Six of the best

A world away from Manchester, England I found myself sat listening to the head of communications for NATO talking about dealing with a crisis this week. It was one of those pinch me moments to make sure I was really there.

Crisis communication is fairly universal because at the heart it is like all communication it is about human responses. There were a number of important messages from the event that I thought were worth sharing.1. Prepare for the unexpected. Oana Lungescu from NATO highlighted what I have experienced. The key is whatever you prepare for realise that when a crisis hits it is extremely unlikely that it will be what you have planned for. This means you need to be flexible in your approach and preparations.

2. She also said that you need to have strong relationships in place to be able to respond to a crisis. This means having a strong relationship with key leaders so that you can call upon them and react quickly. But it also means you need to have relationships in place across the organisation so that you can call upon them at a time of crisis.

3. Oana also stated that tackling misinformation needs a confident and positive approach to who you are and what you do. If you do it right you can effectively bust some myths.

4. Communication by committee doesn’t work. When Oana talked of her work she says she was in important meetings to understand the discussion so that she is aware of the boundaries. Consultation only happens to the right people at the right time.

5. Merlin Koene, partner at FischerAppelt, said crisis communication was really about crisis leadership. The key is how it is led and managed and this includes within the world of communication. Senior people in the business all need to recognise this and understand their responsibilities.

6. There was another gem from Merlin when he said ‘trust is a business metric’. Trust is a critical asset to the organisation and to how it responds to a crisis. How do we ensure leaders recognise the importance of planning and preparing and involving communication? We have to demonstrate the impact on the business if we aren’t able to maintain trust. People move on and the brand capital will be diminished. That is why communication matters and should be prioritised.

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The full facts

I had another trip to Accident and Emergency at the weekend. It was Friday night and as busy as you would expect. They have a lot to do and I understood that the doctor was rushing between patients. The experience was a reminder of some vital aspects of working in the public sector.

First we have to remember that people are individuals. Whatever their issues are they are personal to them. It is a service business and we have to remember that in everything we do.

The busy A&E doctor lost sight of that when he was giving me and my father the worst case scenario. He didn’t see me sobbing as a person just a job to be done, a box to be ticked. It wasn’t good but I do understand why it happens. It happens because people are under pressure and they lose the connection to people.

The information he gave us was also a victim of his rush to get things done. It was given when only half of the pieces of the jigsaw were in his possession. It lacked the full facts. It is something I think we can be guilty of in PR and communication. We rush to solution without making sure we fully understand the issue.

We do stuff. We write articles. We develop campaigns. We post messages on social media. We hold events. We talk about the issue. But how much of it actually deals with the issue at hand? How much of it actually does what it set out to? How much cloves problems? And how much just looks nice?

If we are going to make an impact through communication then we have to have a focus on the whole situation and ensuring we understand everything that is going on. If we do that then we can really make a difference. I remain incredibly grateful to the medical profession I would just like them to remember they are dealing with people.

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Who really matters?

It is easy to sit in a communication ivory tower where you decide what to do and then do it. You can be creative and have ideas that will be award-winning. And you can carry on like this for years and years but who really matters to your communication activity?

From my work position there are people that often get forgotten and that is the victims of crime.

I have long said that when we put information out about a crime in an attempt to get people to come forward with information that may help the investigation we are doing it as the temporary custodians of that story. It is not our story and we don’t own the information. We are just looking after it so that we can use our skills to help the victim and their family.

A few years ago I heard Baroness Newlove talk at a conference about her experience and it was incredibly moving. As Victims Commissioner she is trying to use her terrible experiences to help others. What was clear was that anything done from a communication perspective would have significant impact. She and her family needed to be aware of what was happening and know where they could go if they needed support or advice.

It is too easy to say we are the communication professionals and know what is best. It is too easy to become caught up in the investigation and to forget the people going through the traumatic event. It is too easy to think let’s get this appeal out and make it sound a particular way so that we can get maximum coverage.

We may have to do all these things but we must do them with the support of the victim at the forefront of our minds.

You may wonder what this means for those working in communication outside the emergency services. The key is to think of your customers or service users. We lump them together as one amorphous group when there is a lot to be gained by remembering they are individuals.

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My beautiful laundrette

We take a lot of things for granted in this life and I started to realise how much I valued my washing machine when it broke. It meant I had to do something I have never tried before – visiting a laundrette.

It was an eye opening experience. People came and went. They did their own washing or they picked up washing that had been done for them.

In good Northern tradition everyone was talking to everyone else. Lives crossing for the briefest of moments. For me it involved talking about the joys of having a house rabbit, the state of the weather and being given a very detailed run down of the owners family situation. I am not complaining about it because this helped me to feel connected to the world.

