With a little help

I have been watching the response to Prince Harry and William discussing the need to seek help after their mother’s death. It is refreshing to see such high profile people talk about the issue of mental health and well being but it should not be so unusual.

Modern life is hard and challenging. It is fast, furious and has lots of pressure. Life has always been hard but we kept a stiff upper lip and didn’t talk about things we put them in the cupboard. We have seen progression but people often hold back so they show no weakness.

We still see the mention of seeing someone for help or support as a sign people can’t cope and therefore they must be weak. Yet the strength is in being the person to admit they have sought help.

I have written many times about the critical role that my support network has in keeping me happy and healthy. From my close family through to seeing a life coach, I am not afraid to talk about the help I have been given. It has given me somewhere to turn on those bad days and tips and techniques to manage my response to events.

We need to get to the point where talking about mental health, emotions and issues is seen as a positive sign of strength. It should not be so unusual that it leads to newspaper headlines. 

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In clear sight

It is Easter after all so I hope nobody minds this blog being focused on someone who has taught me so much. 

Around five years ago we met but I wasn’t really part of their group of friends. I was aware of him and we exchanged pleasantries when necessary. As time went on I would occasionally be called on to help out in some way which I didn’t mind.

It is probably two years ago now that I was asked to provide regular support which I did in a friendly but functional way. My focus was on efficiency rather than anything else,

All of this was fine and had no negative impact on me but my world was turned upside down and my eyes opened almost nine months ago. The little person suddenly needed lots of help, support and love. This little person is a rabbit called Coco. Anyone who was spent any time with me in recent months will know about him.

In the past nine months he has taught me so much. He hasn’t had much and he asks for nothing but I try to give him everything.  He has reconnected me to my strong love of animals and my desire to take care of them. He has made me forget about counting the pennies as they don’t matter. It is only getting him the right care that matters.

We brought him into our home and in return he gives us an abundance of love. If he could say thank you for taking care of me I am sure he would. 

For many years that love was right under my nose and I didn’t see it. I wasn’t open to letting this little bunny into my life. I missed out. But I am not missing out anymore. Easter means many different things to many people but for me it is a time to be thankful for the love I have around me and to remember to keep my eyes open to the possibilities around me. Happy Easter.

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In the spotlight 

There is no doubt that for PR and communication professionals the United Airlines incident will become a much discussed case study. It has cost the company a substantial amount financially and also damaged their reputation.

The incident has exposed the practice of overbooking which may appear normal for the airlines industry but doesn’t stand up to public scrutiny. After all if you purchase a product you expect to receive it. The actions and procedures followed were never going to be acceptable to consumers.

We all have those moments when the company we work for or represent ends up explaining why something has happened. Crisis communication will affect us all and sometimes it is firmly in the media spotlight. 

As many have said, the United Airlines incident will affect confidence in the company. A few days ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you much about the company but now they are firmly linked in my mind to the video I have seen.

For many businesses it is not one incident that will affect their reputation it is the many service or product failures for customers. Every day these failures can impact on confidence but as communicators they may be out of sight. They are the reason people ditch brand A and go to brand B. They are the reason people shop in store A and not store B. They are the reason people go online to share their views.

Communicators need to be ready to deal with a large reputational crisis that may appear but they also need to take account of the smaller incidents that take place on a daily basis on the frontline of service delivery because that may be as damaging.

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Five days in my shoes

I rarely treat myself to anything new and that is due mainly to the fact I have some very expensive animals in my life. Trust me, if your child, partner or friend asks you if they should buy a horse just tell them to burn money. But last weekend I did treat myself to a new pair of shoes for work and not before time as my others had seen better days. The week has been tough on them and me so I thought I would share some of the highlights.

If anyone thinks the life of a PR or communication person is glamorous then I think my week may change your views. The week started with a 7am start on Monday morning as I got up to speed with what had happened over the weekend and anything that I needed to know. It had been a busy Sunday and the on-call press officer had a lot to do. My first day of the week did have a highlight of recognising the contribution one of the team and someone from elsewhere in the organisation had given for a project at the end of last year. It is not often that I give out any kind of formal awards but their dedication to the HackManchester project was worthy of recognition.

After a short break to go and see the horse I mentioned before I went back to work to help out at a police officer attestation. For those who don’t know what that is, it is a formal event that is when they swear an oath to the Queen and are keen their police powers. After 18 years in policing it is the first time I had been to an attestation.

Tuesday was a chance to catch up on producing a number of regular documents, reports and updates. But also to welcome a colleague from Surrey Police who popped in to look at what the team was doing but also to share thoughts, ideas and some issues. When I arrived home I continued to write the reports that I had been ploughing through during the day.

The middle of the week was marked with a discussion about the Police Band and a review of the contribution made during the last financial year. As head of communication I have a varied role which includes responsibility for the Police Museum and the Police Band. You have to learn a lot about a whole range of things to lead such a diverse team. The day ended with a late meeting with a range of people from diverse backgrounds to discuss the future of policing and consultation that is underway.

