Living with a cloud

When I woke this morning there was a cloud following me. It was stuck above my head casting a shadow over my day. I had a feeling of dread and I don’t know why.

It could have been linked to the nightmare economic situation that was unveiled yesterday. It could have been because I just want to be able to hug my Mum and Dad. It could be that it is a year tomorrow since my beloved horse had to go to hospital because he was seriously ill.

The truth is I don’t know what is causing it. But I know what it is. I am battling anxiety. I am not alone in this and I know that many more people will be in the same situation or even worse. Today isn’t too bad because I did want to get up and go outside even though I was dreading what May greet me.

So here I am sat writing this blog with a quiet stables and my horse softly eating his hat in the stable behind me. I know that there is only me that can push this cloud away. I have to talk to myself with the logical bit of my brain.

I have plenty of work which as a new business I am very grateful for. I am working with some amazing people and enjoy what I do. I have food, water and a roof over my head. I speak to and see Mum and Dad every day and they are doing ok. My horse has battled through another year and is still here at 25 thanks to some wonderful vets.

I am lucky that I have family and friends around me who will hold me when I need it and give me a shake when I need it. But like many I hide what I am feeling a lot of the time it is just easier that way.

So I will get through today and try to deal with whatever happens and try to push this cloud away. If this resonates with you then I hope you have support around to help. If this all sounds alien then just be kind to people as you never know what is going on inside.

Posted in kindness | Tagged | 1 Comment

The brain drain

When I heard the news about a potential freeze on public sector pay it made me think of only one thing – the loss of more talented communication professionals from key teams. It is a real blow for so many people who have been working so very hard during 2020. They have been doing work that is at the frontline of tackling the pandemic and have pushed themselves to breaking point in many cases.

I understand the economic situation and the financial pressures but in the last 10 years when I worked in the public sector I had seen communication teams lose some of the best and brightest members. The pay freeze that had been in place for a large part of the decade pushed people to more lucrative opportunities in the private sector.

When I first started to work in the public sector it was well accepted that the roles were paid less than elsewhere but it came with some security. But the security of the work disappeared and with the pay capped the only way it could compete was by attracting those who have a strong public sector ethos. They were keen to work in something that could help people and would do that for a year or two possibly a little longer before they looked elsewhere.

The concern I have is that over the decade we have seen more and more people leave the public sector and many after years of service. There is also an increasing challenge to recruit into vacant posts. This may improve in the short term but how will the public sector hold onto its communicators?

One of the biggest challenges is going to be the toll that this year has taken on so many public sector communicators. I speak to many and am concerned about the stress they have been put under, and in many cases that they have put themselves under. They have worked round-the-clock, not taken holidays, and have put the work ahead of their own needs. This latest news has, as I saw one public sector communicator say ‘been a slap in the face’.

After more than two decades in public sector communication I have huge respect and admiration for anyone working in those roles. This potential pay freeze makes me concerned about the future for public sector communication. I can’t stop this happening, but I will always make myself available for any communicators, particularly the public sector at this moment, for a chat, some support and an opportunity for them to offload.

Posted in challenge, communication, PR, public | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Pulling the shutters down

When the first lockdown start to ease I treated myself to a much needed haircut. It had been a while so finding a locally based salon was important. I wanted to shop local and put some much needed money back into the local economy. Just a few days before the second lockdown started I made sure I had booked in for a trim. What a difference a few months made.

On my first visit it was a busy salon. There was a carefully thought through one way system, lots of Covid checks and social distancing. Lots of people were taking advantage of the chance to grab a haircut. But at the start of November there was a virtually empty shop and just two staff working. I found out just a few days ago that they are closing. The staff will be looking to become mobile hairdressers and the building will be closed and sold.

This is just one story. There are so many more. Businesses that had been thriving, busy and at the heart of local communities are being stretched. For many that could mean reaching breaking point and possibly the end of the road. How many businesses have you seen close this year?

This matters. Behind every business there are many people whose lives have been turned upside down. They may have lost their livelihood, their income and their purpose in life. As we are heading towards the festive season and a time when people are looking to spend money, please remember to support local businesses wherever possible.

The move to recovery has not yet happened but it will. We will need to find ways to rebuild not just our fractured lives but the shattered businesses. We need to keep the heart in our communities. PR and communication has played a key role in dealing with the impact of the pandemic and it has an important role to come. It will be instrumental in working with businesses to help them re-establish themselves in a post-Covid world.

