So long Local Government – and thanks for all you’ve done

IMG_4977“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 …..??

Why you shouldn’t sit still on live streaming

If you’re keeping a watchful eye on the communications and marketing arena right now you’ll have noticed the increase in chatter about live streaming apps that seems to have everyone very excited.

While live streaming is nothing new, what really separates this latest trend is the emergence of ‘mobile’ live streaming, which means that as long as you’ve got decent 3G/ 4G access and data allowance (see below for more on this) you can live stream exactly what and where you’re viewing, directly to your chosen audience.

Several new, live streaming apps have come onto the market but two in particular are currently fighting it out for dominance in what will surely become a crowded and innovative marketplace.

Both Meerkat (left) and Periscope (right) are vying for control of our mobiles for live streaming

Both Meerkat (left) and Periscope (right) are vying for control of our mobiles for live streaming

Periscope was bought by Twitter almost as soon as it launched while Meerkat is raising tens of millions in funding and investment of its own. Enhanced live streaming capabilities are no doubt also approaching from regulars such as Bambuser, Livestream, UStream and of course, online video stalwart You Tube.

There are plenty of articles online (this one from Toms Guide is a particularly good comparison) that go into detail on the differences between the two, so I won’t go into detail here, but currently, what sets Meerkat and Periscope apart is that they have great social media integration. Particularly over Twitter so that your followers can instantly see when you’re streaming and can choose to watch, and interact with, your stream.

Additionally, similar to Facebook, Meerkat has a “like” button that viewers can click at any time during the broadcast. Periscope has live comments that appear at the bottom of the video and users can also tap the screen to make small floating hearts appear.

While the benefits of this new way of sharing content are obvious to more live orientated services such as mobile news gathering, what isn’t so clear right now is how they can be best used for more planned communications and marketing campaigns.

This is where this industry is so exciting. As the tech develops, and our ability to tell our stories in more efficient ways it just makes the campaign planning process so much more exciting.

There are still issues of course, particularly around suitable network speeds, especially in largely rural areas such as Cornwall.

Also, while the creative possibilities for mobile live streaming may be almost endless one thing that could stifle that is your date allowance. After testing both apps, most analysts appear to agree that Periscope measures over 250 megabytes of data an hour while Meerkat measures over 400 megabytes an hour. Other testers report up to 400 megabytes per hour for both apps.

What this means is that you’ll have to start keeping a decent eye on your data allowance if you start to broadcast, or watch, more mobile live streams. Better still, consider getting either an unlimited package from your provider or a data boost on the particular day you want to stream.

Also worth bearing in mind is that these videos don’t last. Once a Meerkat stream is over, the video is gone for good. Periscope videos stay online for replays, but only for one day. You can save your own Periscope videos, but comments and likes won’t appear.

What they do is to expand, again, the boundaries of our creativity for marketing and communications. It’s another tool to keep in the mind when planning a project or campaign.

Here are just five suggestions for utilising live streams right now for communications and marketing professionals. If you think or know of anymore example where it has been used effectively in comms or marketing, please let us know in the comments box below.

  • Press launches. If you’re issuing a press call or photo opportunity and inviting the media long why not go along yourself and live steam the event through your social channels direct to your audience.
  • Use live video to integrate with nationals schemes such as #OurDay – the local government Twitter snapshot. You could stagger ten minutes live filming of a countryside ranger checking water quality, 30 minutes live streaming of a firefighter drill day, with live footage as they enter their training tower. The opportunities here are only limited by your own creativity. Live is a great way to tell human stories about your business or organisation as they happen.
  • Set up a live Q and A session with your Chief Executive or senior director/manager – particularly around a topical issue. Allowing your Twitter followers to watch and comment on the conversation is a great advantage and while it comes with almost total lack of moderation could be an exciting channel to exploit. If your I.T. department would allow, Periscope also allows you to create private broadcast so these live streams could also be used specifically for an internal audience (affordable webinars anyone??). I can’t imagine it will be too long before a realistic enterprise solution hits the app stores.
  • Council or public meetings. One to be properly planned this but why not consider using multiple mobile devices to broadcast a live Council meeting. It doesn’t have to be your main Full Council meeting but why not try it for a smaller, public meeting. Perhaps a specific planning meeting and see what the response is?
  • Behind the scenes. This is one area, similar to the day-in the life approach in the above example but focussed more on one particular service or team. Why not arrange an hour with your local recycling depot and stream live from the venue giving an idea of the scale of the operation. Set up a Q and A or interview with the relevant employee while there and you’ve produced yourself a lovely live comms package directly to your residents.

