Understanding, knowledge and problem solving 

Earlier this month I blogged about the importance of speaking to customers and service users (Get out and listen). I am still doing that and finding it one of the most useful things I have done. But there has been another benefit to meeting people and that is to test my understanding of the organisation.

I haven’t always gone alone to these meetings and events. Local officers have been there to pick up local issues but sometimes I have been on my own and sometimes the questions have gone from local to organisational. 

As communicators we aim to be problem solvers. We get presented with an issue, new product, new service or other situation and we plan to communicate. We think up key messages or a narrative and we outline the way forward. But how well do you know and understand the issue?

Insight is an essential part of the research and planning process. I know that in the pressured and resource stretched world we live in this can be a brief piece of work. But as I have been standing up in front of service users explaining the changes I have had a real test of my own investment in insight.

I am pleased to say I have been able to handle all the questions and provide an explanation when required. You may say after 16 years in the organisation that is only to be expected or that as a head of communications it is part of my role. On both you may be right.

It has made me wonder how many of the team would be able to do the same? When we are developing communication and campaigns do we know where it fits and could we stand up in front of people and explain it? We absolutely have to if we are going to be effective in what we do. So could you?

Posted in blog, blogging, communication, policing, PR, public, work | Leave a comment

The end of the line for reputation

Reputation has long been a word that is closely linked to both PR and communication activity. Many industry definitions have been focused on protecting and enhancing reputation. But is that really where we should be and in 2017 what is the essence of communication?

I was talking to a group of public sector communicators on a training course last week and some seemed surprised that my definition of the role of communication was about front line service delivery. For me that is where it has to be.

We are all feeling the pinch financially and have to get the most from our budgets. Why would I use my time on things that are nice to do but don’t bring tangible results? As communicators we are in a unique position to be able to see across the whole of the organisation. We can represent the views of users through feedback and make sure communication activity is seen as key to the business development.

For me this is about using tools, techniques and technology to help people access services at the right time in the easiest way. We can use our skills to support operational activity but as public sector communicators it has to be centred on the service user. The experience people have is what drives reputation.

I have a huge concern that being focused on reputation alone will drive us to perverse behaviour. If that is the only outcome we want to achieve then the user is relegated and we distance ourselves from the real issues. Think to yourself if there was a Freedom of Information request about your last media, PR or communication strategy what would it find? What was your aim and how would it be viewed by members of the public?

In 2017 do we have the right definition of the role and purpose of the PR and communication industry?

Posted in challenge, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIPR, communication, development, PR, work | 5 Comments

Stronger together

As I sat having a coffee and waiting for the train to arrive, Facebook showed me the blog I wrote on this day last year. It was about the Brussels terrorist attack and it felt like only a few days ago that we were watching the horror unfold. I carried on my journey.

I got the train to London; I caught two tubes and then arrived at my destination. I did the work I needed to do and then headed back home via a short walk, two tubes and a train. The weather was cold and wet as people rushed about in the way you only find in the capital city. The scenes were the same as those that happen every day of the year.

When I left home this morning it never entered my head that I might not make it home. Today’s events in London are a reminder of how precious life is and that we should treasure every day. My thoughts and love go out to those who have been affected by the terrible incident this afternoon. I saw a look of relief on my mum’s face when she saw me tonight and she gave me a huge hug.

Today also reminded us that when terror strikes and people run the other way police officers are running forward and straight into danger. I have worked in the police service for 18 years and I still am amazed by the acts of heroism that take place all the time and particularly when the worst situation occurs. There was an award ceremony taking place tonight here in Manchester where police officers were receiving commendations for their bravery, hard work and dedication. The events of today have made the awards tonight even more poignant. Recognising the efforts of the police and emergency services is important but more than that it is essential.

We rely on people being willing to put their lives on the line to keep us safe and protect us from harm. They know they may pay the ultimate price and their families live with the potential that they will lose their loved one. I can only say thank you to all those people who are brave enough to put on a uniform every day and go out to do the toughest of jobs.

This has been a shocking day and I still can’t quite believe what has happened. Tomorrow we will all be going about our normal business but I hope we take some time out to think about those who have been affected by what happened. My thoughts tonight and tomorrow will be with them but I know that we remain strongest when we join together whether we are members of the public or part of the police service.

Posted in crisis communication, emergency services, police, policing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

What makes me happy

Tomorrow is International Day of Happiness. You may want to dismiss it as just another gimmicky celebration day following from the recent Pie Week and Toast Day. I see it slightly differently.

At a time when we are all under pressure and life has become busy with a whole new selection of challenges it can be an opportunity to take time to be thankful for what makes us smile. Building personal resilience is something I have written about a lot in this blog and it remains something that I am passionate about. It is particularly important at a time when the PR industry is looking at issues of mental health. Mental wellbeing is starting to be prioritised as in many professions.

I am sat with a cup of tea on this Sunday evening and I want to start a conversation about happiness. Happiness is very individual and each one of us will list different things. The key is to understand what it is that really makes you happy or makes your heart sing and then make sure you ensure time in your busy daily schedule to do some of those things.

Here are five things that make me happy:

1. Spending time with my animals – they give love and ask very little back in return. Whenever I see them looking well and active it makes me feel satisfied that my effort to look after them is working.

2. Singing loudly – I only do this in the car because I know I haven’t got the best voice but that doesn’t matter. When I am driving home after a hard day at work I put on one of my favourite CDs and then sing loudly all the way home.

3. Writing – it gives me a chance to feel creative. I include this blog as part of the writing that makes me happy. The chance to put my thoughts and ideas into some written material leaves me feeling satisfied and very happy.

