A little kindness

The start of 2021 was both expected and a surprise at the same time. I had been watching the situation since December and talking about the likelihood of a national lockdown. But when the announcement was made last night it caught me by surprise as it led to a my own little meltdown.

After establishing a business during the first lockdown and building it up throughout the year, it felt like things were slipping away. November and December had been my best months and I could see projects in the diary for January and February before lockdown happened.

Now logically I have done it once and can do it again, my work is online and from home and other than looking after my horse I have had no need to go out for many months. So the situation isn’t catastrophic. However, this didn’t stop my emotions surging and having an overwhelming feeling of a bleak future ahead. What I never expected was the amount of support and offers of having a chat to help me find a way forward that came to me. The communication world really came through for me last night and this morning.

I know how I deal with crises. The inevitable meltdown is followed by a regrouping and then the fight back. I just need to ensure the bounce back happens pretty quickly. It is important that we know how we deal with challenges so that we can be kind to ourselves as we process what has happened. It helps to spot the warning signs and to just accept some of the stages we need to go through.

It isn’t just about being kind to ourselves though. Being kind to each other is going to be really vital in the coming weeks. Some communicators will be busy, some will be worried about work, some will be facing redundancy, some may be faced with moving out of PR and comms. It doesn’t matter who you are this situation will impact on you in some way. So let’s dispense with unnecessary inter-comms disputes. Be honest about what we are doing, say if we are struggling, and above all let’s have no bull. Crisis communication demands honesty and for us as communicators we need to be honest about how things are. Think about what your comments might mean to someone struggling, worrying or on the edge.

I hope the industry can do what it has done before and unite so that we can all help each other through the weeks ahead. And above all lets show a bit of kindness.

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Here comes the old new year

It is just day two of 2021 but there is so much that is happening it is mind blowing. As the Christmas decorations come down, the tinsel is packed away and the glitter disappears things become clearer. The festive glow is making way for the dawning realisation that we are facing a serious stage in this pandemic.

Back at the end of March 2020 it was scary but had a novelty. Now almost 10 months later it is stark, and if you have watched any of the recent news reports it is becoming critical. This is not a blog about decisions that have been made or challenging the road being taken. Those who are leading the response have to make the best decisions based on the specialist advice they have. But I am left wondering about the way communication is being approached.

As a crisis communication consultant I spend my days advising about steps to take, words to use and things to consider. I know there are people working hard to do their best but announcements, gaps in information, and open conflict are damaging. I have spoken to people today who were supportive of the vaccine but are now changing their minds based on the media debates today.

Fundamental to effective crisis communication is building trust and confidence, and this comes through open and honest communication that happens at every stage of the emergency. I read a Twitter thread from the eminent Ella Minty who made some key points about putting people before the politics of the situation. If you haven’t seen it I would recommend finding it.

In the past few days I have seen doctors and nurses talk about the desperate situation, have seen the figures for infection rates and deaths increasing, have seen teachers considering legal action and have witnessed people openly flouting the tier rules. This may sound like a very depressing blog for the New Year but I would say it is realistic and positive. Why is it positive?

I believe and am convinced that we can still turn this around. If there is a different approach to the communication, if we listen to people and explain things honestly, if we give local public services the freedom to do what they need to, and if we plan ahead for the scenarios we may face we can build back the confidence that is disappearing.

I may be a lone voice on this but I will be continuing to share thoughts, comment, and hopefully advise where I can. In 2020 I made effective crisis communication my life and work, I have not looked back. There is a lot to do and I am determined to help where I can in 2021.

Happy New Year.

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Resolutions, predictions and a New Year

In this post Christmas and pre New Year time people often start thinking about resolutions. They look at what they want to change in their lives and use the opportunity of a new calendar year to implement the move.

I am not a lover of resolutions mainly because they never seem to work. We list an array of life changing things – eating better, getting more exercise or reducing drinking – and just a few days in will have forgotten them. If we are going to make changes we need to do it in a different way.

For me I have to really want to do it and have a plan in place. Three years ago I made the decision to go vegan on 1 January. It was initially to see if I could do it for a month but after that I realised I could do it and continued. I really wanted to do it so I did.

Resolutions are out and using this time to be grateful for what you have will be more productive. This is also a time for predictions. People look at what may happen in the coming year. Again I am not sure this has value. Who managed to predict the events in 2020?

