Reflecting on six months work

Six months ago I was in a reflective mood at the start of 2017. It is a time when many people are outlining their New Year resolutions and looking at what they can predict for the future. The topic was a subject for tonight’s #Commschat on Twitter which focused on reviewing the first six months of the year.

I thought it may be interesting to look back at what I said on 1 January this year and see how relevant or not it is on 26 June 2017. Also, does it tell me anything that may be useful for the next six months of the year?

In the New Year post titled ‘Achievements not resolutions’ I was focused on what I wanted to do in 2017 and what did I want to reflect on at the end of the year as something completed. I was very focused on continuing to blog and develop my writing which came on the back of completing my blog a day challenge during 2016. It is still something at the forefront of my mind and I have a lot of plans I need to push forward in the next six months.

From a work perspective I wanted to do work to change the perception of public relations and communications so people can see the value of it. I have tried to do this with all the work I have undertaken outside of my day job. But I think it is during the past five weeks when I, and the team, have been put under extreme pressure that we have really shown what communication can do. The work is front and centre of dealing with a crisis and can have a huge positive impact. My recent blogs have been a reflection on the challenges for communication and how we tried to deal with things. Communication is a thread throughout organisations and businesses it goes from the operational to the strategic and should be at all levels in between.

There were a few other priorities for me in 2017 including completing the work I started as Chair of the Association of Police Communicators when I step down in December this year, and valuing and caring for the animals that share my life.

The final thought I had on 1 January was that I wanted “to look back on how I have improved the 12 months both for myself, those around me and those I don’t know around me”. I ended with the words “Let us push on and make the most of every day in the year ahead.” That is absolutely the most important thing that I have had brought home to me by many recent events. I want to leave a positive impact in what I do, show kindness and express my thanks where needed. I hope that the recent weeks have helped me to show kindness to friends and strangers, as well as to value everything I have in my life.

At the end of June I will take a deep breath and push on to try and do more to ensure I can reflect on what has been achieved in 2017.

Posted in #ayearinblogs, challenge, communication, crisis communication, manchester, media, PR, public, work | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Passion, resilience and creativity – this is my home

This is a slightly different blog subject for me but one that I felt I needed to write. Yesterday I was in London and I wondered how it would feel after recent events. After many years I now feel comfortable in the capital city. I have mastered the tube and the pace of life and the intensity. I know lots of people and have many good friends who live it work there. But it could never feel like my home that is Greater Manchester.

Manchester has always been an amazing and magical city. As a young child it was the place we went to as a treat in the run up to Christmas. When I lived in Sheffield for a year my heart lifted as I saw the Manchester skyline on my way home on the train. So what makes it so great?

If you listened to the poem by Tony Walsh you will understand some of the reasons why this is an amazing area. It has an industrial and industrious history that was a tough place. People had tough jobs and had to try and thrive in challenging times. They found ways to escape the poverty, factories and pressures through art and music. Such great people doing great things.

I asked people on Twitter to tell me why they think this is a great place. Overwhelmingly the answer was the people and specifically the resilience, being friendly, supporting others, and the passion. All of which are woven into our history.

Of course the music of the city had to get a mention. After all when I was a teenager Madchester was happening and people wanted to come from all over the country to sample the city’s hospitality and see the latest bands. We have amazing artists that have come from the streets of Greater Manchester whether it is music, art, comedy or theatre. 

Recent events have made me love this city and region even more. People have shown strength, resilience, compassion and love, and have shown what we are made of. We support each other, we look after each other and we will remain down-to-earth but with our heads held high.

I enjoy visiting many cities and towns but Manchester and Greater Manchester will always be special. It is real, lively and above all it is home. 

*Thank you to everyone who told me why they love Manchester 

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Time to say thank you

This has been a tough year and a tough few months. We have witnessed horrific scenes and seen pain and suffering. My heart goes out to all the families and people who have been affected by the incidents.

We have also seen the very best of people coming together to help and support their fellow man. Communities have come together and it has shown how strong we can be when we stand together. It has also reminded all of us about the tough work the emergency services do on a daily basis.

I am privileged to work with some amazing people who will put themselves in harms way and run into danger to help others. It is something I see every day in less high profile incidents and I have got used to it. But the horrific recent events have reminded me, as it has many other people, that we need to thank our emergency services for the work they do and are prepared to do.

You will always hear the police, firefighters and paramedics say ‘I was just doing my job’ and to a extent that is true. It is a job they have chosen and been trained to do but it is not something everyone could do and that should be recognised.

It is why I am fully supportive of there being a 999 appreciation day. We already have armed forces day which is June 24 this  year to say thank you to those who put themselves at risk to protect others. So why not a day when we can recognise the work of the emergency services.

I am sure that there are many people who would like the chance to say thank you for being there. Even if we have not had to call for help there is a reassurance that people are waiting to help in our hour of need.

We need to make 999 appreciation day a reality. I would be happy to volunteer my services to make it a reality. Anyone else want to get involved?

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When the cameras go

I am getting used to hearing the words ‘you must have been busy for the past three weeks’. My answer usually is to just smile or to add ‘just a little bit’. I know people are just making polite conversation and I shouldn’t get frustrated by it. 

There is a lot written about managing a crisis and what communicators should be doing. It is right that organisations and businesses consider how they would respond to a crisis and that they learn from the experiences of others. But what about the aftermath and the recovery; we say very little about that.

Dealing with an incident is challenging, exhausting and relentless but at some point things reduce and some normality resumes. That for me is when the real challenge for communicators kicks in. Teams are tired and in need of rest. You are still dealing with the incident and the aftermath, at the same time people want normal business to be carried out. This is the time when any additional support will have disappeared and the workload has remained high.

