traditional comms? digital comms? or both?

Civil servant Ann Kempster cuts to the heart of a dilemma. Should we keep traditional comms and digital comms separate? Or united? You can also read the original - and the comments - here 

By Ann Kempster

I attended a fab off-grid get-together this afternoon of a mix of digital and press folk in government today. I was very honoured to have been included.

We looked at what is working well, what isn’t and what the perfect future might look like. A lot of interesting discussions and models for the future. Really got my brain buzzing on a Friday afternoon….

What is the perfect model?

Traditional press officers and digital teams sitting seperately fighting their continual battles?

One team – press and digital sitting together?

An embedded digital comms person sitting within a press team – basically with the comms person doing it all?

Or a truly digital press office – press officers using the tools themselves, embedding social media/digital in the planning/grid process as a matter of normality?

My view

To me the only answer is a truly digital press office.

Yes, this means both sides ‘giving up’ things and press office redefining itself; digital teams letting go of the reins a bit.

Much of the discussion from press staff focussed on digital being an ‘extra’, and ‘on top of’ their day job. I just fundamentally don’t see it this way and I felt a lot of resistance from press officers on this.

Its not one plus one. It’s more of a substitution/finding the right fit of channels.  It’s not about extra/more work, its about appropriate channels. Journalists are on Twitter and they blog, they monitor, and listen. THEY are used to this, this is now an acceptable, expected way for them to communicate. So if a phone call is better, do that….if a flat press release is the right thing, do that.  But it isn’t about column inches and coverage in the same way. Engage, discuss, question. Look for reach and impact.

I don’t see how a modern press function can operate in isolation, not taking up modern communication methods and solely relying on press cuttings and column inches. The world just does not operate this way anymore. We all need to be able to operate across comms disciplines. That goes for digital too – we need to grasp marketing and press and internal comms.

Other counter-arguments were put – ‘but sometimes Twitter isn’t the best way to have off the record discussions’. So, easy, don’t – pick up the phone. But it’s not either/or. It is *fundamentally* about the right channel. A mix of channels, making it easier for everyone involved – national journalists, specialist media, the public/s.

I’m not expecting press officers to be digital experts. I’m not expecting digital experts to be press experts. We’ve both got lots to learn and share with each other. There is a role for the more technical digital role, but I do expect the press office to be able to easily monitor, engage and evaluate basics via the general social channels on hand.

A bugbear

ITS NOT ALL ABOUT TWITTER.

We seem to be soooooooooo hung up on Twitter as the be all and end all. But as I said above, we need to consider all channels. What is appropriate for the situation?

(and I’ve done it myself in this post…apologies.)

Sneaky tip

The team that supports GCN is currently rewriting the comms core skills framework that sits alongside PSG.

In the past this framework has been very light on digital and digital skills were not really deeply embedded in other comms disciplines as ‘essential’.

This is about to change. We now have a firm drive in government for digital by default.  We now have the Government Digital Service; and the head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, tweetingblogging and looking at engaging even more broadly. We have new social media guidelines empowering all staff to get involved and a push to open up IT systems to allow all this.

Digital skills will be embedded in *all* comms disciplines – marketing, internal comms and especially press office. More will be released on this in late July. So if you think that digital/social media is just a fluffy extra thing that a few people do, forget it. We all have to do this….

Ann Kempster is digital communications manager for the Government Communications Network in UK central government.

Photo credit.

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