I am resisting the temptation to make any PR and communication predictions. This year has taught us that you never know what is around the corner. All we have with any certainty is today and how we respond to events.

So I will be focusing my mind on making the most of now, this moment today. I do want to achieve certain things in the year ahead but these are flexible depending on what happens around me. As we head to 2021 don’t feel any pressure to do resolutions or predictions just enjoy the moment.

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A Christmas message

This is the season of peace and goodwill to all. It is something that we need to cling to as we are being tossed around on the turbulant seas. I have written about how this is going to be a different time and every day we are hearing new and worrying updates on situations at home and abroad.

What happens is out of our control. All we can do is keep to the regulations and the advice that is given. That is what we can control. But we all need to find a moment to switch off from the ongoing turmoil.

My year has been an interesting one with all the ups and downs we all face. But I want to thank all those people who have been a part of it. Those who have helped me through when I was wondering what was going to happen. Those who gave me a helpful kick up the bum when it was needed. Those who helped to make my plans happen. Those who have made me smile and have shared some laughs.

First, I need to thank my family and my long suffering (34 years together!) partner who have believed that I can make a business work even during a pandemic. They know how much I love them and I will make sure they know it during Christmas.

I want to thank all my clients and those who I have worked with. It has been interesting, exciting and I hope we have made a difference. I particularly need to thank the Centre for Crisis and Risk Communication, Ben and Jeff, and the Resilience Advisors Network, Jon and Chris.

My Monday lunchtimes have been something to look forward to since 23 March when Darren Caveney started to bring freelancers and consultants together. To everyone on those calls you have been a huge tonic and have become good friends. I have the same feeling about the CIPR LPS Covid-19 group who came together under Mandy Pearse to provide some support from the early days of the pandemic. The Whats App group has been important to me helping me to feel like a part of something even when I am working alone.

I have to recognise the support from Andy Green, Advita Patel, and Sandra Edwards who have all helped with vital coaching sessions to keep me focused in the right way. I will be calling on you again in 2021.

A thank you also to the CIPR North West team who have coped with a treasurer who is just starting to understand finances a little better, and to the PRCA particularly the amazing training team.

To everyone who bought a copy of my book, read any of my reports or had a conversation through social media, I am so grateful that you thought it may be worth reviewing or having a chat. I have regularly tweeted a thank you to people who have shared my weeks during 2020 and I am grateful for everyone who has shared this year.

I have made lots of new friends, associates and colleagues this year from all parts of the world. This lockdown year has been tough but being able to connect and share thoughts, ideas, issues and problems has definitely got me through. If I haven’t mentioned you I am sorry but know that you are included in my thank you list.

Whatever you are doing this festive season stay safe, find some moments to relax and remember together we can get through difficult times and we will be stronger.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


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Finding the Christmas spirit

Just a few days to go and yes it will still be Christmas Day. Despite the newspaper headlines and media discussion Christmas is not cancelled. But for all of us it is going to look and feel a little bit different.

I am not going to analyse the details of what has happened this week and whether it could have been more effectively managed. I have waded through the mountains of coverage in the Sunday newspapers, watched Matt Hancock talk on Sky and BBC, and have listened to people angry, upset and sad about the announcement yesterday. We cannot change the situation, we can only change how we view it.

We are living through a pandemic. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it means things have to change. If the past year has shown us anything it is that change is a constant and we need to find ways to deal with it more effectively. These are skills that many of us have been lacking.

If I look back I realise that my 49 years have been relatively calm and unaffected by any huge situations. It is only now that I appreciate the consistency that has existed in my life. I was able to control a lot, choose what to do, choose my career, choose when to stay in and when to go out. I never thought about it until the end of March 2020. Now I realise that I can only control how I respond to things and what I do.

This is a difficult time. It is putting pressure on us all. I am not saying we can all just shrug this off but we need to take small steps to look after ourselves and each other. Looking at things differently, and trying to find the positives in each day are my starting point. My Christmas is going to be different. Just me and my partner at home, cooking for the two of us (not easy with one vegan and one meat eater), a brief socially-distanced visit to my parents, and very sober. I have some work to do which will be a welcome distraction.

Christmas is about traditions. Let’s use this Christmas to make some new traditions. No-one needs to be alone this Christmas if we reach out to help each other as we have during the past 12 months. If anyone would like a chat this Christmas I am here. It may be over Zoom but we can still share a bit of Christmas spirit.

