It’s good to take time out to reflect, assess where you’re going and what you need to do next. LGcomms academy was the perfect opportunity for this – and what a treat it was.
by Kate Walker
Disclaimer: Much of the below is borrowed from the brilliant speakers and comms people I met in Manchester – with a personal slant.
As local gov communicators we’ve got a tough job battling conflicting messages promoting our location as THE place to live, work and play against the onslaught of messages around cuts and changes to services. Gloomy? Don’t be. Challenged, excited? Yes, you should be.
Attending #ComsAcad last week for the first time I left full of energy, affirmation and inspiration; as communicators we’re on the right track, we’ve just got to do more of the good stuff and prove to the world what we’re made of.
So, what did I learn? Way too much to write down and my heads been buzzing since. It was, honestly, an inspiring experience – and I don’t use that word lightly, it’s a much overused word! There were too many motivational speakers to name but if you get the chance I’d go and see these ones again – Alex Nickolay-Kell from Google, of course, (who can say no to a Google cupcake!); Brigadier David Allfey who related comms to militant leadership like no other and left the room sitting bolt upright and *silently* saluting his performance. I was awed by stunning campaigns like GREAT, Break the Silence, #DementiaFriends and left totally gutted that Local Gov can’t compete with a budget of so many millions! However felt a real sense that everyone in the room was there with a shared goal – to learn, share and do great things for local and central gov comms!
There were a number of recurring themes that hit the floor throughout the week that I’ll try to summarise; trust, telling a story, the importance of staff and thinking differently.
Let’s start with storytelling (and no I don’t mean at bedtime!) … it’s the best way of relating to the people that matter – your audience, but we’ve got to make it human. Leaders and politicians want us to challenge them to straight talking – and if they don’t yet agree, then you should be pushing them to do it. Nothing builds a great story than the REAL story even when it isn’t great news. We heard from a brilliant panel on Crisis Comms and the message was consistent… stuff happens! Don’t hide, be visible; be proactive and tell the truth – it always comes out in some way or another but if you’ve built relationships with the media, they’ll be more understanding.
And what makes a good relationship? Trust of course. And to win that trust it goes back to that old saying of treating other as you wish to be treated – and if not, then as you would your family and friends. If you feel you know someone you’re more likely to be a bit more forgiving when they do something wrong. If there’s no relationship there then … stuff happens!
Have you heard that marketing is a science not an art? That one’s been around for a while now and was strung out again at #ComsAcad. I was pleased to see Paul Masterman, Head of Comms at Staffordshire CC argue this during the panel on staff engagement (urgh – jargon encrusted local gov term!). Communications needs to be both science and art – we absolutely need to make more use of data for evidence based campaigns but don’t forget that personal touch – we are after all talking about human beings, are we not?
I was pleased to see a strong focus on internal comms over the 3 days. Staff are our most crucial asset – and number one ambassador. It’s no secret that word of mouth is the most effective tactic in the book and who better to do this for us than or own people. Unsurprisingly (but something many of us probably haven’t focused on until now) is that line managers are the most trusted managers with the greatest influence. Of course, it’s make total sense. But they are often the forgotten managers when it comes to internal comms. So use them! We also heard from the brilliant people @TheICSpace who are pulling together loads of great resources and case studies for internal communicators. If you haven’t seen it already check it out http://communication.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/ic-space/. And send them your own case studies and share ideas with fellow IC guru’s.
What really left a big impression, was the passion that oozed from both Cormac Russell of Nurture Development and Dominic Campbell of FutureGov. Taking a radical approach to building services and communities and the role of the ‘citizen’ was top of their agenda. I urge you to look up them up – you won’t be disappointed.
Cormac compared communities to football teams – 22 people doing the work and 3,000 people telling them what to do! Genius! He is challenging us to rethink everything we do in local government and reshape communities. A huge ask but one I think has massive merit in tackling. We need to shift the focus from what’s wrong to what’s strong and really listen to our communities (and I mean REALLY listen – don’t just bang out that survey monkey questionnaire!). Communities are waiting to be liberated and we can help them do that by going to where the people are actually living their lives. His challenge – rebuild the sense of ‘citizen’ empowering people to be self-sufficient where they can be, doing things better than we can on their own and supported where they can’t.
So think about this:
1. What is it that people in communities are best placed to do to create better lives?
2. What is it they can do with help?
3. And then what’s left for us?
Dominic, spoke along similar lines, frustrated with local government, insistent that we should be investing in communities, getting to the heart of issue and finding the right solution – not just bolting on digital to tick that ‘digital first’ box! According to Dominic, the majority of local government websites are past it. We’re running behind the times when it comes to digital and we should be using it as a sophisticated tool to aid the delivery of services in a tech driven age. FutureGov have launched a fantastic project doing just that, ‘Casserole Club’ connects people to share meals with those that need it. Simple and effective I can’t wait to see how it rolls out. Take a look and sign up if you can spare a meal or 2 a week!
You may be thinking that some of these concepts are just way too huge to tackle when all we do is communications. Wrong. We shouldn’t just ‘do’ comms. We should be challenging leaders and managers at the outset of business changes and new ideas to involve comms. We can help shape the thought process, get to the heart of what it is we’re trying to achieve, think about what it is the customer wants/needs and influence how we do that in the right way.
Is it odd that I haven’t mentioned digital yet? The digital theme was discussed in abundance, but alongside it a health warning. Don’t fall into the trap that building a website or ‘doing’ social media is the solution and will do! Digital is a tool like the many others so shouldn’t be used in isolation. Our job is to figure out what the issue is, what outcome we want to achieve and find the best way to do this. Google pointed out that we need to be cleverer with the plethora of data that is out there to pick ‘moments that matter’ to our audience to be seen and heard through all the noise – totally agree.
And whilst we’re on the subject of data, evidence, evaluation and proving our worth should be the basis for all local gov comms. If we do all of the above, we’ll be building a profession to be proud of (world class according to Cormac Smith) and the people who employ in us to ‘do comms’ will be coming to us with problems and trusting us to do the job in the way it should be done.
So, be good at what you do, think harder and faster, put customers at the heart of the solution and know that this is only the beginning.
And just because there was so much more to tell these are just some quick notes I didn’t get in but want to share:
We’ve got to focus on making our worth known at the top table with focussed and evidence based comms only – no room for vanity campaigns!
Remember – local gov is like gravity, you know it’s there when you need it – you don’t need to know exactly how it works to keep you the world spinning!
3 key things the media will ask in a crisis:
Are you sorry?
How are you sure it won’t happen again?
Will you resign?
And some good videos:
Dementia Friends video
Check out the Behavioural Insight Team – some great stuff going on there testing people’s responses to slight changes in messaging. Really good stuff.
pic via Wikimedia Commons