Well, it’s been one of my busiest weeks so far. And it’s been a lot of fun. Here are the top 5 things I’ve loved about week commencing 8th October 2018.
1. Comms as a force for good at LGComms #CommsAcad
This week I had an amazing day in Birmingham at the LGComms Academy.
It was fantastic to see old and new friends that I’ve made in the UK comms community over the years. And it was also fascinating to hear from some of the most respected comms people around.
There were a couple of themes that resonated with me and that kept on cropping up throughout the day.
Among the fantastic speakers I enjoyed keynotes from, this sense of communications as a public service and a force for good was often repeated.
It’s also a sentiment that is right at the heart of what I believe.
When public comms are done right, they save lives, they help people to make better smarter choices about their lives, and they can help to maintain a healthy democracy.
It’s right in this space as an idea. I believe that comms should enlighten, inform and empower people. And I work with organisations that exist to improve people’s lives. When you put the two together, for me that’s what doing good, brilliantly looks like.
But there are a lot of reasons why this basic truth needs restating at present. Disinformation, “fake news” (God, I am so sick of hearing that phrase), and open deception are having a poisonous impact on our democracy, our public discourse and on the decisions people make. It’s becoming even more difficult to shut down as technology gets more sophisticated and agents with malicious intent do more and more to push their agenda (because, let’s face it, they’ve had some big wins of late). The session run by Hannah Johnson of Blue State Digital went into a lot of detail about what’s being done at a government level to counter this.
But however well we do combat this stuff, and however many fake accounts Facebook and Twitter shut down; my main worry is the wider pervasive impact that this has on people’s sense of trust in anything they see, hear or read, especially online. This can lead to mis-informed decisions in the short term, but will lead to something much more dangerous in the long term: a sense of cynicism opting out from public discourse, and the vacuum being filled with malign forces, seeking to profit from division and pain.
And another big thing here is currently very low levels of public trust in institutions, politicians and the media.
I’d politely suggest to any politicians or journalists out there that the idea that you’re not massively trusted, isn't necessarily a new one. However, decades of mistrust in “spin”, and politicians that have the ability to lie with impunity have taken this to a critical level.
When I was in house in the public sector, I lost count of the amount of FOI requests I saw demanding to know “how much public money you spend on ‘spin doctors’”. Eye-rolls would abound at this point, and understandably so. But this does speak of a more worrying (and entirely unfair) narrative around public service comms as an un-necessary “PR exercise”.
If we don’t shout about our worth, if we don’t make our comms evidence-led, and if we don't engage with true empathy about the lives of our service users, employees or customers, then we run the risk of giving further power to this false narrative.
The bad news is that this is going to be tough.
It’s going to require us to be brave, and to work harder than ever to really understand our audiences’ motivations and fears. Though it came from an Internal Comms perspective, I absolutely loved Rachel Miller’s model of “Global - Local - Me” when considering the things that our audiences care about - and I think it applies just as appropriately to external citizen based comms.
It’s going to require us to be more and more creative, and be even leaner with our resources.
It’s going to require us to constantly be seeking new insight about our audiences.
It’s going to require us to be an even bigger pain in the *neck* with our superiors with our incessant asking of “why?” and “so what?” when they request our time and expertise.
But the good news is: This will also be fun. It’ll force us to be more creative. And more importantly, the truth is on our side. We have the right values, we have empathy, and we have an unbelievably supportive community, committed to helping each other to do good things, better.
We work where we do, because we want to improve things in our communities. And we’re part of the national comms community because we want to do it better, and want others to do it better too.
So the challenges are real. But the solutions are within us.
This super inspiring day really brought this home to me.
2. All about the content
As well as a day out to Birmingham I've actually been super busy with client work this week too.
Blog posts, social media management, running a blogging workshop and a video shoot; it’s been a really big week for “content” creation.
I particularly loved running the blogging workshop with some senior academic research associates and project directors to bring their ideas to life earlier this week; where we went into forensic detail into the linguistic make-up of blog post titles. I love deconstructing effective content, to understand why it works, and I’m looking forward to the professionals I worked with this week creating super engaging, sticky blog content very shortly.
I’ve also been working on a video project this week, which I’ve absolutely loved doing. I’ve been working with an old friend and colleague who is an unbelievable videographer and technician and I’m excited to share the results with you in the next month or so.
3. Blog post of the Week
No contest this week.
It’s “Everything that we go through – looking after the mental health of comms professionals” by Leanne Ehren.
You might remember last week I mentioned Leanne’s brilliant presentation at the Granicus Digital Summit.
Well to mark Mental Health Day this week, Leanne has published a fantastic, honest and really detailed blog post on comms2.0.
If you care about the wellbeing of your profession, this post is an absolute must-read.
4. Podcast of the week
Not a podcast as such this week - but an Audiobook.
This week I started listening to 21st Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari on Audible. I’m about 2.5 hours into an 11 hour listen, but so far it’s been completely fascinating.
I’ve read (well, listened to) a few books this past year that focus on the tech revolution and the advent of the AI age, and the impact it’ll have on our consumer habits, our work and our democracy. (Also see “The People Vs Tech” by Jamie Bartlett, and “Us vs Them” by Ian Bremmer).
This book goes into even further detail about the impact AI will have on our society over the next 20-30 years. What i’ve really enjoyed about it so far is how balanced it is. Harari discusses the positive benefits for us in the tech revolution, but counters them with the costs and risks inherent in them.
A key thrust of the opening chapters is the idea around how much tech and AI will revolutionise the workplace - bringing with it insecurity, and the potential disappearances of certain industries and jobs.
As comms people, we love tech and innovation. So for us, this is an exciting time to be alive. But this book so far has taught me how important our role will be to understand this changing social landscape to ensure our organisations stay relevant into the 2030s and beyond.
Again, our capacity to demonstrate and articulate human empathy will need to be a critical part of our jobs over the next few decades.
I really recommend a listen.
5. Episode 3 of “How to go freelance - A Guide for the Terrified”.
And finally - it’s finally here.
I’m really pleased that Episode 3 of my podcast is now available.
In this episode I speak to Dave, Kate, Dan, Darren, Rebecca and Bridget about the practical steps they’ve taken to be successful independent comms people.
What really struck me listening back to these interviews (that I did a few months before I actually launched Grey Fox) is how prescient their advice was back then.
So if you’re a new freelance person or are considering dipping your toes into our world, give it a listen now.