As with all these new innovations we have to give it a try. It may not work, people may not take to live and prefer summarised versions of the day’s events but I think it would be criminal to not at least investigate the real-time possibilities that your organisation offers.

Who will dominate in the coming months and years, Periscope, Meerkat or another, will largely be down to financial backing and internet ‘buzz’, but why not give them a try for your next marketing campaign and let your audience decide whether live streaming is for them?

What is your comms costing?

Cuts, efficiency savings, streamlining – call it what you will but for many in the public sector these buzzwords have become an integral part of today’s lexicon.

When the only constant is change it can be a rocky road, but one that can teach you a lot in terms of perseverance, multi-skilling and importantly innovation. Believe me, we’ve been through it here recently (hence the recent lack of posts) and it’s amazing what the pressure can do to fine tune your thinking.

If cuts are coming your way, or you’re currently going through them, then it’s important to see the period as an opportunity. Now’s a good time to take stock of what you do already, refresh the comms toolkit and look at new ways of delivering differently.

We’re all familiar with email newsletters, social media and film (among many others) to save money, as well as improve your marketing results, but here’s just a small selection of other potential money saving, content generating and comms ideas that have recently come to mind.

1) Instead of printed staff newsletter, do a blog. Get people to send stories, photos etc and you post them. This isn’t just great for the bottom line but two-way communication is far more effective than simple push marketing. Better still, get your colleagues involved in its creation and editing and you’ll hopefully even shave a bit off your workload?

2) Instead of paying expensive independent production companies to make films, create them yourself (you can find plenty of tips and technique ideas in the film section on this very blog). For example, a colleague recently did a series of video messages for an internal message. All the interviews were done on his iPhone using the built in camera and an affordable wired clip-on mic.

3) Carry out an in-depth review of your current newspaper advertising rates and contracts. Believe it or not, newspapers rely heavily on local authority advertising and in this more competitive marketplace, where publications are competing against social media for ad space, they are more keen than ever to maker sure they get it right. Use your regular income for them to leverage some ‘added value’ out of your ad.

This could be by getting them to run some editorial alongside your ad, or placed elsewhere in the publication. Running a specific ad, get friendly with the sales rep (this is something we don’t do enough of in the public sector – it’s often too quick to accept what’s offered. Adopting this approach will reap dividends in the end as you will save thousands each year, maybe even each month. Bargain with the rep for your editorial to be in a good spot and always try to ensure your ad is placed on an early, right hand page.

4) Still got those films you captured from your iPhone filming above? Why not grab some freeze frames and use the stills in your printed comms (even in the editorial to sit alongside your adverts). Yes this approach doesn’t work for all occasions but you’d be surprised at the quality you can get from a HD 1080p video clip.

You don’t want to blow them up too big but as an example, we recently used several shots (captured in 1080HD on a Panasonic GH2) for inset pics and graphical elements from a film I produced as part of an A4-sized promotional pamphlet.

5) If you haven’t already, buy your department a half decent DSLR camera and start taking your own photos, especially for internal use. Again, I’m not suggesting there won’t be times when you need that pro touch but you’d be surprised with the results you can get nowadays by using your own camera. Even those who haven’t used an SLR type camera before can just set the more modern cameras to the programme mode and let the tech do the work.

6) Instead of blanket delivering costly publications and newsletters via mail door-to-door services, instead design, print and deliver a postcard sized ‘flyer’. Design it right, give all or some of the information in summary format and invite those who want to find out more to request a copy of the full version, or better still, make sure you’ve created a web (and mobile web) version that you can point them too instead. Provide a call to action on the flyer and perhaps a prize for responding?

Please, if you have any money saving comms ideas of your own, share them with us, by putting them out there you never know what we may save in the process. I mean, what price do you put on savings that could help to keep a colleague, or yourself, employed?

Hopefully you will be able to implement these ideas pro-actively rather than reactively and save yourself some heartbreak further down the road. In these uncertain certain times, being forearmed could be as much as we can ask for.

A tool for digital engagement that Covers It All?

With public engagement and consultation high on the political agenda it’s imperative that local government starts to look at ways of delivering engagement which is effective, but requires little resource and importantly, little cost.

Cornwall Council kicked off its 2014-2019 budget consultation recently with such an approach, aimed specifically at our online audience and which can be easily replicated.

It was a first for the Council, centred as it was on our existing Cover it Live chat account but (and here’s the clever part) integrated on our website, through Facebook, Twitter and You Tube – each platform synchronised, simply and seamlessly.

Cover it Live – which labels itself as the World’s Real Time Experience Leader – provides the heart of the event. Using our existing enterprise account (delivered as part of our webcasting offer) we were able to dig deep into its inner workings.