Whatever you are doing in the coming weeks remember to support your local businesses. They need us all now more than ever.

Posted in communication, Covid-19, crisis communication | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In the spotlight

The director of communication for No 10 resigns and it sparks extensive media coverage about what is taking place. It follows from a Sunday Times article at the weekend that highlighted a contract with a PR agency to support part of Government. I am not going to delve into either of these stories because you will have read a lot about them already. What I am concerned with is when the communicators become the story which is rarely a positive experience.

When the media talk about PR and communication professionals it is never a good thing. While they are many thousands of people working in the industry and doing amazing work helping people through the pandemic, supporting those in need and working to build businesses they never get mentioned.

For many years I have tried to find ways to explain what I do to friends and family. It isn’t easy as most communicators will know. I used to say that I deal with the media enquiries that my former work received because that seemed to help some people to understand. Now I say I help organisations that need to prepare for, or are facing a crisis. It is usually followed with the question – how? That can lead to a long conversation where I get quite animated and they get bored very quickly.

As professional communicators we are not good at explaining what we do. My worry is that the more it becomes a little understood profession, the more people will take their references from those national media stories that they see. What we have to do is find a way to put the spotlight on the important work that is taking place and is helping communities. It is only by doing that we will be able to start to change the impression of what we do.

My 25 years in PR has never been like Absolutely Fabulous or The Thick of It. I have never been to glitzy events or drunk copious amounts of champagne. The work I have been involved with is about real people and their lives, and helping those in need. It may not be glamorous or easy to explain but it is something I love and see making a real difference to people.

Let’s all find a way to put the spotlight onto the important PR and communication work that is taking place and is the real face of the industry.

Posted in communication, Covid-19, PR | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Finding a balance

Today (Thursday 5 November) is the start of a second lockdown in England and four weeks of severe restrictions on our lives. It follows a similar approach in many other countries, in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. Communicators have faced a frantic week since the announcement was made that it was coming. Staff needed to know what was happening, businesses had to work out what to say and to who, and for many public sector communicators the demands on them increased yet again.

The important thing now is to make sure that there is a balance between the pressure of work and finding some calm moments to relax. It is made increasingly difficult to achieve a balance because working at home has brought the two closer together.

In the same way that former smokers will lecture you about the perils of cigarettes, I find I spend a lot of time urging people to find this balance between work and home life. It is because for many years I failed to look after my own wellbeing often continuing to work until I was running on empty.

If you love what you do then you want to keep doing it, and if you have a pride and sense of professionalism about what you do it drives you to do more. These are not in themselves bad things but you need to be alert to what this means. You will pass over time with family or just sitting and relaxing. You will be checking your email, and then checking it and checking it just one more time. It will be the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night.

Working at top speed can be required in the earlys stages of a crisis. But it is not sustainable to continue in the same way for more than a day or two. It is why I have continually said that dealing with Covid-19 is a marathon not a sprint. Run at it as a sprint and you will quickly run out of steam and this situation is not disappearing anytime soon.

So, as we are all waking up in the weird world of tight restrictions on our lives and a growing amount of work for communicators I would urge people to take some time away from the computer. Find something that will relax you and make time to do it. Limit your access to the news unless it is absolutely required. I do three times during the day – morning, lunchtime and evening. Talk about things other than work and make time to contact friends for a chat.

This year has put huge pressure on many people. The important thing to remember is that you are precious, there is only one of you, so don’t wait until the pressure makes you crumble, take a break, talk to people, and make sure you ask for help if you need it.

Stay safe, look after yourself and take support when it is offered.

Posted in communication, Covid-19, crisis communication, PR, resilience | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Facing the future by focusing on today

I like many people watched the announcement of a month long lockdown with concern and rising anxiety. It was made worse by the drip, drip of information during the day, the delay in the press conference and some unfathomable charts.

The reality is that the lockdown will make little difference to my life. I haven’t been going to bars and pubs. I will occasionally go to shops other than food stores. And my parents have continued shielding since March. My anxiety was rising for so many other reasons.

Understanding my anxiety is important but what matters more is how we find a way through the days ahead. I am not going to say be no positive and smile and everything will be alright. All that does is provide a veneer that you are coping when you may well be struggling.

I have said many times since March that communicators are under pressure more than most. To start with we all have to work out what this situation means for us personally and what we need to do to manage home life. But on top of that comms is, and should be, frontline in the crisis response. This means being confronted by the harsh realities on a daily and even hourly basis.

