The World cup may have kicked off this week but all the talk in Manchester was about communications at the inaugural Public Sector Communications Academy.
I’m a little biased, but I thought that this was the best Academy I’ve attended and the collaboration with central government added a welcome extra dot-joining and learning dimension.
For many communications pros it is becoming harder and harder to get to events like this one. But I believe that it’s never been more important to continue to learn, to expand and to share.
That’s what’s so great about Government Director of Communications, Alex Aiken’s drive to invest in government comms people and their development – it is setting a tone and direction which other parts of the public sector can point to in their own organisational fights for investment in up-skilling.
Comms is a tough gig and we all need to be supported in ongoing development to ensure that we become the very best we can be. And, besides, I still see other professions going to training and development events so let’s all support one another in shouting about the importance of being at events like Comms Academy. It benefits our organisations as well as ourselves, let’s not forget.
So, in the spirit of sharing then learning I was fortunate to benefit from, here’s 66 nuggets I picked up over the three-day Academy.
1. Nearly 600 people from across the public sector attended the event. The opportunity to share and learn as immense
2. Worryingly, it is estimated that around 60% of local government cuts are still to come
3. Yet 54% of comms people are optimistic for the future (*source: comms2point0 survey)
4. “The word spin must be deleted from the public sector lexicon”, LGcomms chair Cormac Smith tells us
5. Opposition elected members always want to cut comms. Period. And that’s dangerous.
7. Shit Happens, Mark Rogers, Birmingham’s impressive new Chief Executive tells us. That’s refreshing honesty. Said in public (which is different to it being said in private)
8. We discovered that there is a 1960s, mayor-like medal which the LGcomms Chair gets to wear. It’s called the Chairman Society of County Public Relations Officers medal. It’s what’s known as ‘retro cool’
9. Everyone should get to see Brigadier David Allfrey and his talk on communications and leadership. And, as a lesson in how to present, it was quite brilliant to watch (and, he possibly has a louder voice than Cormac)
10. The Brigadier tells us that ‘The leader is the servant. It is a privilege to lead others’. What wise words
11. Councillors don’t read council reports. So keep them short to encourage better engagement and understanding
12. Council communications teams must have relationships with all elected members, not just those in control. Control changes
13. The Local Government Association offers support and advice to councils and staff who experience a change in administration
14. Thunderclap is being used more and more to increase the impact of government campaigns on social media
15. If you are a public sector communicator you really should join the Government Communications Service – affiliate membership is available for non-Government staff. The service now offers some brilliant resources so join up here
16. In you are in internal comms consider not using the word ‘staff’. How about colleagues or people?
17. Don’t rely on senior managers to cascade information – generally it is ineffective. Line managers are more trusted and more likely to have the important conversations with their people and teams
18. The UK ranks 9th in terms of people engagement (and below the other G7 countries)
19. ASDA has 140k employees, many in low wage jobs, yet their staff are more engaged than public sector staff
20. Too much internal comms still takes place at a junior level and not at a strategic one. It was described by some as the Cinderella service. This has to change
21. The Government Communications Service is offering a foundation level diploma in internal comms to help to address this and to improve professional standards
23. A line managers toolkit offering practical internal comms advice is being launched by the civil service in July
24. Manchester City Council tell us that 80% of their site visitors have visited with a task. Just 20% are ‘grazers’. They are not interested in making their site sticky, they want very quick transactions to help visitors with those tasks.
25. They have chopped 6,000 pages from their site (although it is still large with 14,000 pages)
26. In terms of visual design they maximise iconography to help guide visitors quickly and clear lozenges at the top of pages to highlight their calls to action
27. Resident satisfaction with the site has increased. SOCITM didn’t score it as well as Manchester expected
28. Dan Metcalfe of Public Health England told us that the StopTober campaign trialled 20 different homepage designs, and measured which was most effective, before deciding which to use
29. We were told that budget constraints should not constrain creativity. We saw many quality central government films. You could sense a touch of budget envy from some colleagues from other parts of the public sector. But creativity need not cost – remember the brilliant Elvis in the Depot video from Torfaen Council?
