It’s official, we need a little more no-nonsense honesty in our lives. And we’ve just been served up a rather marvellous example to inspire us.
by Darren Caveney
Now I know Danny Dyer from the 2005 film The Business which charts the rise and fall of London drug gangs operating on the Costa Del Crime. Apparently he is in East Enders now, and in his daughter is in Love Island but I don’t watch such things :-)
But he’s filled my Twitter timeline in the last 24 hours for having a rant on ITV about Brexit, and who he saw as its chief architect, ex-prime minister, David Cameron.
I’ve watched this clip a dozen times and it made me smile – actually, laugh - every time. Which is no mean feat for anything which touches upon the increasingly poisonous topic of Brexit.
Now, some things to say here for context.
This is not a political post. Like all good comms people I try to remain Apolitical.
The reason for this post is to celebrate those who talk openly, honestly and passionately.
For those who stand against and tackle the pretty alarming rise in bad behaviours in all its forms.
For those disheartened by the news each day.
Or, in Danny Dyer’s case, the woeful leadership we’ve experienced as a nation on all matters Brexit and from whichever side of the 52/48 split you sit on.
It’s about time there was some accountability dished out and responsibility taken for what is filling our airwaves each day. And in some instances, frankly, for telling - as Danny would call them - porky pies.
What Danny Dyer did and said was comedy gold (it was his second, beautifully judged use of the work T%&T which did for me)
But take away the liberal use of the word T%&T and unpick the point he was making which was this: That irresponsible and dishonest behaviour not only seems acceptable now but has become the norm. Where has the accountability and responsibility gone? You try and dish up some of this stuff as a comms person and you’ll be out on your ear quicker than you can say frictionless trade.
This is where Danny Dyer reminds us of the power of stark, unashamed honesty and questioning which is so sadly lacking in many of our establishment figures and across so many of our news channels, papers and programmes.
And this is where it touches upon our world as communicators
We need more honesty in our lives, in this country, in the world. In 22 years in the industry I have honestly never worked with a communicator who wanted to be anything other than honest. But advice can be ignored and advice is ignored.
As an industry we quite rightly talk about working strategically and advising, guiding and critiquing our organisations. But all too often we can work our socks off on a well-judged, thorough piece of communication on a tricky issue only for it to be ignored. We have to take some of the blame for this but not all of it.
It’s undoubtedly my age but over the past year or so I have found myself being more and more honest on matters. Not that I was dishonest before but it can be easy to let some things slide and to ‘choose our battles’ wisely. It feels uplifting to be brutally honest. Although careful what you wish for because not everyone will be ready for the no-nonsense sharing of your ‘honest’ thoughts and views.
The rise in bad behaviour online continues
On my travels around the UK this year working with organisations I have lost count of the number of comms people who tell me about the abuse and vitriol they experience when they manage organisational social media accounts. Some of them also tell me about the poor treatment they receive from their organisations. This always saddens me.
And I have spent a lot of time during the past 12 months training elected members in social media skills. I always really enjoy these sessions. But I can tell you that many of them – good, decent people from all parties – are physically frightened of taking to social media for fear of trolls, abuse and rank bad behaviour. Part of my role is to help them through this maze and point to good practice and sound advice. But you can’t blame them for some trepidation. Bad behaviour appears to have been normalised.
Is this acceptable?
I think not but it’s where we’re at in 2018 for sure so let’s move forward armed with that knowledge.
Stuff the moaners
I coined this phrase whilst running a training workshop with a room of fabulous people in Glasgow earlier this year. It was in response to one of the classic barriers which can hit a comms person like a slap in the face with a wet kipper: “We couldn’t say that in our organisation because we would get told off for potentially upsetting someone.”
“stuff the moaners”, I childishly replied.
But I did mean it.
Of course, it’s the easiest thing in the world for me to say that now that I work for myself but a hell of a lot more difficult for those comrades working in-house.
But we know that that a percentage of customers, patients and residents will moan whatever the UK public sector does and says. In fact when I ask comms teams – and I do – if they have any serial complainers they will all, in unison, instantly rattle off the same couple of names from their patch. Every area in the UK seems to have them.
Now if we cock things up – and we all do from time to time - of course we deserve criticism. However I think the time has come for individuals and teams to be empowered to stand up for themselves when they or their organisations are wronged.
I still remember times gone by when local newspapers sold a lot more copies and they were the biggest culprits here with what I would describe as an obsession with criticising the public sector. I think they have fed into some of the behaviour we see now, together with some of their national brethren.
So when everything you do is booted from pillar to post by a vocal small minority anyway there is an opportunity to be more Danny Dyer.
Why not be brave, take a stand, challenge bad behaviour, mistruths and smear.
Let’s not deliver comms aimed at not upsetting the apple cart of the 1 or 2% of our audience because you’ll be criticised anyway, probably.
As I write, the latest sector to be getting a kicking by some is the water industry.
Why? Because they had the cheek to ask us to be a bit sensible with our water use during this current hot spell. Cue a few ill-informed folks ringing, texting and tweeting national radio stations in an outraged state. Now no one was banning them from using hose pipes to water their lawns but that was the knee-jerk complaint being vented and with one caller describing the water industry as ”incompetent”. Actually some of the best engineering brains in the UK work in the water industry. And take a look at your water bill compared to your gas and electric bill and ask yourself which is the better value.
Why we water our gardens with the best quality drinking water in the world should be the real debate here but no let’s stick with moaning. Sigh.
Good examples of being more Danny Dyer
I cling to the belief that there are more good people out there than bad people. And if we are truly honest and transparent in our communications, are brave in standing up for our values and our people, and we tackle bad behaviour in all its forms head-on then some of those good people will support us. Not all but some. And some is better than none.
There are plenty of good every day examples of this approach.
The NHS Blood Twitter account calling out disgusting racist behaviour last year is a classic of its kind and an UnAward-winner to boot.
The lovely recent response from Rochdale Council to a resident’s complaint that the town had no heritage or prospects.
Where a resident took exception to Gedling Borough Council wishing their departing chief executive of 10 years good luck. Their response here.
And less well known but just as good Tower Hamlets comms team who took issue with Katie Hopkins on Twitter over her views of the borough’s residents and which pointed her to the data about how satisfied they in fact are.
Let’s all push for more of it in our work.
So for the very timely reminder of the importance of honesty, integrity and accountability, thank you Danny Dyer.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
Image via Twiter