Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. A big part of my thinking this week:
1. The Bigger Picture
I’m a big picture kind of person.
Don’t get me wrong: I do love getting into the details of the creative process, and deconstructing projects and outputs to the Nth degree.
But what really excites me (and the reason I love strategy so much) is all to do with seeing big themes and making them flesh.
This week, I’ve been involved in a few conversations about organisations clubbing together to share each other’s content, to create a bigger narrative.
This is a theme that I’ve come back to many times throughout my career.
Once upon a time I was a Comms Manager for a funded NHS project to bring health and social care together in a particular locality. As has been said many times, doing this is both long overdue, and an absolute no-brainer.
Patients get a more joined-up service, capacity is more effectively managed across the system, money saved, happy patients, happy CEOs. Everyone’s a winner.
But this utopia, as with everything, takes effective joined up comms. This was my job.
And actually it was a great job. I loved working with the Heads of Comms from the Council, the Hospital, the CCG etc. There was great support and a lot of enthusiasm for working closer together. We supported each other, and everyone was super helpful in facilitating what I needed to reach patients and bring our messaging closer together. It was really exciting
But as so often happens in these cases, there was always a case that “the day job” always getting in the way of focusing on the bigger picture. That was understandable. Council priorities, NHS winter pressures are always more urgent. But in addition, I always found the politics between the various organisations most frustrating.
Collaboration, sharing messaging, and sharing resources. They’ve been aspirations for public and third sector comms teams for years now. If you’re not competing commercially, and share broad aims (i.e. to make stuff better for the same people) then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be working together.
But it’s challenging. Very often our leaders want our organisations’ short term needs prioritising, and when we’re short of staff and hours in the day, that’s what we do - with the inevitable result being the strong joint local narrative that we all say we want to see being de-prioritised.
But it’s really worth remembering the opportunities that can come from better collaboration, and why it should be a much more prominent part of our work:
Your public don’t recognise your complex organisational boundaries. Ask anyone in your town which organisation looks after them if they get sick or if they need some home-based rehab; chances are they’ll say “the NHS” - and, sorry to break this to you and your Exec Board, probably not “Anytown Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust”, and “Anytown Community Health NHS Trust”. So by collaborating more effectively, we’re actually doing so in a way that meets our population far more at their point of need - meaning better, more credible conversations.
There are always so many great projects going on in any locality across organisations, that the reality is that the stories about them get lost in a morass of competing news and messages. Coordinating more effectively helps these stories get out more effectively and reach more people who will benefit from hearing about them.
There’s an opportunity to really demonstrate to our public that, whatever our boundaries, we are keeping them at the heart of our work, whatever the organisational politics - increasing trust and involvement.
And back to my original point, there is a picture out there that is way bigger than any one organisation. Our populations want to see us working together and prioritising their needs; they want to know and feel the impact that we’re having in our communities and more broadly.
We, as communicators are, as always, at the front line of telling this story, so more and more it’s up to us to remind our organisations what’s important to our public.
Collaborating, networking with our partner organisations shouldn’t be another project. It needs to be a fundamental part of what we do - and I’m looking forward to a couple of future projects that will be all about doing just that…
2. Freelance wisdom
I’m gearing up to write a guest post for another website soon with my reflections on the first few months freelancing.
I’ve been looking to simplify my advice for anyone considering jumping into this world. I even did a podcast about it.
And I think I have a pretty simple formula to share. But I was discussing this with a fellow freelancer last week who told me that their philosophy to being a successful freelancer is:
“Turn up on time, and don’t annoy anyone.”
I actually think there’s something in this. Your success as a freelancer is defined by your clients’ satisfaction. If you’ve been hired for a piece of work, I think you safely assume that your client is assuming you’re good at what you do.
So at this point, it’s the experience that really matters. It’s whether the client can trust you to deliver high quality as well as respecting your colleagues and organisational norms.
So being good will get you hired. But being a good team player will get you re-hired.
So remember to turn up on time - and not to annoy anyone!
3. Blog post of the Week
Both my favourite blog post, and my favourite podcast this week come from familiar sources.
To start with, Kate Vogelsang has written another great piece about testing new campaigns and interventions with your audience before launching.
Why you should sense check your communications before unleashing on your audience is another vital piece.
This is something we all know is an important thing to do - but it’s something that can get missed or de-prioritised as we get in the maelstrom of campaign launches and managing multiple deadlines.
Kate has some famous examples of comms face-palm moments that would’ve benefited from some proper user testing - and some good tips on how to do it in the real world.
Yet another great read.
4. Podcast of the week
It’s the second time this podcast has featured on the blog, and again it’s the brilliant Atomic Hobo podcast - presented by journalist Julie McDowall.
Some Place Where There Isn't Any Sky is all about how the US Government tried to reassure children in the 1950s and 60s about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike.
As a child of the late Cold War, I’m grimly fascinated by the subject matter that Julie explores in her podcast - how Britain and others planned for nuclear war.
But as a public and third sector comms person, I find it a doubly fascinating listen, as many of the episodes delve into the fine, and seemingly mundane, details that local authorities and governments were focusing on in civil defence in the years between 1945 and 1989; and the inevitable planned public communications that would’ve accompanied them if the worst ever happened.
This episode focuses on the American Duck and Cover cartoons of the 1950s. There’s a really interesting dilemma that’s discussed in this episode that is really interesting from a comms ethics point of view.
For example, we know now (and let’s face it, authorities knew then) that if a 3.5 megaton Soviet Hydrogen bomb was ever to fall on your town, hiding under your desk and covering your head with your hands, probably wouldn’t actually do you a lot of good.
So in essence, these films were selling children an unrealistic fantasy, and we all know that telling the public comforting lies is never a great look and against every ethical bone in our comms person bodies.
But the question is, what was the realistic alternative? Telling an entire generation of school children that they were ever only minutes or seconds away from certain annihilation and there’s nothing that you, your parents, or your government can do about it? Having millions of kids existing day to day in a state of constant panic? What would the long term effect on their adult lives have been? Wasn’t it worth giving reassurance that everything will be OK even if everything would absolutely not be OK?
I don’t think there’s a definitive answer to that one - but it’s definitely worth a listen to this brilliant podcast and giving some time to mull it over.