A heated debate

It was another fascinating Commschat tonight on Twitter. Among one of the threads discussed was whether communication teams should be working as agency or in-house. It was a subject that prompted some heated discussion.

The answer seems quite simple to me, it has to be what is cost effective and beneficial to the organisation. The larger the organisation the more acceptable it is to have the team in-house as they will have a lot to do to manage reputation and link across the business. If you are a small company or sole retailer then you will need to keep costs low and work with an agency will be essential in some way.

But the most important thing for any business or CEO is flexibility. If you are the head person with responsibility for communication then you have to be adaptable. Modern life needs you to be able to respond quickly to changes happening around you.  It may mean additional short term staff to assist an in-house team or it could be partnering with an agency for some specialist assistance.

The flexibility also extends to working hours, managing priorities and in the day-to-day work. Communication is a fast paced and fast moving industry and it needs us to be fleet of foot. We can only achieve that if we are able to quickly reshape and adapt. 

For any organisation regardless of how communication is delivered it has to have a detailed understanding of the business and how it works. It is essential to have that and  build credibility whether agency or in-house. 
There was a heated discussion on the chat about what the difference is between PR, communication and marketing. I have a very low tech answer which is that at the heart they are all the same. They are about connecting and engaging and that is what matters. 

The demands on the modern communicator are many and varied so being able to adapt, develop and deliver results is critical.

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Take a little time 

As anyone who knows me will agree I am not the most patient person. We live in an era of speed where we want things quickly and we want them now. I can get really frustrated at home and work when I want to sort something immediately only to find out I have to wait.

Yesterday we welcomed a new addition to our family, a little bunny called Digger. He has had a difficult year and at four-years-old hasn’t had the most settled start to his life. When his photo appeared on Facebook with an appeal to find his forever home I felt a connection. Older animals always find it more difficult to find homes which is a shame.

We have only known him a few hours and this is going to be a long process to build his trust. At the heart of it is patience and letting him have control. It will be a huge test for me as this is one of those things that can’t be rushed. 

I was delighted when he felt confident enough this morning to have a bounce around exploring his new home. Small steps will get us where we want to be if I just have patience.

Life teaches us lessons along the way. We need to be alert and recognise what faces us and how we can learn and grow from it. I have written in this blog before about how my little bunny Coco who I lost some months ago taught me so much. I know that our new companion Digger will teach us a lot and I am open to that and the challenges ahead. I will take my time and enjoy what comes.

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25 years in the making

This has been a really busy week for me and I have enjoyed it mainly because of the chance to share experiences and learning. I sometimes forget that I have been working in communication roles for almost a quarter of a century so might have gathered some knowledge along the way.

My week started with a trip down south and a speaking opportunity at the national police press officers course. It was an early morning start so I made the long trip the night before and had the chance to catch up with some colleagues I have known for many years. Unfortunately for me a few are moving on shortly but I will ensure I keep in touch with them.

I gave my overview of social media and its development over the years to the bright and eager faces. And I am not sure how I feel about someone saying I had been around for a long time. But I suppose I have.

At the end of the week I had to go back to one of my previous jobs and help out our very short staffed press office. It felt like only yesterday that I was doing that role myself and looking forward to what the future would hold. I was quite pleased that I could still make a good attempt at doing the job.

Yesterday, as you may have seen on the blog I did, I was shadowing the latest chartered assessment day. It was great to hear the discussions taking place and to be focused on my own development. This is why I want to become an assessor, as part of the commitment to my own development. It was a good opportunity to meet some new people and talk about all things comms. We could share experiences and hopefully help each other out with new things to consider.

Next year marks my 25 years since I joined the world of work, first as a journalist and then moving into PR. It has been great fun and is still one of the best jobs out there. I have learnt a lot and I never want to stop sharing experiences and building my knowledge. 

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A date with development 

There are very few jobs that you join and then never receive any additional training. If you are entering a profession then your development would be seen as an essential part of your work. So why in communication and PR roles do we see it differently?
My partner is a lifeguard and has to undergo regular training and testing to ensure he is fit for the job. I work alongside police officers who have their skills and knowledge tested in many ways on a regular basis. When I started my working life as a journalist I was indentured which meant 18 months of training, learning and testing.

But as a PR and communication professional I could spend the whole of my career doing nothing about my own training and development with no obvious affect.

