December is the perfect time to reflect on the year just gone – the good, the bad and the bits in between - and to begin planning in earnest for the year ahead.
by Darren Caveney
2017 has been quite a year hasn’t it, and a fascinating one in which to do comms.
We should raise a glass to all of the comms people from police, fire, ambulance, NHS and local government who have had to respond to unspeakable attacks this year.
The UnAwards17 highlighted some of the superb work being delivered by teams and individuals.
And we should also celebrate the thousands of unsung comms people going to work each day and just doing a bloody good job.
On a personal level I have been busier than ever and fortunate to work in-house supporting 25 comms teams in their efforts to deliver great work - to reshape their teams, to rethink how they operate, to sharpen their plans and strategies, and to take on board new training and development. I thank all of you for the opportunity - each experience was a genuine pleasure.
I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve worked with this year, and seen many issues emerge on the front line, so I wanted to pull together an end of year post to reflect upon this and other observations, hopes and fears for 2018.
Grab yourself a coffee and have a read and see what you think…
1. Manage your time or watch your creativity die
Demand and time management are the biggest challenges facing communicators in 2018. Period. Get it wrong and there is little left for creativity, for thinking space, for the opportunity for something new and special to flourish.
How do we do this? Monitor how much time we spend on activities. I did it and it can throw up surprising results. Qualify all of your meetings – only go to the ones the really need to be at. And if you’re spending too long on social media it’s time to manage it more closely – I no longer go on social media after my self -imposed 9pm curfew. It’s definitely helped me.
Carve out your own 5% to create fresh new time for thinking and doing – it’s honestly where the magic happens.
2. Vanity metrics – a force for good and bad
We all know that the true goal is outcomes. So let’s treat vanity metrics for what they are – at best estimates.
Now engagement figures and potential reach statistic can be a very useful performance guide mid-campaign – what is working well, what needs fine-tuning or more radical change. But stats bandied around on how many followers or likes a platform or account may have can also be dangerous if they become assumptions which shape expected results.
Facebook 39 million UK users, Twitter and LinkedIn 23 million apiece. It sounds great but you’ll be doing well to engage with more than 2% of your people here on any consistent basis.
And with Twitter going down the 3 second route Facebook chose in counting a video view I think vanity metrics really can lack credibility at times.
We have to understand and challenge metrics, we need to recognise the true potential reach of our digital work, and we need to drill down more and more and more to help explain to our customers what they mean in the real world.
3. Owning our own platforms – a big ticket item for 2018
We’ve heard in the past few days that Storify is closing, to be replaced by a paid-for option. Not hugely significant for most of us. But it’s a big reminder about the dangers of putting our comms eggs into other’s peoples’ baskets. 2018 should be the year of ensuring our own platforms and resources are the absolute best they can be – have a brilliant website, use email to great effect, utilise print where it still has a role to play.
To better explain what I mean here’s a scenario: You ditch all your internal comms channels to embrace Facebook at Work. I can see the benefits – many staff will know and use the platform already so there’s a big head start in adoption to be had. But what happens when your comms budget gets an unexpected 20% chop and it’s a choice between making someone in your team redundant or losing Facebook at Work?
Innovation is of course vital in our industry but so too is a touch of future-proofing for longer terms benefits.
4. Is video the new leaflet?
I worry that video is becoming the new leaflet. And I worry about how many times comms teams are being asked now to produce videos.
These internal demands used to be for leaflets and posters. Then it became requests for new logos, microsites and apps. In more recent times it’s been demands for social media accounts. And now it seems to be the turn of video.
Video can be the right tool, of course, and if the comms plan highlights it as a good tactic then absolutely. The multi UnAward-winning chip pan fire campaign video from South Yorkshire Fire is a fantastic thing of beauty and should be lauded from every corner. But quality over quantity is important for our outcomes and reputations. Understanding when it’s the right tactic, and letting our comms plan dictate this has to be the right path in 2018.
