“Aim High”, the message in green exclaims! Should I have taken it as a sign when my seven-year-old returned from this year’s Royal Cornwall Show armed with a goody bag of Truro and Penwith College literature and promotional merchandise, which included the pictured foam helicopter?
Apart from the fact he’s already asking questions about College and when he can go (the helicopter works!), the marketing bundle was to prove symbolic. Less than 24 hours later I was delighted to be offered the role as the College’s Press and PR Officer.
It’s an exciting role and one I had no hesitation in accepting. Responsible not only for helping to put marketing packages (and events) like this together, but also for leading the team, managing the budget and working on new and exciting media relations, marketing projects and ad campaigns for this well-regarded, growing and dynamic Cornwall institution.
I’m absolutely thrilled to be moving to the College, into such an innovative arena, and can’t wait to get cracking and working with what’s clearly a great team of dedicated and enthusiastic communication, marketing and design professionals.
On the flipside, this week has signalled the beginning of the end for my career in local government. The finale to an interesting, educational and varied five years in which I’ve learnt and developed immeasurably, met and ‘Followed’ some massively talented individuals and been inspired to continually learn, to innovate and to have strength of conviction in my own ability and intuition. There are too many to name individually but thanks in particular to Darren and Dan at Comms2Point0 for being a continual source of inspiration.
There have been many high-points. From working with design team colleagues on a Carbon Awareness film using a night-time County Hall as our set to attending the two-day Government Communication Service Comms Academy in Manchester.
I’m particularly proud of leading on the roll-out, awareness raising and training of social, digital media and film throughout the Council. From inspiring and advising the fire service to start a Nelson the Fire Dog Twitter account to training 20 Public Health Promotion colleagues in a workshop on how to get to grips with mobile film and social communications.
Reflecting this approach by writing new policies and strategies and instigating our contact centre to start using social media to communicate direct with customers is also a highlight, especially as it was championed through considerable opposition.
Leading on live webcasting (thanks to the fantastic Public-i for supporting us on this), delivering internal videcasts, producing many films and enabling live online conversations between customers and Cabinet members have all been elements where I’ve been fortunate to help drive digital forward.
I could go on but, (you’ll be pleased to hear) I won’t. In general it’s been challenging, in the face of massive budget constraints especially, but ultimately very rewarding and one thing is sure, local government is a very exciting sector to work in as a communications professional – full of inspirational work and positive, innovative people.
I’ve made good friends along the way and worked with many passionate people, not least the Council’s great communications team who, in the face of considerable pressure, continue to be positive champions for the Council and what it stands for. Managers past and present have been inspirational, both mine and those in the team who have helped me to see the wider picture – you know who you are.
I couldn’t bow out of local government without a final, ‘Top Takeaway’ list, so here are eight further thoughts as I reflect on this period:
- As resources tighten there has never been a greater need to DO communications and to DO it properly. We can’t afford to waste time or money on campaigns that can’t be properly measured or show that they’ve led to behaviour change so it’s crucial that we have an acute understanding of our audience, their needs, their channels, and have robust evaluation alongside to gauge the results of our work. Put evaluation at the start of everything you do.
- “Don’t tell me you’re funny; tell me a joke”. It’s not enough anymore to just advertise AT our audiences, hoping that the messages will stick. Constantly telling people that you’re the best at this, or the best at that. We have to work with our customers and tell their stories, show them what we’re doing that’s so great, find the success stories and show how we’re making a difference.
- Shrinking resources can shrink the ability to innovate so it’s vital that communications inside a large organisation doesn’t become homogenised and that creative individuals have the opportunity to innovate and be creative using existing and new channels and tools. Look out for your creative innovators and do everything you can to support them, give them time and space and watch them grow.
- In tandem is the need to ensure local government doesn’t get stuck in a cycle of reactive comms – with agendas set only by constant media demands, and those from individual Members. We all need to learn (or introduce a process) to help us say “No” more often. There has to be the space for teams to set their own agendas – to get together, plan and execute campaigns based on its unique knowledge of the audience. Don’t let tough economic times and smaller teams suck the life out of what is a positive, rewarding and creative discipline.
- Ensure you continually challenge and drive forward. It’s difficult at times, especially in a large organisation, to stand out from the crowd but it’s not impossible if you’re passionate about what you do. When I started at Cornwall Council my remit wasn’t actually to do with social media – more a focus on film production. However, noticing social media’s increasing use and ability to personalise and boost the reputation of the Council I took it upon myself to push it forward. There was a core of colleagues who also championed its use but without that constant focus it may not have spread so far.
- “It’s PR not ER” is one mantra I found myself repeating quite often. Clarity, keeping it concise, outputs and outcomes need to be considered at all times but ultimately, you have to hit ‘SEND’ or ‘POST’. If you make a mistake don’t sweat it – it’s often the case that your audience won’t even notice; learn from it and move on. This approach can help to reflect the friendly, personal tone you’re trying to achieve. If everything’s micro-managed people will notice that the message isn’t authentic. Have the confidence to get the message out. You can’t legislate for all the outcomes so don’t let fear stop you from telling your organisation’s story.
- Embrace the new. Technology is changing fast and with it customer and audience expectations. So move fast too. Stay abreast of emerging technology and platforms and investigate how these can help you leverage greater reach and impact out of your marketing. Live streaming from your smartphone, drones, Snapchat for younger people, short-form video? Get on it, find out what it does and start experimenting. Innovation is one of the key facets of staying relevant in the communications world.
So; that’s it really. There’s probably loads I’ve missed but hey, I’ll continue to write this blog post to reflect on comms and content and I’m really looking forward to learning and sharing lots about communicating in the education sector, which I’m sure will continue to have relevance for local gov too.
It’s a goodbye to local government from me and the beginning of a new and exciting chapter.
Now; I wonder if they do those foam helicopters in blue …..??