4. Baking cakes – there is only one way to bake cakes and that is to mix in some love and happiness. I know that I need to keep away from the kitchen when I am in a bad mood. To achieve success in baking I have to be in a positive and happy frame of mind. When I am in that place I can bake and feel happy about creating something that I can share.

5. Enjoying a relaxing cup of tea – or coffee but the key to this is to share it with friends or family. It is the chance to relax and step off the treadmill of modern life. I relax and unwind.

Tomorrow will not be all smiles and happiness for me, I know that. But I will be making time to do some of the five things mentioned as I know that will bring a smile to my face regardless of what has happened.

What would you list as your top five things that make you happy? And when did you last do any of them? Happy day of happiness for tomorrow.

Posted in blog, challenge, communication, creativity, happiness, ideas, kindness, PR, work | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Get out of the office and listen

We all think that in the world today we are more connected than at ever before and to some extent that is true. It is easy now to share information and updates across the world at the touch of a button. Technology and social media has given us the opportunity to speak to more people than at any time in the past. But amid this fog of conversation are we missing out on the most critical communication.

As professional communicators, we pride ourselves on having the latest data and information about the business or organisation we work for so that we can use it to target activity. We need to know all about the products and services that we are working to support. Sat in our offices at head office we are confident that we know everything and can provide the required activity to build the reputation.

In this fast-paced world we can be missing out on one of the most important things to do to support communication and PR work, and that is to listen to those buying the goods and services.

It is a long story that I will gloss over now, but I have had the opportunity to go out and discuss policing with members of the public across Greater Manchester. There is so much that can be gathered about views of the organisation and they are more real because they come from direct conversations with people. It is a rich source of honest views that can be of more value than spreadsheets full of statistics.

All heads of communication and PR leads should spend time meeting those that are buying the product or using the services. It gives you a clear view of what is working and what isn’t. It can show you what matters to people and how the business can support them. It reminds you what is important and why. Yet, so many communication bosses talk about how busy they are and what they have to do and never give a second thought to reaching out directly to people they need to listen to.

I have found it a stressful and pressured experience but more importantly it has been rewarding, insightful and heart-warming. The people have been friendly and honest with a willingness to get involved in how to improve the services provided. The undertaking continues to be a big time pressure on me but I wouldn’t miss it because I have learnt so much.

If you are the communication lead in an organisation ask yourself when was the last time you came face-to-face with a customer or service user? Be brave and commit to meeting them, listening and learning.

Posted in challenge, communication, development, media, PR, social media, technology | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Plan in peacetime

I was part of a discussion about ‘fake news’ at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) North West event last night. One of the other speakers the esteemed Steve Kuncewicz made the point that you need to prepare for issues before they happen using the phrase ‘plan in peacetime’ which I like.

For many years I have used a similar phrase to express the same sentiment and that is that you can’t learn, plan or prepare when the streets are on fire. So what does it mean and why should we taken notice?

The bottom line in all this is that we often get so busy with the day-to-day activities and managing the competing demands we face that we don’t see beyond the end of our nose. The communication activity we undertake just satisfies the current ‘to-do list’ and we aren’t planning for the future. Professional communicators know the importance of preparing for a crisis and that can be an operational or reputational issue. I am sure that if there was a survey of how many organisations and businesses have a clear crisis communication plan that is understood by all the key and affected groups there would be a large percentage admitting they were not ready.

In this fast-moving world where social media can share events, rumours or issues in an instant we haven’t got much time to spare. If we are not ready to take action we will be left behind. People will be commenting, discussing and sharing before we are able to get involved. The key to be able to address this is to be ready and to have worked things through.

It means having a clear plan to manage this situation. It means having the trust of the top team which will allow you to move quickly without unnecessary bureaucracy. It means knowing what the priority channels, messages and activities are. It means having people around you who are able to move quickly to execute the plan.

History is littered with examples of times when people and companies were not ready and had not planned for a crisis. We may all be very busy but can we afford not to take the time to plan. Don’t wait until the streets are on fire to get ready.

Posted in Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIPR, communication, crisis communication, PR, social media, social networks, work | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

PR to the rescue

For many years there has been a strained relationship between PR professionals and journalists. The latter feel they are ‘above’ being provided with a story or lines to take and should avoid communicators operating for businesses or organisations. It is surprising the gulf that can exist particularly as many PR professionals started their working lives as journalists, like me. After all the truth lies within the pages of the newspaper or on the latest TV news bulletin, doesn’t it?

On Thursday I will have the chance to speak about ‘fake news’ and the impact that it can have not just on organisations but on individuals and families. (It is the Chartered Institute of Public Relations North West AGM and talk) What is fake news is it lies, a failure to tell the truth or an avoidance of the facts of a situation? Shockingly the presentation I will give in 48 hours was about ‘fake news’ that was rooted in the traditional media. But that isn’t the point of this blog.

It is increasingly looking like PR could save the media from the scourge of fake news. How? Well, if PR professionals are pushing the ethics agenda and are operating with integrity then they can stop misinformation from organisations. It is this truth that can be of significant value to journalists faced with a tide of information both correct and inaccurate that swamps them through digital channels every day.

If this is to be effective in terms of a relationship, then there has to be an increase of trust between the two professions. Journalists need to feel confident that PR professionals are operating at the highest ethical level so that they can provenance the information. Communicators need to be able to trust that reporters will check out their facts and sources before rushing to print or broadcast. It should be less about chasing the online clicks and more about securing their position as a truthful source of information.

There is a lot of work that needs to take place to bring the two professions together. If we can bridge the gap then both journalists and PR officers could reap significant benefits in an era dominated by the online challenge of fake news.

Posted in challenge, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, CIPR, communication, happiness, PR, Uncategorized, work | Tagged , | Leave a comment