If you’re not familiar, Cover it Live (CIL) allows you to host and moderate online, real-time, text and media-based discussions.

Put simply, you create an event, invite people to submit their comments and then add them into a real-time chat timeline, all with the ability to moderate (add, reject, private message) individual’s comments as they come in.

You can embed the chat window pretty much anywhere so your one conversation appears on a variety of platforms, ranging from your website (see image below for a shot from our page) to Facebook. Sending the embed codes to the local media allows them to run (and promote) the chat via their own websites too.

blog post 2

In fact, the ability to integrate the chat window onto your Facebook page (via easy installation of the Cover it Live app) is a fantastic boon for leveraging page fans into the conversation.

On Twitter, rules can be set up to pull in Tweets from certain users or hashtags (in our case #haveyoursay), each with or without prior moderation and each can be easily added to the live chat after moderation. You can also simultaneously post your comments to both the live chat window and your Twitter account.

Cover it Live even allows for keyword or people searching all from within the platform so you can grab social media and online content that you may want to add to the conversation.

If this all sounds complicated, fear not. Cover it Live benefits from excellent, clear and concise support which guides the user painlessly through the process (such as allowing you to launch your event in prep mode and see exactly how it will look and act before making it live).

One other key benefit we discovered is the ability to have individual panellists (with their own avatar and name) contributing to the same conversation.

So, as well as the chat moderator, our Cabinet Member Alex Folkes was able to write his responses from his own event studio, on his own computer. (Worth noting out here that in order to keep the conversation logical that your panellists ‘reply’ direct to individuals questions and comments rather than just submitting a fresh post each time. This helps to keep the conversation clear and chronological.)

The author and Cabinet Member at the control desk as the chat got underway.

The author and Cabinet Member at the control desk as the chat got underway.

This panellist approach really opens up the software to the possibility of online chats with several contributors to the same, themed conversation – perfect where you may require a moderator as well as several specialists discussing the one topic.

We discovered that Cover it Live also has some great functionality around adding media to the timeline. You can upload your own content direct within the platform or easily integrate You Tube films, images or links into the conversation.

The day before our event we produced seven short films covering some of the most frequently asked budget questions likely to crop up. Then, when the relevant question was asked we seamlessly added the film from You Tube into the chat timeline as a rich media response.

This visual impact is important to keep your chat feeling fresh and relevant. As is Cover it Live’s ability to customise the look of your chat so as well as a chronological stream, you could decide to display a media rich content wall. You can also customise your chat by adding your own branding logos and title page.

It goes without saying that all of this is accompanied by a pretty decent statistics package so measuring and evaluating the success of your chat is a given.

Such was the success of our initial engagement efforts that we’ve already committed to doing a similar event, but this time for employees only.

This is on top of our more ‘usual’ Cover it Live offerings that accompany our standard and one-off webcasts.

Certainly in the online space I don’t know of a better, current solution. It’s free, easy to resource and opens up the prospect of pulling in a potentially massive audience. This could be a boost for your communications and the reputation of your Council and I’d recommend you give it a try.

So all in all; Cover it Live pretty much Covers it All.

To see Cover it Live in action, follow THIS LINK to view the archive chat from our Budget 2014-2019 event.

Unleash the power of You Tube

In which I argue that for too long You Tube has been thought of as the ‘bolt on’ communications channel, that place where you chuck your films without a care and perhaps link via your ‘more popular’ Facebook and Twitter accounts.

So what then, are we to make of the first quarter 2014 Ofcom Communications Market Report which shows that the most popular UK social media site is not Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin but yes, you guessed it, You Tube.

Yes, You Tube; that oft neglected corner of content that so many organisations large and small consider second fiddle to the Facebook and Twitter behemoths. That place where youngsters watch banal 30-second films but which, come on admit it, you find yourself navigating around more and more.


To me, as a self-confessed film content fan, this was perhaps the most startling statistic to come from the Ofcom report, which covered the first quarter of 2014, and certainly awakens a need for all comms professionals to start taking You Tube more seriously.

The findings run parallel to the fact that in the UK, You Tube is now the second largest search engine after Google.

So, let’s just quickly take a look at those facts again. You Tube is the most popular social media site in the UK, and the second largest search engine.

Then the massive elephant in the room has to be, ‘why oh why aren’t we doing more on You Tube to reach, engage and form relationships with our audiences?’

I recently had a meeting with a member of the Council’s sexual health and teenage pregnancy team, who are looking into developing a social media presence.