30. Talking of campaigns, 1.8million families have signed up for the Change for Life campaign
31. And on the subject of big numbers, Dave Worsell of GovDelivery told us that they now have 4million subscribers in the UK
32. And Nottinghamshire County Council has experienced a 76% conversion rate for email sign-up ads on their web site. We should not forget about the importance of email
33. Media Law expert, David Banks, reminds us that putting “not the views of my employer” in your social media bio will not save you from the sack (or legal action) in the event of you saying something daft. So don’t say anything daft
34. And if you retweet something defamatory, you are just as liable
35. The Right to be Forgotten ruling by the European Court of Justice is causing newspapers to receive 1,000 of requests to remove info held in online archives. This will begin to effect local authorities and other organisations too
36. IPSO, the new press regulator, goes live September 2014
37. Alex Aiken describes LGcomms chair, Cormac Smith, as “indescribable”
38. We’re told to challenge our creative agencies in understanding better and utilising behavioural insights in their work for us
39. Google employ someone with the job title ‘Captain of Moon Space’
40. We’re shown examples of creativity in promoting fairly dull things – Google hold up Volvo’s quite brilliant ad using Jean-Claude Van Damme to promote their new dynamic steering technology, as a prime example – the ad has been watched 73million times. Watch it here
41. Nancy Corbin tells us about Keep Britain Tidy’s Pee, Poo, Paper campaign – a simple reminder of the only three things we should put down the loo
42. The Dementia Friends campaign aims to sign up 1 million friends by March 2015. You can sign up here
43. We learn about the five principles of good evaluation - PROOF: Pragmatic, Realistic, Open, Objective and Fully integrated
44. The GCS offer an excellent guide to communications evaluation. Another reason why joining it makes sense
45. Advertising Value Equivalents (AVEs) have no value. “Tell that to any fool who asks for them”, says Cormac Smith
46. Google advise us to: Win the moments that matter; enable better decisions; constantly innovate
47. Even Google staff get asked stupid questions – “Why don’t we just make a viral ad… “
48. Think about ‘hub content’ - Build a hub, populate it with good content, encourage people to it, build a community, encourage dialogue, get metrics from your subscribers
49. YouTube is the second most popular search engine in the world, and the term ‘How to… ‘ is the most searched term
50. There are 3,200 government communicators. And 100 digital natives are being recruited to support Alex Aiken’s expectation of UK government comms being the becoming the best in the world
52. Dominic Campbell tells us that the over 80s do use digital – FutureGov’s Casserole Club teaches us that Skype and text messages are popular
53. He also tells us that local government is awful at digital and that Government Digital Services is putting in place foundations which should have been in place 10-years ago
54. Facebook’s organic reach means that just 2% of your posts will be seen
55. Classic FM has a surprising 180k Facebook likes – and they are getting seen by up to 300% of their audience, through a strategy of posting quality content which is successful in getting shared
56. Social is a noisy space, being used by all of the best organisations, so you need to excel in your use of it – just sending out a few tweets is not going to cut it
57. Sophie Payne tells us about the four P’s of leading change: Purpose, Picture, Plan, Participate
58. Stats, we need some event stats: 4271 tweets were sent out carrying the #ComsAcad hashtag from 551 contributors
59. The hashtag could potentially have been seen over 6.7million times, potentially reaching 927k unique users
60. Sally Northeast was a tweeting machine – she sent out 433 original tweets. But it’s not just about quantity, it’s about the quality of the messages and conversations and she showed great social reporting skills. That takes some doing.
61. The important learning here is that you need skilful, fast and accurate tweeters at events – don’t underestimate the skills needed. The best event live tweeters I’ve seen are Dave Musson, James Coltham and Dan Slee. Sally now joins that list
62. We look at our mobile phones on average 150 times per day, Trinity Mirror regional managing director Simon Edgley tells us. Only 150?
63. He also tells us that the commercialisation of public sector comms teams is inevitable
64. Capacity Grid are offering local authorities an income generation opportunity from their websites
65. A Head of Comms tell us that he was called a ‘Head of Puff’ by his chief executive. That is so wrong on so many levels
66. Communications: Art or a science? The debate continues. For my money it’s both (and you need a comms team with artists and scientists in it)
So there you go.
In the run up to the event I’d described #ComsAcad as being the Glastonbury of Comms Events. I believe it stood up to that billing.
And if you enjoyed the event, either in person or virtually, you might also enjoy next month’s CommsCamp 14. CommsCamp is ‘the Woodstock of comms events’.
Darren Caveney is vice chair of LGcomms and co-creator of comms2point0
Pic via Eleri Roberts