Three little words, three big values 

I have come to the conclusion that there are three things that I value highly both in myself and others. They are professionalism, integrity and creativity. I aspire to have demonstrate them whenever possible and definitely when I am under pressure.

People have said my standards and what I expect from people are too high. I don’t think so, what I expect from others I expect from myself. It may appear that I am harsh in myself but sometimes you need to if you are going to develop.

Professionalism is critical for me. To do my best and be continually learning is essential for me every day, week and year. Communication and PR is trying to move to be seen as a profession but to do that continual learning has to be undertaken by practitioners. Throughout my career I have been trying to learn and have always had a continuous professional development plan. 

This work is more critical now as I am leading the team which means I should be aware of industry updates. I should be looking to the future and the development of communication. I should be ensuring I am adequately prepared to lead and help the team.

Integrity is so important to modern PR and communication and to me. This is our credibility to operate and have the confidence of those we work with and for.  It is something we should think about more frequently and we should be really clear about the industry code of ethics that we must uphold.

These two elements, professionalism and integrity, operate hand in hand and must be at the heart of every communicator. Finally, there is creativity. We all come into the industry to use it and develop it but somehow we often lose it. We cannot perform the communication role effectively if we are not being creative, solving problems and trying new things.

Creativity is why I love communication. It is liberating and exciting and when it is used effectively it can have a positive impact on lives. We should all seek to have creativity in our lives on a daily basis.

I value the three elements highly and continue to aim to demonstrate them in everything I do.

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15 years of learning

It has been a week to reflect, amid the turmoil of another busy time in work. I have had a chance to review the events from the past 15 years within my current role. Throughout the week I have looked at everything from what the state of the world looked like in 2001 through to all the colleagues that I have known. Today, I feel it is only right to round the week off by looking at what I have learnt from the decade and a half.

Sadly, when I was chatting to one police officer this week I suddenly realised he was still at school when I joined Greater Manchester Police. This is quite a scary thought and probably explains why I have recently invested in some anti-wrinkle cream! But on a positive note I have learnt so much from my time in the organisation.

I have always thought that communication was essential in the world but the years have shown me how critical it is to keep things running well. Without effective communication people get confused, lack understanding about events and society becomes fractured. When it exists people can understand each other and there is the ability to develop cohesion within communities. It might sound a bit far-fetched but I really think this is the case. Communication is what brings us together or can drive us apart.

The past 15 years have made me realise that the best communication teams are the ones that work together. Teamwork is critical and as I have mentioned earlier this week it is like a dysfunctional family. We always work best when we work together, each person playing their own part, bringing different skills and experience.

I have realised that I am more resilient and stronger than I ever thought I was. I have faced so many things and so far am still standing. There have been major tests of my communication knowledge and experience, and times when the work was almost 24/7. I have survived some weeks with only four hours sleep a night. I have worked weekends and turned out to deal with communication issues when everyone else is celebrating holidays. I have seen some terrible things and still find a way to identify what communication is required. Throughout the years I have continued to find ways to cope and deal with the tough days. I am still learning.

Above all I know now that if I love what I am doing and can see a real purpose for it, where it helps people, then I will give 24 hours of my life to doing it. Sometimes I do need to take time to regroup, recover and refresh myself. But while I have a passion for the work I will give 100 per cent. Fifteen years have flown by and in some ways I have changed. I am older, possibly a little wiser but even more dedicated to developing world-class communication. I wonder what the next 15 years may bring?

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Commitment, cake and colleagues

It is the people that can make an organisation. For me, who you work with is important to whether you are just going through the motions or you are able to really get involved and enjoy what you do. Over the 15 years that I have been at my current workplace I have lost count of how many people have been part of the same team. They have joined, gained valuable experience, contributed a lot and then moved on.

