I was a bit busy last week. It’s been a really full-on start to 2019, which has been a lot of fun. But it does mean I miss a blog post every once in a while.
So this week’s post is looking over the last fortnight or so; and here are the things that have meant a lot to me…
1. Thoughts on strategy
I have a couple of comms strategy pieces of work on at the moment.
If I think back to the beginning of my comms and marketing career, and I think about all the things you try as a young, wide-eyed graduate, comms strategy was always the thing that stood out. I always liked writing, but I’ve never been great at Media Relations; I’ve always loved the design process and branding, but my Photoshop skills are pretty rudimentary.
The thing I took to better than anything else was comms strategy. I loved the idea of understanding people’s needs, and creating a long term plan, based on evidence and outcomes to frame your creative thinking. For me, with a proper strategy you get to deliver really impactful creative work.
A few things have prompted me to think about this a bit more this week.
Firstly, I had a kick off meeting with a new client where we were discussing a new strategy; and we talked a lot about how to make sure that their new strategy wasn’t a lovely document that sat on the shelf.
To coin a phrase, we discussed how to make sure it “survives contact with the real world”.
As much as a I love comms strategy - I can point to a couple of examples of strategies that took weeks and months to pull together, only for them to sit on the proverbial shelf and never really get embedded in the day to day.
So I’m really interested in this idea of how strategies actually work for organisations, and how they become coherent across the organisation, but flexible enough so that everyone can find their place in them.
I’m also really interested and heartened to see about the new Strategy Surgery hosted by comms2.0 next month, which, though I’m unfortunately unable to attend, should be a must-attend for anyone who works in comms.
A great strategy that’s truly embedded in your organisation is really essential - not least as it is your best bulwark against those “We need a poster in the next 6 minutes” requests that have always, still are, and always will be an inevitable part of our lives.
There’s tons of ways to formulate a great comms strategy, and lots of acronym-laden templates out there for you to follow that will help to guide you in the right direction; but for me, a successful comms strategy has a few particular features.
- People led. This can mean literally involving your end users or colleagues that work very closely with them to help understand their needs and where you can meet them, from the very beginning.
- Evidence led. Strategies aren’t something you do every week or even every year (if they are, your organisation is probably doing them wrong). So it’s absolutely worth investing the time and energy in researching your landscape, and your audience’s needs before heading off down a particular direction.
- Emotive. This people and evidence focus should provide you with enough insight to understand what will move people in a particular direction. And yes, that’ll mean understand user behaviour, but it’ll also mean understanding what emotional needs they have in order to engage with you. And this is where insight comes together to help form great, impactful messaging.
- Cohesive. They hang together well. There are key themes that cut across everything you do.
- Flexible. They understand that whilst consistency and cross cutting themes are essential; that they’ll live or die by how they’re interpreted by the human beings on the front line that communicate most with the outside world. So flexibility, and the concept of how individuals find their place within them and interpret messaging in such a way that feels natural and authentic is one of the most important things about a good comms strategy.
And when you think about it, that’s why making them insight and people-led is so important. And ultimately, that’s what helps them to “survive contact with the real world”.
I could talk all day about comms strategy. If you could too, I’d love to have a more detailed chat about your approaches or any challenges you’re facing. So give me a shout.
2. Working the workshops
This last two-weeks, I’ve had an absolute blast driving round Cheshire with a carboot-full of post-it notes, flipchart paper and Sharpie pens, running workshops with local people.
The project in question is an engagement project to involve patients and the general population in a conversation about managing their health and wellbeing via an online portal.
We spoke with probably 60 people over the course of a week, and (see my previous point) though there were differences and individual experiences that gave a lot of context for our thinking, there were some really clear and strong themes emerging.
This is really one of my favourite things of my job. I love meeting people, and understanding their experiences, to help clients to create an evidence and people-led solution, whatever that is.
It involved some very cold community locations (it was the week it snowed a lot), but meeting with some fantastic community organisers that do a lot to bring people together in their towns, so it was a real privilege to work on.
3. Great blog posts
There have been some absolutely amazing comms-related blog posts in the last few weeks, but for my money, there are two that really stand out:
YOUNG PEOPLE: What you need to know about the channels they’re using in 2019 by Dan Slee is an essential read.
There’s so much good stuff in there. But the single biggest take-away is that “it’s complicated”.
I’ve written previously about how, lo and behold, “young people” are essentially like “middle aged” or “old people” in that they have a particular set of experiences and habits, but still need to be treated as whole human beings who have needs to be met.
And this really backs that idea up. There is no “how to engage with young people” manual - but a load of complex information and research, that it’s incumbent on all of us to be aware of if we seriously want to do “youthcomms” better. Thankfully, Dan has compiled a lot of it here.
I also love Freelancing with Pets by Adam Pearson. As the owner of a cat and very loving but, at times, utterly crackers cocker spaniel, this post really spoke to me about the joys and challenges of sharing your oh-so-very-professional workspace with animals.
From the cat sitting between you and the screen whilst on a particularly important video call, to the perils of the Postie arriving (with ensuing ear-splitting barking) during a conference call, I really relate to this piece.
I love our girls (by that I mean our pets), and it’s truly lovely having them for company when I’m working for home; but there are some occassional pitfalls. Adam’s post describes this and uses the whole notion of having pets as an analogy for freelancing in general.
Two fantastic posts. Read ‘em.
4. Reflecting on client work the past 7 months
I always planned for January to be a time to reflect on the first 6 months of freelance life and do stuff like get supportive quotes from clients.
It’s fair to say that with everything, this hasn’t quite happened yet!
But what I did do this week was put together a page on the website showing some of the organisations I’ve partnered with recently, and it really does give me a warm glow.
I’m super proud of this list of organisations, all of which do amazing work to improve people’s lives.
Oh, and if we have worked together, I probably will be in touch for that quote soon….