This year I've been fortunate enough to visit Cardiff, Shropshire, Norfolk and now Glasgow to share our learning and experiences and to soak up some fresh ideas and challenges.
Our comms2point0/Public Sector Forums event in Glasgow was a really enjoyable adventure and I was struck by the enthusiasm and professionalism of a bunch of comms people keep to learn more, create more, deliver more.
One thing is clear from the cross-UK visits I've made and that is this - yes there are demographic and geographic differences to understand but actually the same broad issues and opportunities exist for us all in the public sector across whether in Scotland, Wales or England. And one of the very biggest challenges for us right now is how we remain effective and relevant across multiple new AND traditional platforms.
I led an unconference session in the afternoon which set out to determine issues and solutions to the growing resource conundrum of delivering the old and the new. The how, the when and the why in the digital age.
It’s more than fair for your typical, rushed-off their feet comms officer to ask the question: ‘This new stuff is all well and good but when will I get chance to do it on top of everything else I do?’ I know how hard these folk work and the skills they offer. I have a huge respect for them but adapt they must, in my view. Many have, some haven’t from what I see and hear.
The unconference conversation which followed was lively, questioning, creative and grounded in a desire to carry on working hard and being a great resource for their organisations. And yes, there was a little bit of fear in some quarters.
Here is a round-up of top 11 ideas and observations generated during our conversation…
1. Create an online press office which could help to deliver journalistic channel shift and begin to encourage more online delivery of updates, statements and news stories. This platform also offers the potential to share of stories wider, with all stakeholders, in a more transparent way
2. Augment the online press office with all of your digital platforms and social media channels - there has to be a synergy between our digital engagement offers.
3. Open up the opportunity for front line services to deliver social media activity within their own areas - communications teams will drown under the burden of managing multiple platforms in the future if we don't open up wider access.
4. If the increasing shift to online is going to be effective and successful then press officers need to be able to change their writing styles and write for the web rather than in the style of formal press releases. If done well, this new style could be more engaging and more easily accessible. And press officers certainly have the skills in their armoury to this very easily.
5. Comms teams also need to understand better the importance of tagging and search engine optimisation – the call to action is to get the relevant customers online and then ensure that their content is easily found once there.
6. Some press and comms officers still appear to be reluctant to use and understand the available digital tools. They would appear to be in the minority but they exist nevertheless. Just to take a look at the skills that PR graduates fresh out of university possess in terms of digital prowess and abilities. Be afraid, be very afraid...
7. There is a danger of losing relationships with local journalists. This may be true to a degree but if these journalists can readily access the nuts and bolts information they want (and we know what this information is because we each have a resource-rich pool of evidence trail of old press releases, queries and FOI’s for us to understand what makes our local press tick) then comms and press officers may slowly but surely be able to carve out time to engage with other platforms and concentrate on more qualitative content for our customers.
8. Change press officers job titles. Some job titles knocking around today are plain confusing. A press officer role and title has always been very clear. Until now. Pretty soon, there will be ‘press officers’ operating in locations which have no local press. Enough said.
9. Many private sector roles are being change to ‘digital engagement officers’. We need to be stronger and clearer and call these folk digital engagement officers, rather than fear FOI's asking about 'staff wasting time on twitter and facebook. If that is where some of our customers want to engage with us then that is where we need to be.
10. Press officers are brilliant at taking dull and complicated, over-long and badly written content and turning it into bite-sized chunks of easily digestible information. This is a skill and if coupled with the power of engagement through digital channels, and less stifling processes of press releases and formal statements, the end results could be powerful in terms of genuine conversations and resultant customer relationships.
11. Monitoring and evaluation of digital channels was considered to be an area we would struggle to resource and manage. Many organisations with tight resources haven’t ever cracked traditional media monitoring. So how will we/they cope with effectively monitoring web and digital? Truthfully, we probably won’t, unless a dedicated resource is carved out.
So a stack of ideas and discussion in just 25 minutes flat. And there were nine more of these sessions running through the afternoon on a range of comms-led topics.
Glasgow, 21 June 2012 - more ideas than you could shake a stick at.
Big thanks to all who attended and participated.
p.s. Check out the #fbps12 hashtag to see and read more about the day.
p.p.s. If you haven't been to Glasgow before, get yourself there - it's a really cool city, full of great people, great buildings, great bars and the best underground tube network.
photo by me
Sign up for our weekly email digest. You can do that here.