Merry Christmas to you however you will be celebrating.

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When you hit rock bottom what next?

When I started 2020 I was in a dark place. My world was in pieces and I really didn’t know what this year was going to bring. All I did know was that I was struggling to deal with each day. I was incredibly fortunate that I was given the help through counselling which over a number of months started to change my perspective. As I was starting to turn things around Covid-19 arrived.

Now in the final weeks of the year I have my own crisis communication consultancy. I have been working with clients around the world. I have had my first book published and I have big plans for the months ahead. The nine months since I started my business have connected me with amazing people who have been supportive, sometimes they have challenged me and have helped me chart my way forward.

This isn’t to say that everything is wonderful. I still worry about things and sometimes I can feel a little low for now reason. But I know that there are lots of people I can go to when things feel tough.

There are lots of trite phrases that are used about things being ‘darkest before the dawn’ or that you have to hit rock bottom before you can bounce back. They often feel like platitudes and things that are said to try and cheer people up when times are difficult. But I believe there is a lot of sense in these sentiments.

I realise how fragile life is and that we all need a helping hand sometimes. Being at the lowest point can spur you on to move forward if you have the right help. The past 12 months have made me more determined to build a brighter future. Having been in a very difficult place I don’t want to be there again and more than that I don’t want other people to be stuck in those dark places. We talk a lot now about mental health and wellbeing but we can do more to make sure the right help is there for other people in the way it was for me.

I end 2020 in a totally different place, a different state of mind and with a new found determination to move forward. This has been a really difficult year facing a pandemic, economic pressures and the loss of a lot of the accepted ways of life. Moving into 2021 is not going to suddenly make this go away but from this low point we can look to building a strong way forward for all.

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A priority in 2021

Just when we thought that 2020 had given all it could to impact on our lives it looks like we could face a no deal Brexit. There are many experts giving their views about what it means and predictions about what may happen. We know that whatever happens things are going to change. But how do we keep resilient after such a turbulent time?

Next week I have the privilege of being on a panel to discuss well-being and mental health at this time that we are dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is something that I have been passionate about for some time. If you had asked me more than three years ago whether it was important to look after your mental health, and to discuss it I would have turned the other way.

Back then I thought I was invincible. It didn’t matter what happened I would be able to deal with it because I thought I was strong. I am much wiser now. We can all face circumstances that test us and push us to the limit. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t think this is the case. It can be things that happen at home, pressure at work, or as we have seen this year things beyond our control but it all mounts up and can impact on us.

The first thing we have to do, much like with communicating in a crisis, is to recognise that there is a problem. Admitting that we are not coping and hopefully after that to ask for help. One thing that has worried me most throughout the year is that people are bottling things up and hoping feelings will go away. Communicators have been working non-stop and many have taken no time to deal with what they are facing.

There are simple things we can do to deal with the situations we face. At the moment, I try to restrict the amount of news reports that I watch because sitting watching endless negative speculation is not beneficial to my wellbeing. I try to find something I can do each day that is just for me and that takes my mind off the practicalities of life. For some this can be meditation but whatever you do it is a way of calming yourself by focusing on the moment. Above all, I get my thoughts and anxieties out of my head whether that is talking to friends or journaling.

I am looking forward to Thursday’s discussion and being able to put the spotlight on something that is incredibly important. In 2021 we all need to get better at looking after our own and others mental health. If you are interested find out more about the session here ES, IDME and CRJ Webinar: The effects of pandemic on society, first responders and mental health (google.com)

Look after yourselves.

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An unusual Christmas tradition

Christmas is just a couple of weeks away and I have started on one of my traditions. It isn’t putting the tree up, making a cake, or writing cards. It is something I have done every year for as long as I can remember and certainly since I started work in the early 1990s.

From early December I start to file things as Christmas reading or jobs to do. Virtually all the jobs I have had during my career have involved working or being on call at the festive season. And as I haven’t got children I would usually offer to work between Christmas and New Year so others could have family time. I would use the time when many people are not at work to catch up with things, to start to do some planning, and to tidy the loose ends of the year.

Here I am with three weeks until the end of 2020, running my own business and I have just created a folder that I have called Christmas reading. I was running through in my mind this morning the website changes that I want to make. And my business plan needs a long overdue overhaul.