I was given the opportunity this week to talk at the GCS Northern Conference about police communication and how it works both at strategic and tactical level. I explained how for me communication and PR has to support the frontline delivery and if it doesn’t then we need to ask why we are doing it. Understanding the organisation and what it does, how it works and what the processes are is also essential.

Communication is all about people. Understanding what people think of you and your organisation is essential. It will help you know what to do. One of the most valuable things I have done in 20 years of police communication was spending time sitting in public meetings and residents groups and listening to what was said. It was a way of feeling first hand the problems people face, what they needed, what frustrated them and what they valued.

I know for many brands and businesses this might not be as easy to achieve as going out and sitting in a meeting and listening but there is a lot of data and insight that exists. We need to use this and any other opportunities to support our communication work.

My trip to the laundrette will not have been time wasted. I had time to chat about life and to understand a little bit about the priorities of the people that came and went. It connected me to a different part of daily life and that is also critical to bringing the strategic and the tactical together. It is a phrase I have used a number of times this week ‘keep it real’ that has to be at the heart of what we do.

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48 lessons in life

It is another birthday today and now I have had 48 of them they have lost a little of the sparkle they used to have when I was very young and I remember having a Star Wars themed birthday.

I wasn’t going to draw attention to the fact, particularly as I am counting down to the big 5 0 but I felt inspired by Stephen Waddington’s blog from a few days ago when he gave 45 points he had learned over the years. Check it out @wadds . As well as loving the points I also did the usual sigh when I learn I am older than someone.

In many ways I don’t think I have had a very remarkable 48 years. I have the same partner I had 32 years ago, I have worked in police communication for 20 years, and I live in the same town where I was born. But there are many things that I wish I could tell my younger self and that I try to tell the younger people in the office. You never stop learning and you should never stop learning.

After a traumatic week I am not looking too far into the future but am focusing on taking one day at a time. Finding something to enjoy in that day and dealing with what I can.

So her goes with 48 thoughts on life:

Home

1. Live every day

It might sound simple but being present in every day is harder than it sounds. You don’t know what is round the corner so make each day count.

2. Take time with family

It is easy to forget those closest to you but they are your past and your future.

3. Listen to your parents

I refused to when I was a child but now I want to know everything about them while I am lucky enough to still have them close.

4. Keep friends close

Life is full of ups and downs so have a network of close friends and it will help with everything you face.

5. It isn’t always roses

I have been with my partner for 32 years, not married, only fur babies to look after but for us it works. Relationships aren’t always love and flowers accept that and work at things.

6. Keep it simple

I love the Swedish Lagom approach to balanced living. Have only what you need don’t consume because people or society tells you you should.

7. Get to know you

Spend time with yourself it is harder than it looks.

8. Remember what you loved as a child

Find some things you can do that you enjoy with the same innocent pleasure. For me one is singing loudly usually when I am driving.

9. Love yourself

I still haven’t really mastered this but I am more accepting of myself which is a start.

10. Be yourself

We have to celebrate diversity be yourself it is the only way you will be happy.

11. Have a safe space

We all need somewhere to escape to so that we can recover and refresh find your place.

12. Be part of a community

It doesn’t matter what community that may be – local, interest group whatever – being a part of something is rewarding.

13. Accept help

We all need help sometimes so don’t be too quick to turn it down.

14. Be proud of your roots

I am a Northerner. I am from Wigan. It was spotted by someone when I was in Berlin the other week. Yes I have an accent but I have learnt to love it.

15. Dare to be different

It isn’t always easy to stand out from the crowd but you don’t have to conform.

16. Do no harm

It might sound trite but we need to look after each other. Do what makes you happy as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

Work

17. Do what you love

And love what you do. It is true that it will never feel like work when you want to be doing it.

18. Find your purpose

We get a short time to enjoy life so make sure you are using your energy in a way that you want to. What is your purpose?

19. Make your dreams happen

Effort and determination can bring you what you want. Remember all those things you wanted to do well why can’t you do them. Put your mind to it and you can.

20. Bounce back from the knocks

Life brings us hurdles and challenges the key is to find a way to overcome them because they will always happen.

21. Unplanned can be great

We all make plans but some of the best times and best events happen when we deviate from our path and do something different.

22. Accept praise

It is lovely when people say nice things so just enjoy it.

23. Give praise

You know how good it feels to receive praise and compliments so make sure you give them to others.

24. Make it count

Every day only comes once so make sure you are making an impact.

25. Stop comparing

Tread your own path and stop looking at others. Your path in life is unique so learn from others but don’t try to follow each of their steps.

26. Surround yourself with positivity

Keep those who are positive and give you energy to push forward close.

27. Remember people are what matters

In everything we do it is the personal relationships that are most important. Keep that at the forefront in everything you do.

28. Never stop learning

It doesn’t matter whether you are in a new job or one you have done for a while keep learning. The world keeps moving on and so should you.

