The time is now

It might be Saturday night but I feel the need to get a bit philosophical after what has been a busy week. Reflecting on the past seven days can take me back reliving the things that didn’t go so well along with any little successes. However, it is usually the things we don’t do or that don’t happen as we want that remain lodged in our minds. I also find myself looking ahead not just days but weeks and months.

My looking ahead I like to say is about being organised and planning for the future but it is more about trying to keep tight control of things. It is about keeping tight control of my life including finances, activities and well, a whole range of things.

But none of this is truly real. There is no past and no future. The only thing that is real is now.

That sounds a bit odd but all we really have is the moment that we are currently living in. However, it is the time that we think the least about and we don’t even notice it before it is gone. This was obvious to me today. I was reflecting on the week I had just experienced and was planning some activities for the week ahead. All this took the focus of my mind away from what a lovely day today was. I almost forgot to enjoy the now.

We live in a busy and fast-moving world where there is always a lot to occupy us. This makes it even more important for us to ensure that we are not losing connection with the moment we are living in. Have a good weekend and remember to enjoy the now.

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The responsibilities of the eye-witness

A week ago I was heading home from a whistle-stop visit to Brussels to take part in a conference about social media and crisis communication. It was a world away from the streets of Manchester. The discussion was about citizen journalists, eye-witness reporting in a digital age, empowering the public and guidance on social media use.

This was definitely a packed conference trying to develop guidance for emergency responders but more importantly for the public who were going to be the first on the scene. It made me wonder whether the role of the first people on the scene, those members of the public who see things happen, had now transformed crisis
communication? Does the fact that people will be filming or capturing events as they unfold put them in control of the response to a crisis or emergency?

I don’t have a definitive answer but can only draw upon personal experiences through working in the emergency services for more than 15 years. When I first started working with emergencies it was all about control. Keeping a hold of information and then releasing elements as they were required. There could be hours between an incident occurring and some real information being put out. Social media at that point hadn’t been thought of so the total focus was on media relations.

In 2015 the world has been transformed. Every time there is a significant event, emergency or crisis then it is the eye-witness who decides what will and won’t be released. They provide the information, the perspective and the detail. It is this action and the opportunities of social media that has changed the emergency response and the communication. More information has to be released at an earlier stage to attempt to manage situations. It has increased the openness but also led to emergency responses being played out in minute detail across the world.

If the eye-witnesses have such an important role to play, are they ready to step up into the role? Will they be honest and show all the aspects of what is in front, or will they edit the information? What do we expect from those providing the first look at the emergency and are we prepared to accept the inevitable response?

Whatever the answer is there are some key elements that people need to be aware of before they find themselves as an eyewitness. Firstly, will the member of the public be putting themselves at risk by publishing the information and do they understand what they may do. Secondly, are the details of the possible legal restrictions fully understood. In the same way journalists will have studied media law, so citizen reporters need to be clear about essential legal issues. Thirdly, will they operate in the immediacy of the event or will they follow things through over a period of time? Finally, on what basis are they operating? Is it to make money or to be public-spirited and to assist people’s’ understanding of what has happened?

It is an interesting concept to give members of the public information that would assist them if they found themselves as an eye-witness. I am not sure how the COSMIC European study plans to make people aware of the guidance once it is finalised. It is easy to make emergency responders aware of the document through the clear networks that exist. The public is not that easy to access. They would need to be interested in the information and that is unlikely unless they have been at the forefront of an emergency. But that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile to try to have a discussion about the responsibilities that exist for the citizen journalist.

Finally, I want to thank the COSMIC study for allowing me to take part in the conference and to share learning, experiences and to discuss the challenges ahead.

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Everyday creativity

For anyone working in the so-called creative industries do you ever question whether you are really being creative? It was something I challenged myself with this week. I have just started an online course called ‘Everyday Creativity’ which made me think about when and where I am creative.

To start with I had to define creativity which sounds easier than it is. For me the key elements are problem solving, innovation and developing something new or unusual that has some benefits. It is a much broader definition than a purely artistic one.

I often feel that communication professionals get caught up in the day-to-day activities of work. They can get sidetracked by the processes they need to carry out and lose sight of the core reason that they exist. It can be even more stark the higher up the professional ladder you go. In the same way that good teachers become headteachers and then have no contact with pupils; good PR professionals move up the ladder and then become distanced from developing communication campaigns and plans.

This is how I often feel. I encourage others in the team to be creative but then often feel that I am becoming rusty and losing my ability to problem solve and develop innovative solutions. What can I do to counteract that or make sure that I keep honing my creative skills?

The key is to make sure that I can still become involved in the creative process. I want to ensure that PR colleagues are free to develop their ideas but it is important to take the time to get involved. I can easily get caught up on the process, policy and people issues which are all important. But creativity should not be neglected. If we really are going to claim to be part of the creative industries it doesn’t matter what are role is we have to find the time to be creative.

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The challenge of January 2015

It has been a difficult start to 2015 both globally and much closer to home. This blog is a little self-indulgent but is my chance to reflect on January and what impact it has had on me. I also want to use it as an opportunity to thank those people who are around me and have offered endless support.

2015 has started as a year of pain. It has been a violent, brutal and shocking first month. The events in Paris were distressing and I have already blogged about the impact it had on me and the way it made me reassess many of the principles of life that I have just accepted. This morning I woke to the news that another hostage had been murdered. The death of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto was another brutal and devastating event.

The electioneering has also started with less than 100 days before the General Election. I don’t have a lot to say about this other than the discussion seems unfortunately more about personality and presentation than improving people’s lives.