“We need Facebook and Twitter”, they said; but when faced with the above we started talking much more about You Tube as perhaps the best channel to engage with their target audience.

It wasn’t long before we started throwing creative ideas around and came up with a film idea that certainly has the potential to go viral, if and when it happens (watch this space).

So, acknowledging that You Tube could (should?) be a priority channel to communicate, what are some key tips to making it work?

Firstly, carry out an audit of who’s out there. Identify the key advocates, channel hosts or video bloggers and start talking to them, sharing their content and becoming a part of their conversation.

Collaboration is the keyword here; it’s a great way of attracting new audiences and also helps you to potentially work with other video creators to cross-promote content between channels.

You must work to get subscribers to your channel; it’s not all about viewers. Producing videos that fit a particular niche can be a good way of attracting these new subscribers.

In terms of content, You Tube shouldn’t just be seen as the host for those multi-thousand pound productions. Get out there with a smartphone, find a ‘moment that matters,’, film it and hit ‘upload’ – this can now be done almost as seamlessly as composing a content-heavy Facebook post.

Live streaming is now easily  done on your smartphone

Live streaming is now easily done on your smartphone

Who out there has had a chance to start playing around with You Tube’s new live event offering? This could be ground-breaking in terms of offering your audiences a new way to find out what’s going on with their Council – in real time.

Think live interviews at the scenes of major projects, press launches syndicated live to your online media colleagues or, dare I say it, your own hosted live streaming of key Council meetings. And importantly, all for free.

If you do want to pay, You Tube’s TrueView video ads can also be deployed at certain times (although don’t make this a shortcut to replace meaningful content).

TrueView works by charging you when viewers actually choose to watch your ad and not when an impression is served.

We recently ran a campaign that utilised TrueView and resulted in a 1200% increase in views (9,711) of a film that had managed 760 organic views.

So on You Tube, essentially the same rules apply; find your relevant communities and key advocates and start talking with them – collaborate. Plan your content in-line with your audience’s tastes and then start creating content making sure it captures those ‘moments that matter’ making it as shareable and engaging as possible.

As always, access to Google’s mightily impressive analytics via You Tube is another essential step to evaluate your efforts, learn and evolve.

So, if You Tube is playing second fiddle in your social media comms, then now may be a good time to start tuning in to understand the benefits of what could be the most effective social media channel you currently have at your disposal.

You can read the full, 400-page Ofcom Communications report or for a great, summarised version visit Dan Slee’s blog post over at Comms2Point0

Communications Academy takeaways

From time to time, we manage to lift our heads from the business as usual and get an opportunity to do some forward thinking in an innovative environment.

One such occasion for me was the Government Communication Service Comms Academy I was fortunate enough to attend in Manchester this June.

What a fantastic event. As well as leaving me on occasion stunned and positively excited about the evolution of comms and how much there is  to learn and implement, it was fantastic to spend time with both local and central government colleagues.

There was a massive amount of takeaways from the event but below are some of the most pertinent ones for fellow comms professionals that I came away determined to act upon.

  1.  Evaluation, evaluation, evaluation. All our work needs to show a measure of outcome (not output), what was the result of this, what behaviour did it help to change.
  2. Work to increase our robustness, show what value we bring and share this throughout the organisation. We have a duty and responsibility to promote, explain and justify things to the Administration and we should never forget that. However, we need to also work harder to forge links and show value with opposition politicians as well as with the Administration.
  3. Have more confidence in our brand – Cornwall is a great product. Brands today want to look like they’re making a social contribution. Let’s help them by aligning ourselves more with the Cornwall brand.
  4. Build powerful partnerships. Local is key. We need to start where people lead their lives. Move from an issue/service based model to a place-based model where people decide what they want. Identify their passions and recognise their ‘sweat equity’ through match funding to give them what they want. Stops citizens pitting themselves against each other and encourages working together for social change.
  5. Renegotiate the social contract: 1) What is it people in local communities are best placed to do themselves to create better lives, 2) what is it people can do with some help from us, 3) What’s left for us – to do unilaterally. We have been treating these in reverse for too long.
  6. Not just locally but nationally too. Work closer with Central Government colleagues and GCS and use the tools and guidance they provide to establish a common set of standards in line with national development. It’s clear they’re trying to forge links and are creating tools to help us – let’s use them.
  7. Internal comms is a cornerstone of organisational change. Connect better with our line managers who are key advocates.
  8. If a piece of content has no value towards our strategic and corporate priorities then don’t do it. It’s really time to cut out the jargon. Stop eight page reports that politicians don’t read. Instead do it in a two page executive summary and then add appendices.
  9. Let’s work to make communications teams more professional and establish clear development opportunities.
  10. Be authentic and tell stories that have human scale. Give citizens what they want, not what we think they want. Create content that captures those Moments that Matter; use the data it provides to Make Better Decisions and then constantly innovate and improve on this.
  11. Learn more about behaviours to drive good comms. Attitudes don’t change behaviours; behaviours change behaviours.
  12. The world is changing. Technology is changing. People are changing. But, if we think the pace of technological change is fast now, we are wrong. In actual fact, the pace of change will never again be as slow as it is now. We need to make the most of this current ‘hiatus’ to learn as much about it as possible and for its potential to help us communicate better.
  13. PRIDE! Above all, be proud of what we do as professional communicators.  Start making more efforts to run our comms as a business. Consider establishing a commercial team to look into this. Establish an a la carte menu of services we offer and can sell. Look at our comms channels and see how to monetise them (website advertising, lamppost ads, neighbourhood guides, ads in A-Z of services)