What matters now is not an inquiry into how we got here or discussion about months ahead but dealing with things day by day and making sure we are looking after ourselves and each other. There are three key things that I would ask people, particularly hard pressed communicators, to do.

First, just deal with things a day at a time and don’t think too far ahead. Yes we need to ensure we are looking at scenarios but focus on what needs to be done now and for the next few weeks. There is time for longer term planning and it isn’t this moment.

Second, make sure you ask for help if you need it and that you have a good support network around you. One of the things that has helped me through this year and all the challenges is the support of some amazing people. They are there when I need them and just a simple word to know they care has been enough at times. If you are coping well then perhaps you can be that person giving a kind word to others.

Thirdly, focus on some positive or good things in your life. It doesn’t matter what they are just fine the good that you can focus on. It will lift your spirits on the difficult and dark days. For me it is my animals and spending time writing or painting. When I feel really down it helps me to write a long list of the good things I have in my life that I often take for granted.

There is no doubt 2020 has been a hugely difficult and at times damaging year. Living through a pandemic puts us under huge pressure. What we need to do is be kind to ourselves, help each other and remember that these times will pass.

I will be around if anyone needs a chat over a brew. My #thinkthroughbrew is still available for communicators needing a 20 minute chat to discuss or just share. I will continue to do this for as long as people need it. Just message me.

Posted in challenge, communication, Covid-19, crisis communication, PR, resilience | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How are you doing?

No, really how are you doing?

It was something we said a lot back in early April and May. The phrase had gone from being a mere pleasantry to becoming a way of checking on someone’s welfare and wellbeing. As the months have moved on the question has stopped being asked and I think there is a simple reason why. We know that people are struggling and that things are not good.

The important thing is what we do now with this situation. We can ignore it, worry about our own problems and then hope that everything will start to pick up soon. After all we are all responsible for our own health and happiness aren’t we? Wrong.

There is so much we can do to help each other and in helping each other boost our own wellbeing. In the past couple of weeks I have become increasingly concerned about the impact that 2020 has had on people. People young and old are struggling and things are starting to feel worse because of the dark nights and the thoughts of a festive period separated from loved ones. Many parts of the UK are also facing tough restrictions that are impacting on people’s lives.

It can feel overwhelming that there are so many people in pain and distress. I am not immune from feeling the pressure as well and have had some bleak days where I would be happy to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. But I want to find a way to help. I started this week by getting back in touch with my local Age UK group to see how I can help them again now residents in the area are back in Tier 3 restrictions. At the start of lockdown in April and throughout the summer I was able to offer a bit of voluntary support to get the message out that they were around.

I am also continuing to offer to be a listening point for communicators who may be feeling the pressure. If anyone wants to have a 20 minute #thinkthroughbrew let me know, and I have offered to provide a free advice session to businesses that are stuck in Tier 3 restrictions. These are all small things but if more people are able to do these small things it will make a big difference. Just look at the response to the free school meals issue and how millions have been raised by people just giving what they can.

In the weeks ahead I am going to make sure that ‘how are you doing?’ is a question that I am focused on, and that I really listen to the answers.

Posted in challenge, communication, happiness, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The most wonderful time of the year?

It is just two months before Christmas will be upon us. We are all coming to accept that this festive season will be very different to any we have previously experienced. The dawning realisation of a Christmas on Zoom can quickly affected people’s wellbeing. So what does this mean for communicators?

The first challenge will be whether it is acceptable to have fun in any way while the pandemic is still impacting on people and affecting their lives. There is no easy answer to this and it is likely to change on a daily or even hourly basis. But a bit of festive cheer in the right way, at the right time may be just what people need to keep their spirits up. It will be a balancing act between escapism and reality.

With the economy under substantial pressure there will be little sympathy with cash being spent in anything but critical areas. For public sector communicators they need to keep a tight hold of the purse strings. It is easy to get caught up in trying to spread Christmas cheer and we all know it is really needed this year. But try and look at what you are doing from the perspective of those who have been struggling with Covid-19 throughout 2020.

I say this a lot when talking about crisis communication. I urge people to look at the event or incident from the outside of the organisation in. Try to put yourself in the position of those who have been most adversely affected by what has happened. It will, and it should, change the way you develop communication. Avoid becoming introvert and narrowly focused on your own circumstances at the expense of others.

