Who are the audience?

I met an amazing man today, Stephen who produces articles for the Talking Newspapers which provide national and local news for the blind and visually-impaired. He provides a valuable service and one that I am sure lots of organisations don’t realise exists. It made me think about the challenge communicators have to really target activity.

Over recent years teams have been streamlined and got smaller, and one of the risks has been that we focus too much on the traditional media and the developing social media at the expense of really targeting the work. It is much quicker and easier to send out press releases or social media updates that reach a broad range of people. It is much harder to consider your audience for the message and then use a whole range of channels.

All too often we define the audience as everyone which clearly isn’t the case. Some people will require the information or the engagement activity, others may just need to be aware of it and some may not need it at all. It is important that we also don’t assume we have all the answers as people will decide which group they fall into.

There is a lot we can do to gather the relevant data and information to help us make better decisions on how to reach specific communities and more importantly specific people. There are so many people like Stephen who are out and about developing content that will reach people in the way they want or need it. He initiated the contact and came to us for assistance but now we have to find ways to reach out to others.

I don’t think there is an easy answer to how to ensure communication is targeted, but I would love to hear from people about how they achieve it within a tight budget or with limited resources.

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Finding a balance

When we are facing the pressure from work it can be easy to forget the important things in life – family, home and the key relationships in our lives. Most people spend a considerable percentage of their day at work whether it is from home, from an office or from another location. The pressure can be significant and the demands relentless so much so that it can engulf us.

It is vital that we make time for the supportive relationships around us. The people who can listen when we have had a bad day, can provide a shoulder to cry on and help lift us up when we are down. When everyone else has gone they will be the people who remain. I have written many times about how we can take this support for granted. We will only miss it when it isn’t there.

Life is definitely about a balance. A balance in all things and not just the traditional view of it being about work life balance. Letting work take over your life is not the best position to be in, and  you need to be able to switch off. I am the worst person for not doing this but I realise the damage that it can do taking this approach.

Tomorrow will be the funeral of a long-standing friend. It will be a sad time for all those that knew him but also will be a reminder of how lucky we all were to have known him during his life that was cut short. Jobs have come and gone in the time that we have been friends.

Balance is a key for us all too remember. Life is too short and the little things are just that, little. Focus on what matters to you and say thank you to those who give you support. Whatever happens the world will continue to turn.

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Dare to be different

All organisations have a culture. This can be positive or can be negative, but in reality it is probably a bit of both. It is easy to blame the ills of the organisation on ‘culture’ when in reality it is something we all have to take responsibility for. I do have some concerns that we are all striving to find a better culture and in doing that we will throw out the positive elements of what we currently have.

One of my biggest concerns with organisations is that those in charge like to find people who think in a very similar way. It means recruitment process are often weighted to finding people who think in the same way, often this is without anyone even recognising it. Once people are in an organisation the situation can become worse.

Being different to what is seen as ‘normal’ creates massive challenges for people. It means you are talking about one thing and people are hearing something else. It means you may want to take a new course of action but people want to remain with the usual approach. It means you may place more importance on things that others will ignore. There are three options:

  1. stay and try to fit in with the dominant culture
  2. leave and go somewhere you feel is a better fit
  3. dare to be different

The last one is my preferred position but it doesn’t come easy and means you need to have bags of resilience and a determination. It is never easy to take a different approach and you have to understand that there will be some incredibly frustrating days ahead. However, at the end you will feel a huge sense of achievement, and hopefully you will be able to start to impact on that dominant culture.

It is easy for organisations to say that they value diversity and want a workforce that will be challenging of the status quo. The harder part comes in showing people that they can be an individual in a large organisation, and it is hardest for those in a minority. Now it is time for us to dare to be different.

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The joy of living

I had the opportunity to go back to my childhood today when I joined my nephew to celebrate his ninth birthday. It is always fun, frantic and full on when I spend time with him. The time involves lots of rushing around, sports (at the moment this is a love of table tennis) and as many activities as we can fit in. Today was no different even though it involved cake, jelly and ice cream.

Children have an innocence that we can’t get back. It is an amazing time of our lives when we are starting to find our way in the world, and we try things for the first time. One thing we could hold on to is the sheer joy of life.

On Sunday night as many people are trying to grab the last moments of the weekend and have a sense of dread of the work that waits tomorrow, the joy of life can seem a long way away. We get ground down by the responsibilities of adulthood and the 9 to 5, or whatever hours we have to do to make ends meet. The days can feel long and the pressures immense with bills to pay, domestic chores to do and a whole range of commitments to meet.

We have to find ways to reconnect with that childhood joy we had. It makes tonight a chance to do lots of interesting things, and tomorrow a day filled with opportunities and possibilities. When was the last time you just did something for the pure fun of doing it? When did you run around madly until you just flopped down exhausted? When did you last laugh for no reason at all?