We have to change views and perceptions of the work we do and show the professionalism. It can only be possible if we show continued learning and development. When people join the business they should understand that commitment to their own development is expected. 

Companies and organisations should look at the professional development undertaken by candidates or agency staff and take it into account when hiring. Why would you want to employ someone who isn’t keeping up to date with developments and issues? Communication is a fast moving and fast paced business and if you want to be part of it you need to keep on top of changes. 

I was delighted to be able to shadow the assessors undertaking the latest Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) chartered practitioner assessment day today. People taking part were keen to demonstrate their ability and their commitment to professional development. I am still proud of achieving chartered status even 16 months later. It is something people should be working towards wherever possible. 

Finally, huge congratulations to all those who have now earned the right to call themselves chartered practitioners. Time to celebrate your achievement tonight.

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Walk a mile in their shoes

Whether you call it internal communication or employee engagement there is one thing that I think is essential. It is important for all forms of communication and that is to understand your audience. There are many ways we try to ensure we make that connection with external communication activity but often we forget about it when we are looking at conversations with the workforce. After all if we are working in-house then we are part of that workforce so surely we already understand things.

Understanding the audience has to sit alongside understanding the business. It has to start with spending time on the frontline of the businesses whatever that is and that needs to happen in the early days of joining an organisation. Communication has to have an honesty and authenticity and that is only possible if we can see things from the perspective of the receiver of the message.

It still surprises me how many people working in communication roles whether in-house or agency still don’t really understand what the frontline of the business entails. In my current role I think it is vital to have been on patrol with police officers and to experience what they face on a daily basis. All new members of the team will be encouraged to take time to do that so they have a better grasp of the business.

Really understanding the work is important when times are tough and people are under pressure. That is the time when an honest approach even when it isn’t presenting the best possible picture needs to be in place. Employees will not listen and engage with what is being shared unless they feel it comes with an understanding of what they face. After all when systems or procedures are not working the staff will know and we lose credibility if we don’t accept that position.

I hope that more people providing communication support to businesses and organisations will take the time to walk a mile in the shoes of the employees.

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The curtain comes down

Well, I have just watched the final episode of the BBC2 documentary The Detectives and I have had a little cry. I know the cases from the work the team have done to provide information to the media at the time. But it has brought home the impact on families and the human cost.

Supporting and remembering the families and the victims has to be at the heart of everything we do around communication. It was something the documentary managed to do; to cover the process and keep the people at the centre.

After 18 years in policing I can remember most of the murder investigations I supported as a press officer. I remember the families I spoke to, the appeals we did and the court cases. The reason they are still so clear in my mind is because I cared and still care deeply for the people affected. Getting the best outcome for them is critical after they have faced such an horrendous situation. It was clear the officers felt deeply about the cases and were determined to do all they could for the families.

I hope that I may have helped in some small way the families of the victims whose cases I worked to support. If I have then I would be satisfied.

Someone said to me recently that we seem to get involved in a lot of documentaries. I don’t think we do but I would always defend showing the painstaking work that goes on behind the scenes of major investigations. It isn’t like drama where everything gets sorted in an hour, it takes days, weeks, months and sometimes years to reach a conclusion. 

I am very proud and honoured that I work for an organisation that helps people in their darkest days. The Detectives has hopefully given people a real understanding of what takes place everyday.

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Time to open up 

Today is World Mental Health Day and hopefully a chance to talk about this important subject. It is easy to say ‘I am fine’ and keep ploughing ahead with the pressures of modern life. At some point the pressure will get too much and how will we cope?

I have often thought it could never happen to me. I am quite a robust person who can take a lot and keep bouncing back. When I have seen people struggling I felt sympathy but part of me could not understand how they got into such a position. All this had changed as I have got older and experienced more situations.

This year has tested my resilience on many levels and I have been quite open about my experiences. After 18 years in policing it has been the first time I have been to occupational health. They provided some amazing support to help me cope. All the other work I have been doing over the years came back to help as well. Three years of working on myself and using the support of a wonderful life coach all helped me through.

As with most pressurised times in my life it was the family and friends around me who also helped me through. I cannot thank those who helped enough for what they did. If only everyone had that sort of support network available things may be better.

I have seen many people struggle with their mental well-being over the years. I have lost some good friends and family to the battle with mental health. People have their own personal battles to face but the one thing we can do is to talk openly about it. I hope that World Mental Health Day may mean some people open up and seek help and that we all feel more able to talk about the issue.

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