An arresting comment to make, particularly as the man in the jacket was HM Government’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher.
The comment was made – and a whole host of others – at the tail end of a fascinating two day event in Jordan hosted by the Foreign Office for their Middle East and North Africa comms staff.
A week later and it’s a comment that keeps rattling around.
We need to communicate more like insurgents. What does that mean?
It could mean a whole host of things. To nail the obvious, it’s not about communicating beheadings. To me, it’s more about having an overall framework to work in and allowing people on the ground to be flexible, creative and agile. What I took was that it was about being not hemmed in by procedure. It’s about creating sharable content that is going to be shared. It’s seeing what works in the field and replicating it.
Here’s a second arresting comment from the event that keeps re-occuring.
“Al-Qaida’s leaders view communications as 90 percent of the struggle.”
Think for a minute of that group and what do you see?
Ossama bin Laden in a fuzzy vhs video?
The Twin Towers?
Both are powerful images which frame the first 14 years of the 21st century.
They are communications.
They were framed by communications people.
The Ambassador is of course right. Sometimes we can be too hemmed in by process to think agile, creative, sharable and flexible.
To have such a green light from the top is a gift to cherish.
Sometimes the play book comes not from the institution or the old ways of doing things. It comes from unexpected quarters and what your enemy does.
It also poses the question that if communications is 90 per cent of the issue then are you doing enough? More importantly, have you got the support to do enough?
Spanish poet Baltasar Gracian said that a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.
So, how can you learn from your enemies?
Magic bullet https://www.flickr.com/photos/45175402@N00/51470257/
Forecasts say there will be 40 per cent job losses in some areas of the public sector with £3.3 billion being taken from the voluntary sector over a five year period and £20 billion coming from local government and £15 billion of efficiency savings due in the NHS.
So, what stories are being shaped? If you work in the sector it’s probably long overdue time to think about it.
A) Apply a positive gloss and insist that yes, efficiencies will be made but frontline services will not be cut.
B) Tell people that they had their chance to have their say in the budget consultation and they blew it.
C) Tell people that this is what cuts look like.
All too often people in the public sector have been going for a) to try and minimise panic and upset on the population. But with £20 billion worth of cuts coming down the tracks in local government we need to be above all honest. So, let’s just take a closer look at that, shall we?
What insisting that efficiencies will be made and frontline services will not be cut means
You’ve been cutting millions of pounds from budgets for years. But the frontline hasn’t been affected? Efficiencies? Clearly, you were wasting that money all along so why on earth should I trust you now?
Or, you’re trying to be a bit clever and you know that the frontline will very much be affected but the couple of hours of mobile library visit will somehow make-up for the five-day-a-week building the community used to have. People won’t buy it, or they’ll see through it. So, why should they trust you now?
What telling people that they’ve had their chance means
You’ve pinned up details of a public meeting at the church hall and you paid three times the rate for a display ad in the local paper because it’s a public notice and they’ve got you over a barrel. Twelve people turned up and the Twitter chat you ran reached a fair number but not everyone. In other words, you’ve not done a very good job of this public consultation lark. Why should they trust you now?
What telling people that this is what cuts look like looks like
In Birmingham, this is exactly what Cllr James McKay told the Evening Mail about green bin charges in the City as people were protesting against cuts. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, people won’t like it. But look yourself in the eye. This is the truth. This is going to happen more and more and public sector comms increasingly is going to be about what you don’t do rather than you do.
But at least they’ll trust you more because you are being honest.
A grown-up conversation is needed about communicating cuts and if you work in the area you need to work out which choice you make pretty quick.
Creative commons credit