a tablet.

60 per cent of adults say that technology confuses them.

49 per cent say technology isn’t making a difference to their lives either way.

24 per cent say technology is harming their lives.

16 per cent live in a mobile phone-only home.

Radio remains popular but is falling from 24.3 to 21.5 hours a week.

71 per cent of audio activity is radio.

2 per cent have used 3D printers.

82 per cent of households have an internet connection.

66 per cent say that they rely on the post.

 

Adults

46 per cent say they email fr work purposes out-of-hours.

23 per cent say they email about work while they are on holiday.

80 per cent say flexible working makes it hard to switch off.

51 minutes a day is social media use.

37 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on watching TV.

2 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on print media.

16 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on text.

94 per cent watch live TV.

77 per cent use email.

71 per cent send SMS messages.

18 per cent of their time spent with the media is spent on social media.

41 per cent of adults use the internet to consume news.

 

Adults over 65

50 per cent overall have internet access at home.

66 per cent of adults 65 to 74 have internet access.

6 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on print media.

49 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on watching TV.

7 per cent of their time spent using the media is spent on text.

19 per cent play games on social media – the highest of any age group.

 

Young people aged 16-24-years-old

74 per cent use a social network.

4 and a half hours is the time they spend on media activity every day

If they use it they’ll spend one-and-a-half hours using social media a day.

They are watching less TV a day than they did. This has fallen to 148 minutes a day from 154

60 per cent get their news online – three times the amount of other adults.

1 per cent of their time spent using media is spent on print media.

24 per cent of their time spent using media is spent watching TV or films.

23 per cent of time spent using media is spent using text.

 

Young people aged 12-15

30 per cent are likely to use print media – half the adult average.

36 per cent of their media time is spent on social media – double the rate of adults.

 

Young people aged 6-15-years-old

60 per cent use a tablet.

75 per cent say they wouldn’t know what to do without technology.

70 per cent say they tell friends and family about new technology.

18 per cent use Snapchat.

 

Young people aged six-11-years-old

26 per cent of their time using the media is spent using social media.

 

Television stats

Digital TV take-up has risen from 84 per cent in 2008 to 95 per cent.

Smart TVs – web enabled TVs – have risen by five per centage points to 12 per cent in 12-months.

Smart TVs account for 45 per cent of TVs sold in the UK.

Picture credit

TV set 

 


COMMS TIP: Why You Need to Challenge Like a Three-Year-Old

P1030315I’ve blogged about the need to be the grit in the oyster in comms and PR and to the need challenge.

That scheme the chief executive has? It’s going to fail and you need to diplomatically warn them.

That elected member who demands a press release? It’s down to you to tell them that won’t work.

Unless you do you are nothing more than a glorified shorthand typist.

Here’s one way you can challenge… by be an annoying three-year-old.

Or rather, adopt the questioning strategy of a small child who is asking questions because they are just plain nosey.

If you are a parent you’ve been there. Picture the scene in a super market right now somewhere in the world.

‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a tin of beans, Jimmy.’

‘Why do we have tins of beans?’

‘So the food doesn’t go off.’

‘What’s ‘off’…?’

And there we have an explanation to Jimmy of food storage, freshness and the degrading process that makes food dangerous to eat.

Small children have got a brilliant quality of cutting through the crap.

A couple of times recently in a training session I’ve thought of the two-year-old interrogation strategy.

We’re doing a ‘thing’. It’s great.

Why?

Because it’s a good idea.

Why?

Because if we give people some basic information it reduces the chance of them coming back with an even worse problem.

Will that cost you money?

Yes, lots, about £10,000 a time.

How many could we stop coming back with a worse problem?

So, the ‘thing’ moves from being a good thing to a thing that is going to tangibly improve lives… and tangibly save money.

That’s win and win.

It’s also the beginnings of your evaluation because as we know, it’s not the column inches or the tweets but what people have done as a result.

‘Hey, chief executive, we’ve just communicated to a load of people and 100 have gone away with information that could stop them costing us £10,000 each.’

Does that sound better?

So, shouldn’t you be more of a three-year-old?

Picture credit

My daughter.


COMMS ADVICE: Be Bold, Be the bit of Grit in the Oyster

3875021320_445f89a757_b (1)If there is one piece of advice I came to late in my career that I value  it is this… the role of comms is sometimes to be the bit of grit in the oyster.

It was Paul Willis of Leeds Metropolitan University who I first hear use the phrase.

Really?

What the heck does this mean?

My take on it is that sometimes, the role of the comms person is to politely stand your ground and to challenge and to point out where things won’t work.

The chief exec of the water company blamed for water shortage taking questions with a clean bottle of water, British Gas staging a Twitter Q&A on the day of a price hike or senior officer hellbent on back of bus ads… because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

I was reminded of the need for this a short while back in a comms planning workshop where one attendee mentioned the pressure she was under to come up with evaluation weeks after the launch of a campaign to encourage people to sign-up to volunteer for a specific task.

“It’s really difficult,” she said. “I’m getting pressure to show if the campaign is a success but we know it takes six months for it to work.

“It’s been a month and the thing is, it’s really difficult, because it’s a senior person who is asking.”

Of course, in an ideal world that senior person would immediately see the folly of asking how many cars the Forth Bridge had carried after just a week into its construction.

But life is not like that.

So, if tact and diplomacy don’t work, sometimes your role as a comms person is to be the person to draw a line in the sand and point out where something, in your professional opinion, doesn’t work.

When I worked as part of a comms team I’d often find it useful instead of directly rubbishing an idea directly just spelling out the logical sequence of events that decision would bring.

“We can have a back of bus advert by all means,” it’s better to say, “but do we know if the Primary school children we’re trying to get through to drive? And how many signed up for that course last year as a result of it? Could we talk to some parents and teachers to see what the best route may be, too?”

Be professional, be polite but never be afraid be the grit in the oyster. It will almost always be the harder path but if you take it you will almost always win respect. Involve your boss if needs be. Or their boss.

If you don’t are you sure you aren’t just being a glorified shorthand typist?


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