Problems, not solutions

I’d wager that as well as time spent creating content, a lot of time is taken up by comms peeps advising others on how communications can, or cannot, help to solve a particular challenge.

All too often, customers come armed with a solution predetermined, and, while it can be easy to let the creative juices takeover and accept their concept, it is important at this point to apply the brakes – firmly if necessary – and remind them to think first about the problem they’re trying to solve rather than the channel, platform or piece of comms they believe will solve it.

“Come to us with a problem, not a solution” is something that is certainly part of our comms’ mantra and you’d do well to add it to yours if not already.

I was recently approached and asked for help in either filming, or facilitating the filming, of a conference to then make the event available for viewing to those who couldn’t attend.

While this is a good idea in principle, our experience shows that these after-the-matter films are rarely viewed by those who didn’t attend.

So, the advice the customer was given was to think about how else the conference could be presented. For example, get one, or several, of the attendees to write a blog post – perhaps with self taken images; or ask the presenter to make their slides available on Slideshare and linked to from a website which provides some context.

There were others but I think you get my drift – getting the customer to think about the problem (in this case making a presentation appealing to an audience that wasn’t there) rather than accepting a predetermined solution is vital.

I hear what you’re saying; “This is common sense”, and it is, but all too often I see examples of where a solution has been accepted too fast, without proper consideration and the final product doesn’t match the brief and everyone’s time and resource is wasted.

Now, the first question I ask of a customer is, what is it we’re actually trying to achieve here. Not purely in a comms sense but more generally. Getting customers to go back to the basics – what is it here you are trying to achieve, who is your audience, how is what we do going to help and how are we going to measure whether it’s a success or not.

I was lucky enough recently to see this approach echoed on a grander scale when on a visit to the Two Four Productions offices in Plymouth on a South West Public Relations Officers digital marketing workshop.

Led by Two Four’s Head of Content Strategy, Howard Gregory, the session was a masterclass in how content should be pre-planned, created, delivered, integrated, measured and evaluated and how each story, each campaign, will have its own factors that drive the best way to do this.

In essence, Howard told us, the Two Four digital content department adheres to Three Simple Rules:

1) Link clearly to your comms strategy

2) Understand your audience (keep up to date as it changes)

3) Create a clear and engaging story

But much further than that, he went on to share the company’s guiding content principles which help to ensure that as comms professionals, we are always thinking about the wider problem and not just the solution.

This breaks each customer problem into five key stages:

Audit: Understand your aims – What are we doing – What’s the vision and strategy

Insight: Analyse your audience – Demographic insight, preferred engagement

Develop: Plan activities and how to tell the story – Channel mix, develop narrative

Execute: Create compelling content – Design, deliver on time and budget

Evaluate: Measure, learn and plan – ROI, Quantitative and qualitative, Plan for the future

These five stages  – what you learn from step 5, Evaluate, should be fed back into the process between Audit and Insight – should become a key tool for every comms’ team’s strategy and approach.

After all, if they work for a massively successful, international content and broadcast company then they should also work for us. And with a bit of forethought they can help achieve a great solution to the next customer problem that happens to come your way.


The Social Shift – and how you should embrace it

Could the evolving relationship between digital technology and the requirement this is placing on us to become more social as organisations force a change in the way we think about communications?

That is the question I have been pondering of late as a picture emerges that increased social media use – and the fundamental shift this has caused in human behaviour – is stimulating the green shoots of a need for reflective change in how we as organisations communicate with our colleagues, customers and stakeholders.

I’m convinced this is a fundamental time for communications professionals to grasp this concept and have even come up with a name for it: ‘The Social Shift’ (I didn’t Google this so it’s highly likely this has been named elsewhere).