This is going to be a festive season like no other. Contact with relatives will be limited, friends will be available online, there have been no Christmas parties or nights out. But we all need to have a break from the pressure of a tough year as long as we do it safely. So as well as having a big long list of things that I want to do with a few days off, I also am going to give myself time to relax, to regather my thoughts, recharge my batteries and feel ready for the new year.

In a year when we have faced so much we need to look after ourselves, get some fresh air, find some things that will make us smile and switch off from some of the daily stresses. I hope you get some time to catch up on the reading and ‘to do list’ but most importantly to be safe and unwind.

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Building a stronger PR industry

This year has taken its toll on everyone. We have all had difficult circumstances to face and challenges in our lives both home and work. If we started 2020 with thoughts of growth, expansion and pay rises by the time we were just three months in we were facing different prospects. I was interested to see the results of the PRCA PR and Communications Census 2020 published today.

They compared feedback from March with an updated check on the world in October. As we start to look into what 2021 may hold and what we may need to do to be ready to respond, it is the ideal time to look at the state of the PR landscape. It is sadly unsurprising to see the continued need to improve the diversity within PR, the gender pay gap increasing and reductions in the average pay. Again it reinforces the need for us to do much more to tackle inequalities and barriers to entering the industry.

There was one statisics that was buried away but caught my eye, which was:

“Only 2% of PR practitioners described the main income earner in their household (parents) as state pensioners, casual and lowest grade workers, unemployed with state benefits only.”

PR should not be a job for just those in the more affluent and privileged sections of the community. It needs to be a job that is open to all. Otherwise can the work ever really reasonate with all parts of society?

In a conversation today I heard concerning stories about how people in senior positions failed to recognise the challenges others were facing. There was a lack of empathy about the possibility people had to use food banks, were trapped in poverty or were struggling with working from unsafe and dangerous homes. It adds to my concern that during a crisis the response and the communication can increase inequalities.

The Census shows that Covid-19 has put huge pressure on PR professionals with more than a third experiencing some form of mental ill-health. Unfortunately this situation is likely to get worse or possibly stay the same as others in the industry face a delayed response to the challenges they have faced this year. Again we need to continue to address the psychological and emotional impact of working in PR and communication during a crisis.

What matters now is that PR and communication practitioners seize the opportunity to build a stronger industry coming out of this pandemic. It is time to tackle the inequalities and the barriers and make this an industry that is open to all. 2020 has been a huge challenge but it can be a turning point for PR and communication.

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Tiers for fears

The end of the lockdown in England will happen this week and there are new restrictions being put in place. I say ‘lockdown’ but apart from a few issues such as hospitality being closed there has been little change for many people. The next phase that we will experience is the newly defined tiers.

All this change is hugely challenging for communicators. Crisis communication needs honesty, clarity and in long running cases a conversation that helps people make sense of what is happening, what is being done and how they need to respond. But we are all becoming exhausted with the situation we have faced since March this year. Finding ways to continue to encourage people to heed the guidance and to be listening is not easy.

I am a little frustrated with the UK government continuing to focus on the now occasional press conferences involving various scientists and medical experts. They were an important event in March and April but in November seem almost irrelevant. Journalists and communicators are the ones watching. Some new ways to share important messages, and in a way that creates a coherent narrative is what is required.

The difficulty is that in the past eight months things have been communicated in a linear way, black and white, good and bad, stay in or go out. But the situation is more complex and as I have said before needs a tapestry of messages that can build into a clear picture for people. Christmas is a time to be cautious but find sensible ways to visit relatives that you have missed during much of 2020. It is not a time to have a loss of all restrictions. I had sympathy with the medics trying to urge caution as the virus will not be taking a break over the festive period.

So back to where we are today on the edge of the new tier system. I admit I am frustrated that Greater Manchester faces tier 3 restrictions when down the road Merseyside in its entirety is in tier 2. There is a confusing picture as to why people are in tier 3 when some are in tier 2, and little information yet about the way out of restrictions. I believe much of this information is due soon when it was really needed at the time of announcement last week.

Where do we go from here? I hope in 2021 there will be more of a conversation about the situation, that people will be re-engaged with living with a crisis, and that we help and support each other through the months ahead.

Stay safe, keep strong and ask for support if you need it.

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