I have come across many in-house people this year now being asked to produce a video for just about everything. That can’t be right, just as it wasn’t right to produce a leaflet for everything back in the day. We need to use our smarts, learn from comms history and hold the line on saying no when it’s not the right thing to do.
5. Without a great comms plan we are guessing with our choice of tactics
I keep threatening to have T-shirts printed with this emblazoned across the chest. We need to create brilliant comms plans for our priority work and campaigns. From this good things will grow.
What have been your favourite pieces of comms, creativity or campaigns this year? I bet they had a strong, research-led plan behind them which understood and identified the objectives, the messages, the audiences, the channels and the tactics.
Here’s a free comms planning pack download which may help you in 2018.
6. Standing up for wellbeing
Some teams are going through really rough times. We need to support and look out for them and each other. @comms2point0 will always help fly a flag and support and connect as much as possible.
I don’t believe as an industry we are good at wellbeing. Comms Unplugged tried to tackle this head on in September. Meditating on a log in the rain and stargazing in a field in Dorset were two of my work highlights of the year. And yes it was a work.
Now of course a cynical boss might question this as some kind of strange hippy-ish jolly but if we are going to make a dent in our wellbeing performance we must stand up and challenge these cemented minds. No one will do it for us, it’s on us.
And on that get yourself to Comms Unplugged 2018 – it will be the best work thing you do next year I promise you.
7. Remove negativity from your life
Negativity can be really damaging at work. I’m stating the blindingly obvious, of course. Our careers can sometimes churn up negative experiences so removing them from your life feels just plain good.
If negativity is blighting your working life right now make 2018 the year you bin it. As the cliché goes, life really is too short.
8. Giving really is better than receiving
I’m lucky that my consultancy work allows me to pick and choose to get involved in non-paid work and projects which I believe in. It’s something that has grown as I have got older but giving a little bit back has become something of a priority for me of late.
In 2018 I would dearly love to find a way of taking on a young person to help me in my consultancy day job. My hours, locations and working patterns are irregular. And my office is at home. So finding a way of making this do-able are a challenge. But it’s on my 2018 ‘to do’ list because I want to give someone a chance to benefit from the good things which have come my way whilst I have an opportunity to and to share some of the things I have learned in the past 21 years in the industry.
9. Never. Stop. Innovating.
None of us knows everything. And at the point we think we do something will undoubtedly come along and trip us up abruptly to remind us of the fact. Trying new things, getting out of the comms rut and innovating are so important to us in terms of our ongoing development.
For me personally, helping on new initiatives like the Talking Comms Podcast are fun and give the chance to work with someone fab and learn new things along the way.
What will you do in 2018 to innovate and do something fresh and exciting?
10. Raising the social media content bar
2017 has seen some brilliant campaigns and content shared by organisations on social media. There are too many to flag here but two jump out and must be mentioned – NHS Blood and Transplant standing up to racism online reminds us of the importance of being brave.
And Doncaster Council have gone and raised the bar for public sector social media content – not through glossy campaigns or videos but by good old fashioned planning, brilliant creative thinking, and great image-led story-telling on very unsexy services like fly-tipping and gritting.
11. Work hard and be nice
This is a slogan on a print by Anthony Burrill which we have on a wall at home. 2017 has seen some terrible stuff flying around both in the UK and around the world. Listening to the news some days can be a pretty depressing experience. I have found myself switching it off some days and listening to music instead to inspire and set a more positive mood.
I deliberately steer clear on talking politics online but this year it’s been a test at times to not scream out loud on Twitter “what on earth is wrong with some people?” But it wouldn’t make a jot of difference and who would care anyway?
So instead I will stick to Antony Burill’s wise words in 2018 – work hard and be nice. I think it’s a pretty good maxim for us all.
Thank you to everyone who has worked with me this year. And thank you to everyone who has supported @comms2point0 or written a post for comms2point0.co.uk, it means a lot.
Have a fantastic Christmas and a happy, healthy, creative and fun new year.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
Image by Tullio Saba