The information sharing and communication activity undertaken in the aftermath of a crisis is as important as the initial phase. If it misjudges the mood or fails to cover the key issues then confidence can be lost. The pressure has not reduced, if anything it has increased. When many in the organisation will be getting back to normal communications is one area that will have to wait for normality.

Our planning and exercises don’t take the long term issues into account. They stop short when they should go further. We need to consider more than just the initial response and be prepared that the long term could be months or even years. Maybe it is time to rethink how we prepare for a crisis and remember it can last a long time. The pressure on communicators will continue and while this is tough it also means there are lots of opportunities to take if you can recognise they exist.

The recovery may not seem as exciting but it is arguably the most critical time. As communicators we need to remember our work continues in earnest even when the camera crews have gone.

Posted in challenge, communication, crisis communication, emergency services, manchester, policing | 1 Comment

A passion for what we do 

A year ago I wrote these words “We may not have big budgets or huge teams but we have something more important – a passion for what we do.” It was in relation to a question about the challenges and the role of internal communication in the public sector. (http://www.communicatemagazine.com/features/2016-may/going-public/)

Last night was the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Excellence awards in London, I wasn’t there as I was at a North West meeting in my beautiful home city of Manchester. I followed the events on social media and was delighted to see many public sector colleagues recognised for their work. I was overwhelmed to read posts about the tribute paid by Sarah Pinch to public sector communicators who have had to deal with the attacks in Manchester and London.

The past two weeks have been a major test for public sector communicators. I have never experienced such intensity, emotion and enormity of a situation. The words I wrote in May last year came back into my head. 

What I have seen since the horrific events in Manchester are public sector communicators in small teams and with no money just deal with what they were confronted with. My colleagues in the police worked 12 hour or more shifts, they worked through the night and they faced things that no communicator ever should. Yes we got tired and things were tense at times but we helped each other through it. We are still helping each other every day. 

Why do they do it? It isn’t for the money, the prestige or the recognition. They do it because they have a passion for communication that makes a difference to people’s lives. They can have a direct impact on people’s lives and hopefully improve them or help them in their moment of need. 

I have reflected a lot in the past two and a half weeks about my own motivation to do this role. Despite the challenges and the issues I still love the idea that the team can help catch criminals and support victims. We can also give people an insight into the amazing work that police officers and staff do on a daily basis. It is still hugely rewarding even after 18 years.

In the article last year I said “There is no hiding in the shadows when you are working in the public sector. But when communication means a victim is helped, a criminal is put behind bars or someone is protected from harm then it is a good day.” Those are important and poignant words for me more now than ever before.

Posted in challenge, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIPR, communication, crisis communication, emergency services, police, policing, PR, public | Tagged | 1 Comment

The hardest words

This is the hardest blog I have ever tried to sit and write. I haven’t felt able to write anything for almost two weeks. Firstly, I want to remember all those people who have been affected by the events in Manchester on the night of Monday 22 May. They are in my thoughts and prayers every day. Ten days on I can honestly say that the victims of the terror attack have been in my thoughts every single day.

We have seen the darkest of times reach my home city. I can’t yet feel able to discuss the immediate aftermath and the work that took place. But what I want to focus on is the amazing light that shone in the days that followed that horrific incident.

Everyone will be aware of the flowers that have swamped St Anne’s Square a place that has become a focal point for remembering those affected. People will have seen the unity shown in the vigil that took place the following day and in a whole range of events still taking place. I, like many, gathered strength from seeing those images of love and unity. Alongside that was the outpouring of support for the police and emergency services that had raced to help people.

The work of communication teams takes place behind the scenes. In the past 10 days our priority has always been doing the best job we can for the families and those affected by the attack. They have been at the forefront of our minds all the time. We wanted to do the best for them, for Greater Manchester Police and for Greater Manchester as well. It is what we are still continuing to try to do.

I have been overwhelmed by the messages of love and support that the team have received from communication professionals. So many people have thought about us and shown huge kindness. It wasn’t expected but it has been welcomed. From the messages on Twitter and LinkedIn through to handwritten notes, they have all helped to keep us focused on what matters. We are incredibly grateful to people for taking the time to contact us.

There is still a huge amount of work to do. We need to keep focused and keep going. I am in no doubt that we will. The team have simply been amazing and I am so proud to be a small part of this team. Out of the darkness comes some light.

Posted in blog, communication, crisis communication, emergency services, police, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Challenging times

There is an interesting piece of research that has been released by VMA earlier this week. It is taken from discussions with many Chief Executives about what they are expecting from their head of communication. I would recommend reading it as there is a lot of useful information within the report some of which I would have guessed and others that are more of a surprise.

One thing struck me loud and clear from the information and that is the importance of challenge. Being able to challenge those in the boardroom is seen as an essential part of the make up of any head of communication. Those in charge want people to have clear views, be able to articulate them and feel able to challenge the considered wisdom and ‘way we do things’ mentality.

It is something that I firmly agree with. All communication and PR roles need to be carried out with strong ethics and a sense of what is right. The key is to be able to provide an alternative viewpoint convincingly and not to be swayed by the hierarchy of the organisation. If something is not right then we need to say so, if elements haven’t been considered we need to raise them, if the voice of the customer or service user has been ignored we have to include it.

None of this is easy. It requires confidence. Confidence in your own ability and confidence to speak openly within the organisation. You need to have no concerns about the next paycheck. You need to be prepared to stand up and be counted when others may fall away.

It is pleasing to know that this strength is now being recognised as an essential characteristic of heads of communications. But it comes with a huge responsibility and the need to have buckets of resilience to call upon when things become difficult. I would recommend you find the VMA research to look at the other skills, knowledge and experience that is being valued by those at the top of businesses from the modern senior communicator role.

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