29. Set challenges

It is great to keep yourself fresh by setting yourself challenges whether they are work related or about personal issues.

30. It’s never too late

You can take up new things or change direction in life at any age.

Comms

31. Work hard, play hard

Work is tough so you need to relax with the same energy and determination that you have at work.

32. Value your development

You matter and so does your development. Get involved with a continuous professional development scheme.

33. Expect the unexpected

The joy of comms and PR is that you never know what will happen so just roll with it and enjoy it.

34. Comms is about knowing the data

It has to start with a clear understanding of what you know about the issue you are faced with. Don’t step blind into finding a solution.

35. Know what you are doing and why

Creativity and innovation are great but make sure they are achieving what you want them to.

36. Understand the widgets

If you want to be taken seriously make sure you can talk the language of the business. If you make widgets then ensure you know everything about the widget making process.

37. See the big picture

Know where comms and you fit within the organisation you are working in or with.

38. Don’t forget the small stuff

You will be judged on what you do and how you do it. Little things really can make a big difference.

39. Give something back

When you have progressed in your career take every opportunity to help others get their first step or to find ways to develop others.

40. Creativity is key

Remember at its best communication is about creative problem solving.

41. Keep it real

It is easy to get caught up in a PR world but that is a small part of life so make sure you keep grounded.

42. It needs to work together

All elements of communication have to work together from digital to engagement to social media and internal communication.

43. Words and pictures

It is all about the words you use and the images that illustrate. Hone your writing and design skills.

44. Explain what you do

People need to know what you are doing and what it delivers to the business. Remember to explain it so you take the bosses with you.

Finally

45. Make someone smile

Try to leave a lasting positive impression wherever you go and make someone smile each day.

46. Do one thing everyday that scares you

It is good to continue to challenge yourself so find ways to push yourself out of the comfort zone.

47. Life is for living

It is easy to worry about things that at the end of the day don’t matter. Stop. Start living your life.

48. Enjoy each day

What more needs to be said – make the most of every day.

I have enjoyed my birthday and remain truly grateful for everything I have in my life.

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A woman’s life

Tomorrow is international women’s day and that means different things to different people. This year it has extra significance for me as I am a Women in PR ambassador and many of the women in my life are facing tough battles.

I have never particularly focused on the fact that I am a woman but as I get older is in coming into sharp focus. I seem to be more aware of whether there are any strong female role models. I see the gender pay gap more clearly in existence. I know that my health issues can be a challenge in the workplace.

When I was growing up I had a huge number of strong women I could look to as role models. My mum for one was creative, innovative and totally individual. She was never afraid to be herself even if that drew quizzical looks from others.

The first teacher to have an impact on me was Mrs Picon at primary school. I think I have traced my desire to be a journalist back to some of the encouragement she gave me. She made writing an acceptable way to pass time or even to make a living.

I remember a philosophy lecturer who could read Ancient Greek who opened my eyes to being a woman seeking knowledge and pushing ahead in an area you were passionate about.

In my early years as a journalist I met many strong women reporters, news editors and editors. They were tough and often no nonsense there to get the job done and to make it in a mans world.

Yet throughout this time the women in the magazines and on the TV (there was no Internet at this time) were only allowed to be in one box. They were either pretty or bookish. They were there to prop up the men. They were focused on looking their best, wearing the right things and finding the right man.

It wasn’t for me.

I had a lot I wanted to do then and I have a lot I still want to do now. I want to encourage young women to reach for the stars to pursue their dreams and to realise they can be whatever they want to be. They need strength, resilience and determination but with those things they can achieve anything.

Time now to put forward the role models that will open people’s minds and open doors.

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With gratitude

There was a sign on the wall of Accident and Emergency as I waited with my mum for her to see the doctor. It read ‘be the reason someone smiles today’.

After 48 hours dealing with a whole range of NHS services I don’t think they needed the reminder. It started with two amazing paramedics that I only know as Dave and Liam who were both caring and understanding of what is not an easy situation.

The A&E doctor who was busy on Sunday morning took the time needed and I found out went to visit my Mum yesterday on the ward she had been moved to. Definitely going beyond anything we would have expected.

Specialists, consultants and doctors have all been a credit to their profession. My mum is very single minded and they have been respectful and caring throughout. This includes the nurse who gave my Mum a hug to help her through a difficult day yesterday.

Knowing my Mum was in such a caring place with the love that was shown made it slightly easier to deal with. We know there is not an easy road ahead but I feel more able to manage the situation knowing these professionals are on hand.

It is easy to take these services for granted – the NHS, police, fire and others. Staffed by amazing people who want to help others even when faced with difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It isn’t glamorous, it isn’t going to earn them a fortune but it is vital work. I remain incredibly proud to be part of the public sector work and hope others take a moment to think about what we are lucky to have.

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