I have been lucky to have worked with some amazing and creative people. Individuals who will work round-the-clock to deliver results and are totally focused on making a difference to communities. They have a huge sense of pride in being able to support frontline police officers find criminals, help victims or encourage witnesses to come forward. I have often referred to the team as a dysfunctional family. We support each other, mainly get along, have some fall-outs but always make up and work together.

This may be something wider than police communication and I am sure many others may talk about teams in the same way. But I do think that because of the nature of the work police communicators do, how important it is in dealing with emergencies and because it is high stakes, that it brings people closer together. Over the years I have worked many late nights, early mornings, bank holidays and weekends as have my colleagues. When we have been in the middle of an emergency or a crisis we pull together and work as needed to reach the right conclusion. It is hard work, commitment and a large amount of cake and chocolate that sees us through, as well as a sense of humour.

In 15 years I have also had more bosses than I care to count. On a rough estimate it is reaching double figures. They have all been very different but when I look back there are always things I have learnt from spending time working with them. Some have been very interested in communication and others have been hands-off preferring to only get involved when it was absolutely necessary. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not the easiest person to manage. It goes right back to my school days when I felt able to challenge the teachers about what I was being taught. I am sure to them it was a pain but for me it definitely helped my learning. That said, I think there are three key things that set apart those bosses that have been the best.

Firstly, they have been interested in communication, willing to get involved when necessary and have wanted to understand more. Secondly, they have allowed me the freedom to use my skills, knowledge and experience without micro-managing. Finally, they have been really clear about what was expected both from me and the team, without moving the goalposts. I am lucky that when it has worked well I have remained in touch with the boss and with a few can call them friends.

In 15 years one thing has been clear – it is the people that have made the work as enjoyable as it has been. On most days I don’t dread going to work, I relish it and I don’t worry about who I may be working with, I look forward to it. I have enjoyed being part of the dysfunctional family.

 

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The day my world changed

There have been many memorable events in the past 15 years of work. I joined GMP knowing we would have the chance of policing the 2002 Commonwealth Games which I thought would be an amazing opportunity. 

Just weeks before the Games were due to get underway the terrorist attack on September 11 happened. I remember being sat reading through a rather boring report in my isolated office. In the corner was a small portable television or at least that maimed to be portable to 2001 standards. As ever I always have the rolling news channels on and I looked up and could not believe what I was seeing.

I sat transfixed watching something that I had only seen in the movies. It was horrific and it changed the world. It also changed my views of what I thought was going to be communicating about a nice event into a serious business.

Policing and police communication is a serious business but you can still smile and be creative as I have learnt throughout the years. 

I have faced some huge communication challenges in 15 years, including riots, terrorism arrests, and a number of tragedies. It is always the incidents involving people that are the most distressing. When you get involved in a personal level and have a connection it can be hard to deal with. In those times it is communication that has helped me. I switched into focused work mode which allowed me to put aside any personal emotion. But only for a short time.
There have also been many positive events including when we carried out Twitterday in 2010 – live tweeting all incidents. It was an amazing team effort and was the start of my social media obsession.

In 15 years I have worked with some wonderful and creative people, and had a wide range of bosses (but more of that later in the week). Despite the chance in personnel the work has not fundamentally changed. Policing is still regularly put under the media spotlight, incidents happen and we deal professionally with tragedies, and there are plenty of opportunities to be proactive and positive within communication.

The role of the police communicator has never been more important than in recent years. Being able to support frontline policing matters and it is why I am still hooked 15 years on.

When I think back 15 years the world was changed by 9/11 and my world was most definitely changed by moving to the new role. 

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The right move?

I remember very clearly getting ready and then driving to the old police headquarters. I had started just after nine which was a little first day luxury. As I waited in the reception area I had a sense of fear, excitement and a little dread not knowing what or who I was going to meet during the day. I had no idea where I would be based, who I would be sat alongside and the work that I would be given. What would the staff be like? What would the bosses be like? Where did communication sit within the organisation?