Yesterday started early with a trip to a police and community meeting in Droylsden and a chance to talk about the consultation again. It ended with conversations about how to improve access to services, website developments, online reporting, live chat through the website and use of phone lines.

I was pleased to see Friday arrive and the weekend was finally in sight. I started my day in Old Trafford talking to community workers and residents about the consultation and discussing the issues that mattered to them. It was followed by meetings about how to improve the connection with the public and some huge PR and internal communication campaigns that are being planned.

I had to say goodbye to a member of the team who is moving to a new challenge in a new organisation after seven years. But there was no cosy Friday night in for me. After a quick brew and a bite to eat I was back to work and a briefing at 9.15pm in Manchester city centre. This time it was to the volunteers who work with police and emergency services to keep the city centre safe during the night. The discussion was once again the consultation and how they could get involved and share the information.

Now I have finally taken off those new pair of shoes and made myself a cup of tea. It is a time to unwind and reflect on what has been a busy week. Anyone who things a job as head of communications is easy needs to step into the shoes and discover the reality. Have a great weekend everyone.

Posted in challenge, communication, development, emergency services, learning, manchester, media, police, policing, PR, public, society, work | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Six reasons why communication should be part of the productivity debate

I have heard a lot this week about productivity and the need to improve it in the UK. But at no point in any of the interviews has anyone mentioned the role Communication can play.

It is easy to focus on working conditions, lazy employees or a lack of investment in technology but there are ways that communicators can help improve productivity.

1. Coherent company ethos – if there is a clear and consistent narrative about the organisation and its priorities it can bring people closer together. One of the biggest problems in employee engagement is not having that core messaging which makes it clear what people should do. In turn this will leave confusion around priorities and wasted effort on the wrong things.

2. Strong employee engagement – this will ensure that everyone understands what the business stands for and how they play their part. Ultimately they feel connected to the heart of the business.

3. Understanding customers – communicators are in a great position to have information and data about customers and what they want and value. If this is brought into the organisation it can ensure the right decisions are made for the future.

4. Reputation management – effective communication can ensure the views of the company are managed even in challenging or difficult circumstances. In turn this means people have confidence in the product or service and the workforce believe in it.

5. Strategic overview – communicators are one of the only people in the business beyond the CEO who have oversight of all areas of the operation. If communicators are going to be effective they must understand how things work as well as the reality on the shop floor. This can make them a valuable asset at the top table where they can provide insight.

6. Championing technology – communication has been at the centre of technological innovation. We have been making use of digital developments which has given us a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be used both internally with systems and in making the best use of technology to support the frontline.

In the future we need to ensure that communication is seen as part of any discussions about productivity. If we are effective communicators that are having an impact then we will be supporting frontline service delivery.

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Understanding, knowledge and problem solving 

Earlier this month I blogged about the importance of speaking to customers and service users (Get out and listen). I am still doing that and finding it one of the most useful things I have done. But there has been another benefit to meeting people and that is to test my understanding of the organisation.

I haven’t always gone alone to these meetings and events. Local officers have been there to pick up local issues but sometimes I have been on my own and sometimes the questions have gone from local to organisational. 

As communicators we aim to be problem solvers. We get presented with an issue, new product, new service or other situation and we plan to communicate. We think up key messages or a narrative and we outline the way forward. But how well do you know and understand the issue?

Insight is an essential part of the research and planning process. I know that in the pressured and resource stretched world we live in this can be a brief piece of work. But as I have been standing up in front of service users explaining the changes I have had a real test of my own investment in insight.

I am pleased to say I have been able to handle all the questions and provide an explanation when required. You may say after 16 years in the organisation that is only to be expected or that as a head of communications it is part of my role. On both you may be right.

It has made me wonder how many of the team would be able to do the same? When we are developing communication and campaigns do we know where it fits and could we stand up in front of people and explain it? We absolutely have to if we are going to be effective in what we do. So could you?

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The end of the line for reputation

Reputation has long been a word that is closely linked to both PR and communication activity. Many industry definitions have been focused on protecting and enhancing reputation. But is that really where we should be and in 2017 what is the essence of communication?

I was talking to a group of public sector communicators on a training course last week and some seemed surprised that my definition of the role of communication was about front line service delivery. For me that is where it has to be.

We are all feeling the pinch financially and have to get the most from our budgets. Why would I use my time on things that are nice to do but don’t bring tangible results? As communicators we are in a unique position to be able to see across the whole of the organisation. We can represent the views of users through feedback and make sure communication activity is seen as key to the business development.

For me this is about using tools, techniques and technology to help people access services at the right time in the easiest way. We can use our skills to support operational activity but as public sector communicators it has to be centred on the service user. The experience people have is what drives reputation.

I have a huge concern that being focused on reputation alone will drive us to perverse behaviour. If that is the only outcome we want to achieve then the user is relegated and we distance ourselves from the real issues. Think to yourself if there was a Freedom of Information request about your last media, PR or communication strategy what would it find? What was your aim and how would it be viewed by members of the public?

In 2017 do we have the right definition of the role and purpose of the PR and communication industry?

Posted in challenge, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIPR, communication, development, PR, work | 5 Comments