early birds and worms: why engaging with your comms team at the start of your project really is the tastiest option

A tale of birds, worms and talking about things early on.

by Rachel Moss

“I’m not psychic!” is the clarion call of many an in-house comms pro. And, oh, if we were - wouldn’t the world be a better place?

It’s that head in your hands moment when something lands on your desk not long before it needs to go out and you’re asked to work some magic, make it look pretty – oh, and get some press coverage if you can.

If only you knew before. You could have prepared; planned a great comms approach linked to tangible objectives and done something you and your organisation would be proud of.

I hear about it so many times from PRO’s across the country – how in-house comms teams aren’t involved in projects early enough to add real value and impact.

Much of the commsforchange14 event last summer – organised jointly by the brilliant comms2point0 and the Public Sector Customer Services Forum - was built around addressing this very problem. I couldn’t go, but it looked excellent.

Katy Gibbins, Head of Communications at Lambeth Council, also wrote about this very thing last summer in her blog post: ‘A top tip for success? Get your communications team in at the start’.

I. Could. Not. Agree. More.

If the early bird catches the worm, why do colleagues wonder why all the food has gone when they’re late to the buffet?

Or, to put it in a ‘commsy’ way: If preparation and expert execution heightens impact, why do colleagues wonder why their ‘message’ was tumble weed floating in the desert when engagement with the comms team was a last minute affair?

I’ve witnessed both sides of the coin.

In my current workplace, there are some excellent Project Managers who fully engage with us from the start. They involve us in early planning, welcome our advice, take it on board and give us the creative freedom to lead on our bits, which frees them up to do theirs.

By the time their project ‘goes live’ the whole thing is a textbook comms/PR case study, worthy of awards in my honest opinion, and we have the evaluation stats to prove it works.  

For example, we had the pleasure of working with a great colleague on our Environmental Health report, published just before Christmas. He started working with us months before, right at the start of his fieldwork, so my team could help gather views from the public on how they thought local councils were delivering environmental health services in their area.

We were able to create the brand #myhealthytown to spread the word on social media. The survey results were then fed into the audit. Our graphic designers also had the luxury of time when prepping the final report, so they could dispense with old fashioned figures and tables and plan some engaging infographics and pictures which were shareable across social media.

 

It was great to see so many media outlets and members of the public taking images directly from the report and spreading them across twitter and facebook – something an excel graph just wouldn’t do.

We’re now on a mission to mainstream this good practice across the organisation and have launched an internal campaign to get more staff engaging with comms early enough for us to make a difference.

As part of this, we organised a staff ‘data storytelling day’– to showcase the effect that comms can have on the impact of projects. People like Matt Jukes from the Office for National Statistics, Ruth Thomas from BBC Wales and Infographics designer Caroline Beavon came along to help inspire our audit teams to think about new ways of engaging the public, to make our messages more accessible and relevant. We also showcased some internal case studies where things worked well.   

It’s great to see our efforts bearing fruit.

Since the training event, more and more teams are approaching us to get involved at the start of their projects. But, like most in-house PR pros, I won’t be happy until we can guarantee we’re serving up the juiciest comms treats EVERY time.

Rachel Moss is Head of Communications at Wales Audit Office

Picture credits

Bluebird: Feeding Time by Mr Tugs – reproduced under creative commons license

All other images taken from Wales Audit Office publications.