I don’t do it very often but when I do I really feel under pressure. When I moved into public relations it was the first time that I did it. In the last 10 years I have done it infrequently. What is it? Being on call for the organisation for any media and communication issues.
Last night I helped out when we were short staffed and took an overnight on call. It was a busy and stressful 17 hours which started with an urgent appeal. I then dealt with a few queries before trying to go to bed.
In the middle of the night I received a call and had to quickly try and function so that I could give advice. Finally I had to deal with a serious incident in the early hours of the morning and put an appeal out.
The whole evening was a reminder of the respect I have for my colleagues who do it on a regular basis. They have to make decisions alone in the middle of the night. They have to ensure they are poised to respond immediately and they have to be prepared to have interrupted sleep.
There are few communicators who when on call will face the range and complexity of issues to deal with. Police press officers need some specific skills and abilities to be able to do the job. They have to be resilient, innovative, knowledgeable about a wide range of things, quick and efficient. Above all they have to be dedicated to the role which will impact on their lives.
I did need a little snooze this afternoon when I had finished my on call. It was a tough night but I think all communication managers should face the things their frontline staff have to.
Having delivered on call comms for the police for 16 years, including a period of several months when myself and a colleague were on a one week on, one week off cycle, I couldn’t agree more. Despite being very familiar with the requirement and having the job phone always at the ready, my heart still leapt into my mouth when the call came (which it inevitably did every time I was on call). I was confident I’d be able to deal with the enquiry but that came after many years of experience and I always felt sympathy for the new members of the team taking on the duty for the first few times. Decision making when flying solo – often about potentially life or death matters – at all times of the day or night can be pretty terrifying and managers need to remember that.