The point, like the name though, has stuck. The Social Shift, I believe, sums up the current movement that requires organisations to become more open and authentic and which will only increase as digital technology become more prolific. This is more than just ensuring the fundamental, ‘social’ PR principles of People and Place are satisfied in our comms, it’s about realising that because we deal day-to-day with human issues, we need to do more to ensure our workplace values reflect this. And, in order to do that, we need to introduce more human elements throughout organisations; from the very top to the very bottom.

The question is how do we go about it?

While social media is no doubt acting as the catalyst of change, I believe it’s now time that we move away from over analysing it as a separate communications channel. Yes, we need to continue to measure and monitor to drive improvement and increase engagement but continued macro analysis is surely only preventing us from looking at the effect of this change in a more general context?

Take one example of where customers post images onto Facebook, say of council staff parking in restricted bays or having a nap at the wheel of a street sweeper. Currently, we’d accept this as the norm, post a reactive message that hopefully defends the content and move on. But, while the act of capturing and posting the photo is a tangible reality of The Social Shift, the question I’m keen to explore and answer is: would the employees have done that in the first place if they’d been made more aware of the potential for someone to take their photo and then share it?

So, while social media provides a user-friendly tool to aid The Social Shift, it’s hard to disagree that it will be tech hardware that is going to play the next major role in driving the agenda forward, and perhaps forcing even greater change. The growing use of smartphones and tablets has forced us to rethink our own openness and engagement agenda, from talking to residents via social media in contact centres to the filming of council meetings. (‘Forced’ is used purposefully. Imagine a world where, instead of being reactive to changes in tech and social channels, we could start being more pro-active on our communications evolution?)

A current example of the potential of technology to affect such major change is Google Glass, due to hit the shelves in 2014. Who in your organisation has given thought to the soon-to-be-realised impact of this tool, especially on the issue of privacy? Google Glass will perhaps signify one of the biggest shifts in technology to affect social change, especially for public facing organisations. Anyone will soon be able to record, film, or photograph at leisure and, with in-built facial recognition, upload and link that content anywhere on the web and all of it almost instantaneously.

If you haven’t thought much about its capabilities yet, this short film from Google may help:

Some commentators have even suggested that the next, large public disorder events will be around privacy, started initially by such immediate forms of technology as Google Glass.

Techradar has an interesting article  to in which it identifies that in 2007 the Institute of the Future called this the “participatory panopticon”, and in 2009 award-winning author and futurist David Brin explained what that might mean:

“With our senses and memories enhanced prodigiously by new prostheses, suddenly we can ‘know’ the reputations of millions, soon to be billions, of fellow Earth citizens.


“It’s seriously scary prospect and one that is utterly unavoidable. The cities we grew up in were semi-anonymous only because they were primitive. The village is returning. And with it serious, lifelong worry about that state of our reputations. Kids who do not know this are playing with fire. They had better hope that the village will be a nice one. A village that shrugs a lot, and forgives.”


“A tap of your VR eyeglasses will identify any person, along with profiles and alerts, almost as if you had been gossiping about him and her for years.

So, where does this leave us as communications professionals in an increasingly more open and socially orientated world?

Firstly, if we’re not already doing so, we need to evolve our awareness of the technology beyond day-to-day measurement of specific channels. Both in software and hardware terms, we need to learn and assess what the impacts of these are now, and are likely to be, into the future.

As the social shift continues apace, as the ‘world community’ continues to link together and increasingly knows more about everybody else’s ‘business’ we need to get a much better handle on how we as organisations are going to adapt to keep (or get ahead of) the pace of change. We need to ensure we don’t become too insular (particularly while dealing with very internal and very real budget pressures) and continue to horizon scan and react to our findings.

Practically speaking, internal training, or awareness raising, for employees up and down the organisation is one key element, as is the need to start assessing the impact now of how technology such as Google Glass may impact upon our organisations and to start embedding this culture change into the organisation now.

The comms world as we knew it is changing, thanks largely to social media, smartphones and mobile devices and as we’ve seen, with Google Glass and other similar immediate technologies it will doubtless change again. Transparency, ownership, learning and collaboration are some core elements of human organisations and as the world becomes more like a global village, people will expect our organisations to reflect these values too.

What I’ve learnt so far on my discovery is that we must all learn fast, adapt and start integrating these values into our organisations and I’d urge you, if you’re not already, to set off on your own journey of discovery and start planning for The Social Shift, before you’re forced too.


Three years in Local Government comms – What I’ve learnt so far

Maintaining a good balance can be tricky.