It may be hard to recreate what we had as children but looking at ways we can take some little steps back is important. It reconnects us with the joy of just living.

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You can’t please all the people

We all want to be liked, or do we? There is a lot of research about how we are all craving acceptance from society and our peers. It means we spend a lot of time trying to ‘fit in’ and say and do the right things. As teenagers very few want to be individual and go their own way and instead prefer to run with the crowd.

It is something that can be seen on social media. People try to say and do the right things, avoid controversy and find acceptance. But is this the best way to ensure that society keeps evolving and improving? Don’t we need to have challenge and a difference of opinion to continue to develop?

I had an interesting conversation with my mum today when she gave a verdict on my recent blogs. I really value her opinion and feedback. Unsurprisingly, she finds blogs about communication and my work a little dull. I have explained that this site was created to discuss communication, the issues of the day and other things of interest. I value her opinion but I won’t change my approach.

In setting out to write a blog you have to accept that you are not going to please everyone all the time. In fact, if you are going to choose a career in communication or public relations you also have to realise that it will bring you into conflict or at least disagreement with people. There is no point in just saying what people want to hear. It won’t bring results and can mean organisations don’t move forward or even go in reverse.

We move forward when there is room for debate and discussion, and where people can challenge the existing position. There has to be a freedom to allow this to take place and those who make an alternative stand should be supported. I know I won’t please everyone when I write my blog and definitely not when I am in the process of writing one every day in 2016. But I look forward to the discussion and disagreement ahead.

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Ask, listen and don’t instruct

It seems we are no longer talking about internal communication but now the focus is on employee engagement. Unfortunately, the speed of change in the approach is not being mirrored within many organisations. Even when employee engagement gets mentioned the default position is back into instruction and one-way communication rather than active engagement.

I have been reading quite a lot on this subject recently and it seems that communicators universally agree that the situation has to change. Engagement though has to be about more than a word. It can’t be about telling employees something in a slightly different way. It needs to have a fundamental shift in the approach.

Reports show that if you can have an engaged workforce they will be more productive and can drive change in the organisation. It is because at the heart of it is connecting them to the purpose of the business. This should make achieving employee engagement easier within the public sector where there is a desire to help and improve people’s lives. At least that is what they join thinking and we need to ensure the organisation doesn’t squash that drive.

I was reading one article in Forbes.com which discussed employee engagement claiming it was essential to ‘increase productivity, execute business strategies, improve company performance and develop roles within the company’. One approach was to focus on strategic alignment, employee engagement, leadership, performance recognition and accountability all as the way forward.

One other essential element that I think is clear from the articles I have written is that to achieve the change in approach and really move away from internal communication it has to have the drive and support of the CEO or equivalent. They need to be out and about asking questions, listening and explaining. All too often the CEO can become focused on stakeholders and external communication which can present some of the most immediate risks. This can mean time is short to invest in effective employee engagement. It takes a progressive and forward-thinking CEO to recognise that change is needed and then to prioritise it.

There is no easy way to achieve employee engagement. It needs focus, investment and to be on the top of the ‘to-do’ list. Companies could be transformed if we get this right.


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Facing loss but feeling gratitude

This week has been a tough one both personally and publicly. It has been tainted by sadness but also has made me grateful for what I have been lucky enough to experience. At the moment I may be feeling the loss but in time I, like many others, will come to appreciate what I had.

Two more celebrities have been taken from us much too soon. 2016 is just four months in and it has left us without some treasured people who made great music, great films and great comedy. The death of Victoria Wood yesterday at the age of 62 was very sad as she was a huge part of my childhood. I agree with many commentators who have said that she paved the way for lots of girls to reach for the stars. They could see her successful, unusual, Northern and bright and saw in it the opportunities that exist.

Today we are coming to terms with the untimely death of Prince at the age of just 57. He was part of the soundtrack to my teenage years in the 1980s. Without doubt he was a musical pioneer who trod new ground and was comfortable being himself even though that made him very different.

It is important to have those people who can inspire us. The people who use their skills, abilities and talents to push themselves and break new ground. I know that by looking at what they have done it inspires me to push myself further, and I am sure many other people feel the same way.

But they don’t have to be celebrities for us to recognise amazing achievements. My week has also been a sad one on a personal level with the death of one of my partner’s childhood friends. They had known each other for all of their 45 years and I had known him for almost 30 years. It was a terrible loss to family, friends and those who had been lucky enough to know him. I had a huge amount of respect for him as he had dealt so well with a life changing event some years ago. He made sure it didn’t stop him doing what he wanted to, and for that I can say he really was an inspiration. I have to say thank you to David for being part of my life. Thank you to Victoria Wood for the laughs and to Prince for the music.

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