On my consultancy and training travels around the UK I get to learn so much from other people. Plus, there are comms lessons all around us if we look closely enough. And so, I thought I would begin sharing these lessons more regularly via the somewhat obvious blog post title of ’Things I learned this week’ 😊
I hope you enjoy volume 05
by Darren Caveney
1. The genius of Stewart Lee – seeing an artist craft their work
I had the chance to go and see the comedian Stewart Lee trialling brand new material at a very cool little cabaret club in Soho. All very metropolitan middle-class elite. It was brilliant – intimate and with a room clearly full of his fans - so it was interesting to see such a skilled and talented artist seemingly a teeny bit nervous about trying out his carefully scripted lines and stories for the first time to the general public. What a treat to see and experience.
He stood - with pen and paper in hand - reading out his stories (he famously doesn’t ‘do’ jokes) and literally scribbled notes on what worked and what worked less well during an hour-long set. It will be so interesting to see what makes it through to the final cut when he tours for real.
He walked on stage sporting a large rufty tufty, grey-ish beard. His opening line? “I know what you’re thinking – Julian Assange has let himself go.” Brilliant.
Without wishing to sound too contrived what Stewart Lee did was the classic crafting of compelling stories, which were right for the audience, absolutely timely (Michael Gove’s supposed drug use got a mention) and then tested them out – so the research and focus group stage.
I’m sure he would recoil in horror if he thought his work was comparable to what we do as communicators but there are quite a few synergies from what I saw (as I sat there soaking it all up with a nice glass of Malbec in hand, in case you were wondering)
But he is a hero and a genius, and I am neither, so the similarities end quite quickly.
And he had me at Julian Assange.
2. Comms Strategy – the common issues challenging you right now…
Before seeing Stewart Lee I ran the third Strategy Surgery workshop with the very excellent Fran Collingham and Paul Masterman.
We kicked off the session by asking attendees what they were hoping to get from their strategies, and what they feared would get in the way.
The results were telling and insightful. They were…
A chance to avoid trying to do everything
An opportunity to prioritise
A way to state what we won’t do
A way of ensuring the comms team has a true focus
That we’ll create the time to think, create, plan, research and evaluate
That the organisation will ignore it anyway
That we won’t be able to stick to it
The organisation doesn’t have a business plan so don’t act strategically
That we’ll still get dragged into the tactical morass of tweets and video requests
That time pressures will foil us
We still have a way to go with getting effective, embedded organisational comms strategies in place and truly guiding our work. But having a strategy gives you a real head start on other teams and departments who don’t plan.
Fran talked about the importance for having organisational ‘principles for comms’ – linking to values and behaviours, with genuine listening taking place, a commitment from all that the comms team will be involved early, that teams will be encouraged to be creative and to innovate, and that the comms team will deliver good, simple but effective comms which helps people receive the services they want, and colleagues the support they need to do their jobs.
Now that could make your strategy really fly.
3. Confucius said…
Now I’m not one for power quotes or inspirational memes but I caught one I liked on Radio 4 whilst driving up a very wet M6 yesterday.
It was in relation to the protests in Hong Kong and the line was this, by Confucius:
“Even a single spark can burn an entire land”
We may sometimes feel like we’re a lone voice out in the wilderness but we should never forget that we can have a huge impact on our work, our friends and colleagues, our organisations and even our own lives.
Go do something great this week.
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
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image via U.S. National Archives