Maintaining a good balance can be tricky.

Recently, I passed the three year milestone of working in local government. A whole three years since I threw my journalism cap into the trash and donned my public sector beret.

So, I thought it a pertinent time to have a think about the move, to take stock and ensure I’m still on the right track and importantly, to share some of the wisdoms and experiences that I’ve learnt since entering the world of local government comms.

For me, this experience hasn’t just been about joining the world of local government, it’s also been about swapping work at the head of a small team in a relatively tight-knit community to working at the corporate heart of one of the largest unitary authorities in the country, with over 6,000 full time employees and in a county that has a very diverse range of attitudes, individuals and groups.

So, I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences I can motivate others who may be new to this colourful, collaborative and often cumbersome world.

So, with no further ado, here are my top tips for surviving the world of local government.

1) Being human helps. This sounds like an obvious point but what I really mean is that working in a large organisation can sometimes feel like your personality needs to be left at the door with your coat. However, I’ve learnt the importance of retaining your personality and importantly your individuality. It can be difficult sometimes to speak out in a room of peope who have been in the business far longer than yourself but you have to have confidence in your beliefs and opinions and have the personality to drive them home in a non-arrogant way. Overcoming that fear to speak out, stay true to yourself and allowing yourself to follow your instinct is essential.

2) Work with the wider organisation in mind. There’s nothing more frustrating than working on a project only to send it out to everyone and receive a mountain of ‘feedback’ (never see it as criticism) that means you have to re-write the whole thing. Breaking out of the comms silo, encouraging feedback and consultation from the wider organisation means not only that you can work with everyone’s view in mind but by having the buy-in of your colleagues or stakeholders from the start means your project is much more likely to succeed and become a reality in the long run. Don’t pigeon hole yourself, or your ideas.

3) Learn politics, and how to deal with it. One of the most rewarding experiences I had was shadowing one of our prominent opposition councillors. I learnt how to accept that like it or not Politics with a ‘P’ does play a major role and that means not taking things personally as an employee of the Council when councillors attack the council on a public forum. You have to learn that it is the political administration, and not Officers, that are the targets of the majority of political decisions.

Conversely, always be aware of the political ramifications of your actions. If you are a dynamic individual (see point 2) the tendency can be to go off headstrong, set on a particular goal. My advice is to always pause, to consider your work from both an organisational and political view. Ultimately, Councillors are the decision makers and we have to bear them in mind and engage with them at all times.

4) Learn to multi-skill and to do things on a budget. As budgets are squeezed and times get tougher (or give us more opportunity depending on your point of view) the need to multi skill is never more apparent. I have good experience in journalism, copy writing, editing, design and filming but this wasn’t always the case. I purposefully set out to develop my skills, especially in the digital realm, and have taken advantage of internal courses to continually stretch myself and/or learn from colleagues who can do the things I’m not so hot on. Not only do you learn new skills but you also help to stave off stagnation, and these experiences help to keep the job interesting, and a continual development. Don’t be afraid to ask, just ask to job shadow, or to be mentored and you’ll be surprised how open people are to the idea.

5) Which leads me nicely to …. Innovation. It’s hard, but never give up! It can be difficult not to get swept away by the organisational entity but you have to learn to stand up and ride the wake – and throw in the occasional somersault too. Yes, local government can suffer from not being as dynamic as other sectors but there’s no reason why you can’t be a dynamic individual. Be intrepreneurial! I heard somewhere that things in local government take five years to fully materialise from concept to reality. While thankfully this is somewhat of an exagerration there is no smoke without fire and things do take longer in local government. Learning to put up with this is hard but worthwhile as long as you maintain focus, innovate and see the challenges local government face as just that, challenges to overcome, rather than barriers to doing your job!

6) Share your knowledge. Just because you’re in the public sector and local government doesn’t mean you should keep your light under a bushel. If you’re doing some great work in your field – whichever one that may be – then get out there and shout about it. Write a blog post, contribute to blogs, send out a press release, tell colleagues. You’ll find that not only is there great pleasure to be derived from sharing knowledge but that also, it can work wonders for the overall reputation of your authority, and ultimately I guess that rubs off on you too.

7) Increase your self confidence and especially your public speaking skills. Presentations and speaking out in meetings large and small are a key and integral part of working effectively in the public sector, and especially in the corporate centre. I’m still not 100% confident around this but after some presentation skills training, speaking at a social media conference and to a room full of new Members for a training session I’m fast learning the skills required – preparation and a belief you can do it are key.