This is also going to be a festive season where the usual quiet moments where people can take time off and recover are not going to happen. When you are living with a crisis you are not able to take time off in the same way. It is something I know communicators have come to realise as the holidays have mounted up and been unused throughout the year. The key is to start planning now to put some cover in place and also ensure that teams do get some time to relax and switch off. Covid-19 is not going to disappear and stop being an issue just because it is Christmas.

Finally, there has been a lot of commentary about getting 2020 out of the way with the impression that 2021 will arrive without a pandemic. We all hope that would be the case but we need to be realistic. The end of 2020 will not mean the end of Covid-19. We want to give people hope for the future but we also need to be honest and accurate with whatever we say. I would urge all communicators to remember that when they are developing end of year, start of new year activities.

This Christmas season is going to be different just like the rest of 2020. What we need to do is recognise that, face up to it and continue to take things a day at a time.

Posted in challenge, Christmas, communication, crisis communication, PR, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

As winter approaches

The clocks go back this weekend in the UK which is a sign that winter is upon us. This is going to be a more challenging winter than we have ever faced. It isn’t due to the weather, suffering from seasonal affected disorder, or the battle to create the perfect Christmas, it is because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When we celebrated the last Christmas period no-one can have anticipated that we would be facing restrictions that mean we are likely to be celebrating away from friends and family. Worse than that we could find ourselves having Zoom Christmas dinner just to feel that we are together.

As the restrictions first arrived at the end of March there was much more to look forward to; the summer, long warm days, the anticipation that there may be some form of holidays allowed, and the hope that by the end of 2020 this would all be over. Lockdown at that point was hard but no-where near as hard as it is feeling as the cold, dreary winter nights are looming upon us.

We are going to need to dig deep and find a way through the winter months. I have been reading about how countries such as Finland, Norway and others manage through what are often very short winter days. Many of us will have read a bit about Hygge and how it signifies a cozy and comfortable life in Denmark. But there is also the Norwegian concept of Koselig. It is often translated as cosy but means so much more.

The winters and nights are long particularly in the north of Norway so people realise they have to seize the day. They need to enjoy the snow when it is ready for skiing. They need to enjoy wearing comfortable and warm clothes. They need to make their homes as inviting as possible with warm fires, beautiful candlelight and comforting baking. There is so much more to this but the point seems clear.

When we are turning the clocks back, losing summer time, and preparing for winter we can see this is a great opportunity to get cosy and comfortable. We can find that sweater that we love and face the day with coat, hat, scarf and gloves keeping us warm. There are always things every day that we can love, enjoy and look forward to. It is not going to be easy, the way ahead is hard but perhaps winter 2020 needs to be more Koselig for us all.

Posted in happiness | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tweeting a decade away

On this day in 2010 something quite exciting happened. It was a difficult time for the public sector, which is not a surprise. Working for the police was even more challenging with budgets being threatened and job cuts likely. I was set a task to find a way to show the world all the things police officers were dealing with that was unexpected and not crime.

The Chief Constable called me to discuss the options. It was just a few months after the first social media strategy had been outlined to the bosses and agreed. I had a risky idea. Let’s live tweet all the calls that we get in 24 hours. That was how the 24 hour Twitterday happened.

From the early hours of 14th October 2010 until the early hours of 15th October a small team of communication officers working with the call handlers gave a moment by moment look at all the problems, issues and incidents that people contacted about. It had taken three days from the initial conversation to the execution of the tweetathon. Logistics were quickly worked through and staff were briefed and keen to get involved as it was an exciting departure from the normal work.

The result was overwhelming and more than had been expected. It quickly gathered momentum and ended up being the top trending subject on Twitter. There were serious cases, odd stories and lots of times when the police were really not needed but were the default place to call for help. It achieved what was required.

For me that point was a turning point. Before then social media had been new and interesting. It was something to try and to watch. After that day a decade ago you could see the huge benefits social media could have for big organisations. You could see how it could support operational policing and was part of frontline work. The future was there in that moment. Social media was about more than just fun and entertainment, it could be used as a force for good.

Ten years later and despite all the negative aspects of social networking I still feel it can have a huge part to play in helping people and connecting people. During a crisis it can be incredibly valuable ultimately saving lives. So, what did I learn from that moment in 2010?

Be creative, be innovative and sometimes you just need to go with your gut feeling about a good idea. Find the time to really think through what you are doing and start to look ahead at what may be round the corner. I am always grateful for the learning experience that the 24 hour Twitterday gave me.

Posted in communication, creativity, policing, PR, social media, social networking, social networks, tweet | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment