Through the seasons

We are always saying that communication is a 24/7 business with social media round-the-clock and rolling news channels. There is lots of discussion about how we can manage this demand with the resources we have and it is no easy thing. There is also the ongoing concern about the ability we have to respond to a crisis when it erupts. Reputations are lost and gained in an instant and brands can fall if they are not swift enough to respond to events.

It surprises me against this backdrop how many businesses, organisations and brands seem to shut down throughout the festive period. The communication support appears to go into a similar hibernation with possibly a skeleton on-call service provided. Don’t get me wrong I am not being a Grinch about this as everyone needs time off to relax, unwind and recharge. The concern I have is about communication and PR being seen as a vital strategic function which we say we want but then may not be demonstrating in our actions.

The choice may be taken out of our hands if there is some form of enforced shut down. But I would suggest we need to argue the importance of communication and ensure that there is some form of support available over the festive period especially when they are normal working days.

For almost 20 years I have been in an emergency service communication department and I know that has its own unique elements. But even before this I was still working throughout the Christmas and New Year period both as a journalist and in my other PR roles. It is something I have come to accept. I can’t say I relish it but I see it as vital to the work we do.

This is actually quite a busy time of the year considering the limited media operation and people slowing down their use of social media. There are often travel issues, weather challenges, sales dilemmas and then there are the New Year’s honours. For public sector communicators there is no let up because their work is about services for people and they don’t stop just because it is Christmas.

I don’t expect everyone has to be in the office but surely we have to have someone available and ready to respond. It means we can deal swiftly with any challenges and also take those opportunities that arise. Businesses and organisations need to recognise the requirement to financially support this to happen, and to see the benefits it brings. It is one part of the jigsaw of getting a seat at the top table by showing the strategic significance of the work we do throughout the year.

I would love to hear people’s views on this and whether my views are clouded by two decades working in the emergency services. Happy New Year everyone.

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Flying high?

There have been some interesting posts and blogs this week talking about diversity and how critical it is for the communication industry, well for any industry really. I was transfixed by the conversation on Twitter on Tuesday about regional accents and whether they hold people back in their careers.

I was travelling to Berlin yesterday afternoon and the flight was packed with those travelling on business, for football, and for holidays. What was really obvious was in a packed plane the number of women was in single figures.

I am often travelling on my own and will eat out on my own and I don’t even think about it. But there are some times when being in a minority as a woman is really unsettling.

The key question for me is when does this start to come into our minds? When do we start to think that we can’t move around on our own particularly as a woman?

For me it goes right back to our formative years at primary and then secondary school. The language that is used and the comments that are made can last a lifetime. It is more than 40 years since a teacher told me my handwriting was ‘as bad as a boys’. I remember thinking what does it matter and perhaps that isn’t a bad thing as the boys seemed to get to behave in a way I wanted to.

They were able to climb trees and get dirty. They ran around and got out of breath without worrying about what they looked like. They knew they were going to have the future they wanted with no barriers.

To be honest they had strong northern accents so that may have held them back. Society and particularly the institutions that run it has taken some time to become accepting of accents. As I have said before I am totally comfortable with mine but it has taken time to feel that way.

Perhaps we need to check our language with young children. The images we paint and the moments we create will stay with them for life. We need to empower our young people to encourage them to push themselves forward without barriers.

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Love it or hate it?

Police communication has been my focus for 20 years and I remain as passionate about it today as I was when I eagerly arrived for my first day on the job in 1999.

It is the opportunity to really help people and support the fight against crime that appeals to my sense of justice. I have the chance to work with amazing people who put themselves in harms way to help others and who will work tirelessly to get the job done.

I am privileged to have met and worked with a whole range of wonderful people during the last two decades. We have laughed and cried together, helped each other through dark times and had some fun as well.

When I was given the chance to get involved with last night’s Twitterchat on the hashtag #powerandinfluence I jumped at it. This was a chance to demonstrate the best parts of police communication and also bust a few myths.

It still amazes me that people have views about the role that are a long way from the reality. Yes it is a tough job but so are many. Yes you do find yourself called if something serious happens but what comms professional wouldn’t want to be at the heart of dealing with a crisis. It is a uniformed service but there is freedom to be creative.

The skills required are the same as mist communication jobs but you do need to have resilience and the ability to deal with some horrific situations without being affected. I have always said it is a bit of a Marmite job either you love it or you hate it.

For most of my 20 years I have loved it and it has kept me hooked. The days and often nights can be hard but the rewards are immense. What could be better than knowing you have helped someone who has been a victim of crime or you have been able to help catch criminals?

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With a little help

In recent years I have written many times about wellbeing, resilience and mental health, particularly why it is important in the PR and communication world.

Life today is full of pressures, issues, demands and responsibilities. If we let those take control then it will be full of anxiety, stress and even depression. This may sound a bit heavy for a Sunday morning but it is something we too often ignore.

PR and communication professionals are expected to have their finger on the pulse of life, they are expected to know about the latest social media developments, they are expected to be there in the moment of crisis. The key to all this is expectation. Expectations put on us and that we put on ourselves.

This is a fact of life unless we are going to become a hermit and live in a cave. But even then we can’t escape the internal voice challenging whether we are being the best hermit and have we got a desirable cave.

There are a great many books devoted to helping people deal with these issues and professionals offering their services. But there are also a few simple things that I rely on and need to turn to. Here are my three bits of advice.

First, understand your views on the situation so you know where your values come from. For me this has been tracking back my approach to work which impacts on my work life balance. If you understand it then you can deal with it.

Secondly, develop the ability to say No to things and to recognise what doesn’t matter so you can let it go. We all spend too much time worrying about things that don’t really matter. It adds to our stress levels and impacts on our views of life. Deal with what you can and let the rest go.

Thirdly, have a strong support network and make time for friends and family. We need to make time to switch off and recover. This is an important coping strategy because we focus on people who matter and give ourselves time to switch off and relax. I did that yesterday having afternoon tea with a good friend. I came away feeling rested and lighter (well except for the food we ate!).

We all face pressure at points in our lives what matters is how we recognise and deal with it. Take time to relax.

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Finding our greats

I am sat watching the programme trying to find the Icon of the 20th Century and it is raising a whole host of issues for me. Defining an Icon is a really difficult thing to do. It is stated to be

A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.

Bestowing that on an individual is very subjective and problematic. There are many people personal to me that I would put in a position of being worthy of praise and recognised. But to be an icon there has to be something that means it reaches a wider group of people, or so it seems.

If you look at all those in the final there are some common traits. Firstly, they were all individual and prepared to go on their own to follow what they believed to be right, or what they wanted to do. They were not going to conform and pretend to be something else. That is a quality that has to be truly admired because with that confidence comes a huge amount of pressure and pain.

Secondly, they overcame challenges, hurdles and attempts to deviate them from their path and to blur their focus. They are set apart because they persevered and continued to learn from their experiences and press on.

Finally, we cannot fail to notice that they are all men. The finalists chosen by the public are men. It is not that men have defined the 20th century but we live in a society and an age where men are still more likely to be in those top positions or have the confidence to be themselves. Women still have some way to go to be recognised in this sort of forum, and we still have many societal attitudes to challenge.

This may seem like a huge challenge and it is. But if we all do a little bit in whatever way we can then the future can be different. Next week is the first meeting of the Women in PR ambassadors and while I am unable to make the trip to London I am keen to ensure that I can make a difference in the coming months. Women are still not paid at the same rate as men, they still face the questions about their private lives and marital status, they still find doors to the top jobs closed, and they still have to fight hard to be recognised for their skills and expertise.

In 2019 in the PR and communication industry we have an opportunity to make a change and ensure that our PR and communication leaders are a diverse group.

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Snow way

In the North West there was quite a lot of snow that helpfully arrived this morning just before rush hour. The usual traffic chaos ensued as people have no ability to devise alternative plans.

We will have lost many working hours this morning as people sat in traffic jams. Yet despite all the technology we have available we often still feel the need to be physically present in work.

It is a mindset we have even though many of us can be productive in a remote working environment. I am sure other countries don’t have the same culture of being seen. But for years we have judged effectiveness on being seen rather than on what is produced.

There are lots of positives about working among colleagues being able to bounce ideas around and to know that you are in touch with what is happening. It also has many drawbacks for those who are easily distracted or are disruptive.

The modern workplace needs to be more flexible than it has ever been. We need to be able to use technology to good effect to help us. We need to create a better work/life balance through flexible working. We need to see productive through achievements.

We survived the snow. Some of us battled and arrived at work and some will have worked from home. Either way we need to use technology to better benefit.

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Heroes and villains

The world is constantly changing and as professional communicators it is vital that we are also observers of the world around us. If we become trapped in our environment we can start to lose our effectiveness.

Over the past few years I have watched the development of social media and the changes in how people use it. I have written before about the positive and negative of social media but one thing it continues to play out that impacts on all our communication activity.

The simplification of life and its binary nature. The media and social media split people into heroes and villains. You are either a good person doing good things or you are bad and are a negative things. The speed of communication has created this shorthand to make life easier for people to quickly grasp and understand.

This becomes more complicated and challenging during a crisis when communication is essential and often needs to be nuanced. The world is not a black and white of events where people are either good or evil.

Our communication needs to consider how the information will be interpreted and reused as well as being forwarded on. It must understand the public mood and where the organisation may be positioned. This can totally alter your communication approach and the focus of your work.

In my work we have been on both sides of the fence and they most important thing is to know where you are and where people see you. Understanding that should then inform and tailor your communication activity and the narrative that you develop.

There seems to be no likelihood that this binary approach will change any time soon as social media reinforces it. That is why we have to recognise it and what it means for our approach to communication.

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Being human

I have many labels that attach to me. I am a daughter, sister and partner. I am a mum to my fur babies. I am a vegan. I am a horse rider and trainee dressage judge. I am a member of police staff and I am a communicator.

All of these labels are right but they are not me. I am so much more than these tags and roles I have. We all are.

I made the trip to London today for a discussion about what 2019 may hold for communicators which had been organised by the PRCA. To get there I had to walk past Parliament and all the pro and anti Brexit protestors and we know that is having a significant impact at the moment. But there is much more for us to wrestle with in the next 12 months.

The stand out for me today was the thoughts that PRCA Chairman Jim Donaldson shared. There were some important words that have strong meaning for me. Confidence that the industry needs to have in what we do and what we can provide for businesses.

Humanity and authenticity were also themes for the morning with a recognition that we need to be real. It means the end of ego run PR businesses and a recognition that staff are people. We can’t label people and think that we have sorted things out. It is crucial that we see the people and not groupings.

The words I took away were that we need to “behave and think like humans”, not PRs or any other tags. I will be taking this with me as we go further into 2019.

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