8) Realise that it is very difficult to please all the people all the time. Unfortunately, a vast swathe of your residents will always see you as a cog in the government wheel, an elitist, sat in your ivory tower detached from the realities that they face. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve felt an urge to defend ourselves against this claim. I’m lucky to work with a large bunch of very dedicated professionals who all are doing their best to improve services for the people of Cornwall. If only people could see that, I’m sure their view would change. Maybe there’s more we can do to communicate that view but would they listen? I’m not sure on that but either way, learnt to accept that often, despite your enthusiasm, passion and determination, not everyone will see this.

9) Enjoy it. Yes it can sometimes be frustrating to wade through the local government treacle; yes, working with a myriad different personalities both on the corporate and political sides can be challenging, but, local government is also a great sector in which to work. Where else do you get the chance to bounce ideas off a creative, multi-skilled team, discussing film ideas one morning and major change comms the next? Where you can find yourself in one day talking to everyone from the Chief Executive to calming down a disgruntled resident on social media. Where, with a bit of tenacity and a dashing of experience you can come up with ideas that can have positive benefits for both your colleagues and your fellow citizens? Enjoy the challenges local government brings and don’t let them get you down. You have to make the choice to be happy.

It’s been just over three years in local government for me but as time goes by, I’m beginning to like it more and more each day.

Please feel free to add your own tips to how you survive, and thrive, in our sector.

Is Facebook the new Friends Reunited?

I seem to have been repeating the same mantra with increasing regularity lately – Facebook will, within five years (but I reckon nearer to three) become … Friends Reunited.

There, I’ve said it, and I’m willing to put it out there and stake my blogging reputation on it*.

You don’t have to look too closely to see that it’s already becoming less of an immediate, “this is what I’m up to now” platform and over time, I believe, will simply become a platform for people like you and I to archive our digital life. A sort of social cloud storage for film, photos and links that make up our digital lives and interests.

As a tool to keep in touch with people, to actually have online conversations it is becoming all about instant chat. Snapchat, What’s App, in-built chat options on smartphones, and many others, are now entering the fray and commanding more attention, especially among the younger generation.

A few other sources have been backing this theory lately including these interesting articles from The Drum (UK loses 9% of Facebook users) and Daily Mail (Facebook admits teens are tiring of it)

Facebook is losing its appeal due to two main reasons: An abundance of aged thirty-plus people (i.e. parents and grandparents) having and maintaining accounts meaning Facebook is losing its ‘cool’ moniker, and advertising.

But what does this mean for social media use in local government and should we already be thinking, ‘what’s next’ and/or, especially, ‘how do we communicate and keep engaging with young people’?

Interestingly, our own Facebook insights at Cornwall Council mirror this view. Our core users are females aged 25-34 with less than eight per cent of our total Likes being aged 25 and under across both genders.

It would be interesting to see summary reports from other authorities on demographics but it would seem already, based on our own stats, that Facebook is good for reaching the plus 25 age group (and especially women) but not so good for anyone younger.

So, I say it again, how are we going to engage with these people? As they become more platform savvy, you can bet your bottom dollar they won’t be using a platform that forces them to click on or view adverts (Google+?). They will be having closed conversations (rightly so) that no-one, especially us as public information stakeholders, will have access to to find out what they’re thinking, doing, what are the trends etc.

Thinking aloud, could we therefore be seeing a turnaround in engagement with young people in that proper engagement now means getting off digital and taking the conversations back into the real world (if they ever left)?

The default I hear quite often is “we need to engage with young people, so let’s start a Facebook page”. My advice has always been to think before you leap and from now on I will really hammer this home and encourage other offline / online channels as a priority.

This theory is given extra weight when you consider that in my spare time I voluntarily do the social media and communications, as well as help on the beach, for a local surf life saving club. Some of our younger members refuse to like the club’s Facebook page even though they’re actively involved with the club – and this is surf life saving, what some would deem a prety ‘cool’ thing to be associated with.

Liking a Facebook page is for all of us, and especially young people, an action that comes with emotional value attached. By liking something you are admitting to your peers that you like it in a way that for some can be too revealing, it can be a label and in some ways defines who you are.  Following a Twitter account doesn’t carry the same level of emotional ‘buy-in’ that Facebook can, hence why most Twitter accounts have far greater numbers attached than Facebook

So what’s the best way to get over this? Now, I’m not, and never professed to be, an expert at engaging with young people, and good practise may already be suggesting that offline communications is far better quality than online, but the fact remains; for those of us still thinking that social media and Facebook is the default way to go when dealing with youngsters it may be time to start altering your point of view – or risk becoming ‘No Friends Reunited’.

*Subject to change pending investment from Facebook. Terms and conditions apply.