Recent figures have shown some of the world’s biggest businesses getting even bigger.  The wealthy are holding more of the money and parts of the country are losing jobs and struggling. I am dismayed when I go to my two local town centres of Leigh and Atherton. It is a mix of second-hand shops, pound shops, empty shuttered shops and to sum it up we have a pound pub in Atherton.

It has also been a challenging time for people around me who have suffered some shocking and upsetting events. I don’t feel it is right for me to go through them here but what the events have shown is that life is fragile and things can drastically change within 24 hours. It has made me take a long hard look at my life and focus on what I have around me. The recent days have also made me realise that I need to do what I really want to in the time I have.

So January has been a huge challenge for me, for my beliefs and for my resilience. I send my best wishes and thoughts to all those who have gone through traumatic and upsetting times in the last 31 days. I also have to thank all those people around me who have helped me and many will not realise how much they have done and how much I appreciate it. I aim to squeeze everything out of February.

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No hoverboard but possibly a computer screen on your arm

With all the serious events taking place I felt the need to blog about something a bit more frivolous. This week I happened across some information about the latest technology that stopped me in my tracks. It made me really excited and checking out the bank balance to see whether it was healthy enough to cover the cost. Why was this?

I don’t know if anyone else has spotted the interactive bracelet that uses ‘skinscreen’ technology. In short it beams your smartphone onto your forearm allowing you to watch videos, sort emails and lots more things. How do you make it work? Well, you get to tap to click and swipe to move content and you do all these things directly onto your arm.

It is a step into an amazing world. The bracelet is small but uses your skin as a large screen. I find it quite astounding and a leap into the Tomorrow’s World that we were promised many years ago. (I have come to accept that the hoverboards of Back to the Future are not going to exist in the real 2015!) It can make life just that little bit easier without having to have a bulky smartwatch on your wrist with a small screen making it difficult to really do anything.

The product – Cicret – is in a prototype stage and you can find out more about it here or read about it via Social Media Week

In a world full of events that are challenging, difficult issues and general complexity this seems like a simple piece of new technology that may be worth the wait.

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Reflections on a traumatic start to 2015

I feel it is important to reflect on the events this week. It has been a bloody and terrifying start to 2015 and one that will remain with people for a long time. Recent days have been shocking and brutal and my thoughts are with all those who have been affected by what has happened.

Being able to write about events and thoughts has been a part of my life from being very young. I used to write my thoughts and feelings in a diary and wrote poetry like any good confused teenager. As I got older I started to want to be a journalist. I went to university studied philosophy and discussed ideas, and started to get my writing published in the university newspaper and other newspapers if I could manage it.

Freedom of speech is something that I have held as a key part of my life. When I started work as a journalist it was the core of my existence. I found news and wrote stories about events every day. I never once questioned whether I should be allowed to write articles, whether I should censor what I write and I didn’t really worry that stories would upset people. As most reporters come to accept there will be people who don’t like what you write and often they will tell you.

Being able to write this blog is not something that I have ever really spent time considering. The technology exists and it allows me to detail my thoughts, discuss events, share ideas about a whole manner of things in modern life. I write my views and while I don’t set out to upset or cause offence I know that people may disagree with my points. That is something I like. The chance to have a good discussion about different views and opinions. It is something that has been at the heart of my views of a civilised society. People discuss, share ideas, and either agree or disagree about the views. It is often said ‘we will have to agree to disagree’, and we move on with respect.

This week has been a difficult one. It has made me reflect on what I do every day. It has made me question whether I am still able to write and publish my views. Should I continue? Do I want to continue in a world where such violent events can take place because of differing views and opinions?

I have thought a lot over the last 48 hours about freedom of speech, the ability to make maximum use of the new technology to discuss ideas, and what role censorship plays in modern society. I have my views and I don’t expect everyone to agree with them. I do want to live in a society where people can openly discuss differing opinions without resorting to violence. I do want to live in a society where we respect each other, our different views and recognise our right to life. I do want to live in a society where people can have freedom of speech.

Je suis Charlie.

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Poor communication….but have you invested?

At least twice today when I have been listening to Radio 4 (yes, I am getting very grown up) I heard problems being attributed to poor communication. In the first instance it was about the problems on the trains that happened around Christmas and New Year.  In the second report I can’t remember what the issue was but it was blamed on ‘bad communication’.

It isn’t something that surprises me. Often when things go wrong or something isn’t implemented properly communication is the first thing that gets singled out for blame. Anyone working in communication, and particularly in the public sector, is used to this being the position and of the need to be able to identify the positive work that was done. In many cases I have witnessed it is not communication that is to blame but a failure in the system or procedures, or a poorly thought out change. It is vital for communicators to feel able to challenge the development of the service or product if they feel things are not being carefully considered.

For the last five years many communication teams have shrunk. In the public sector most teams are smaller than they were in 2010 and are still attempting to do more work. Some things are achievable through maximising the opportunities of new technology. But it has to be recognised that smaller teams will not deliver the same level of service and in some cases this means that things are not given enough support, or things go wrong. That is when it is easy for communication to be the first on the list for blame.

How can communicators deal with this? For me, we need to be really clear about what we are doing and what can be delivered. It is no good continuing to absorb work and seeing teams stretched to breaking point without highlighting this to senior leaders. We need to show them what we can deliver and also to demonstrate the impact that effective communication can have. We need to raise awareness of the need to invest and provide support to communication if they want to achieve results. Without this there will be a lot more news reports blaming something on poor communication from organisations or businesses.

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