The morning was a whirl of meeting people who all looked far too busy to spend any time speaking to me, finding out that my office was in a different building and that the team was split over two sites. From being somewhere that I knew everyone and everything that was going on I was suddenly out of the loop, struggling to understand what was happening and wondering where I fitted into the team.

It was a less than glamourous start to my career with the organisation as I spent the vast proportion of the day clearing out the office and trying to work out what information I needed to keep. I concluded quite quickly that there was very little I needed to keep, particularly as the job had been vacant for more than six months. I also learnt very early on that I was going to be the dumping ground for all the things that staff didn’t want to deal with. Some of it was definitely within my remit but a lot of it wasn’t but in those very early days I was content to take the work and do my best with it.

There are very few people I worked with 15 years ago that are still within the team. But one remains and it is great to be able to discuss how much things have changed in 15 years mainly for the better.

At the end of that first day, I have to confess I was wondering whether it was the right move for me. This was mainly because I was back at the beginning having to build relationships, understand the organisation and feel confident enough to put forward ideas without the risk of ridicule. Even though it was working in the same sector it was very different to what I had been used to in my previous job.

As I look back on the 15 years there have been many ups and downs, some of which I will consider during the rest of the week, but generally more ups than downs. Communication has moved on massively and I work with some amazing people. On most days I can definitely say it was the right move.

 

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Heading back to 2001

This week I have something to celebrate. I have been working for Greater Manchester Police communication team for 15 years. As a mini-celebration of this quite significant achievement I am going to dedicate this week of blogs to looking at the past 15 years and what it has brought. But first things first, let’s go back to 2001 and try to remember what the world was like.

In August 2001 few people had heard of Al-Qaeda and the disaster of 9/11 was a few weeks away. I remember it really clearly and it changed the way I viewed life and how I worked but more of that during the week. Back in 2001 the iPod was launched by Steve Jobs and Wikipedia came into existence.

I checked out other key events in 2001 and courtesy of Buzzfeed found out that George Harrison died, Joey Ramone died, Bridget Jones hit the movie screens and Russel Crowe won an Oscar for Gladiator.

The cost of a litre of petrol in 2001 was around 77p and the cost of a wholemeal loaf of bread had risen to around 54p. The Prime Minister in 2001 was Tony Blair who was four years into his 10 years in Number 10. In America George W. Bush had just become the 43rd President.

Back in 2001 I was just turning 30 and I was still totally focused on working my way up to becoming the head of a communication department. Social media didn’t exist and the whole focus was on media relations. Internal communication was focused on giving orders and there were no staff dedicated to this role which is now seen as vital. One of the first things I was involved in was the appointment of the first dedicated Web Manager.

When I joined GMP my longest job had been for three years and generally after about two years I was looking to move on. I don’t think I ever expected that 15 years on I would still be within GMP and in charge of the communication team.

Tomorrow I will try to remember the first day and the early years.

 

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Marathon effort

This really is going to be my last Olympic inspired blog. I was doing jobs around the house this afternoon and put the TV on to see what sport was underway. It was the marathon which has to be one of the most testing and arduous sports.

They set off to cover many miles without being sure what they will face both from the weather and the terrain. They prepare and train but can only know how their bodies will react when they start the race. It is very unpredictable in many ways.

At the heart of the race is a determination to stay the course, to overcome the physical pain and to meet the challenge. It could help us all to take some of those lessons into our own lives. We can often feel like we are running a marathon and are struggling to see the end in sight. We set out with a hope that we are aware of what lies ahead. We have the right equipment to assist us and we know there are others in the same race. But it is our own race that we must focus on.

Sometimes our lives can feel a bit of an uphill struggle, with few breaks to allow us to recover. We just have to keep going with the knowledge we will reach our goal. 

The sense of achievement when we reach the finish line is immense. We have had confirmation of our strength and determination. At the end is the reward we have been looking for and not just that but the knowledge that we have battled through to reach it. 

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