10 unthoughts from a comms unconference


Last week I got the opportunity to take part in a PR masterclass in Leeds but also, thanks to the vagaries of the British Transport system, re-enact one of my favourite childhood films, Plaines, Trains and automobiles.

The delays, false starts, and cancellations meant I got to revive the prematurely greying and urbane but impatient Neil Page as I struggled back on the seemingly impossible journey from Yorkshire to Newcastle. Turns out it was a part I was born to play.

Even this couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm from an excellent day arranged by the Comms2Point0 team to spread best practice from their Unawards winners.

In my presentation I tried to focus on the practical changes that had helped us win best small team at the Comms2point0 Unawards, but it seemed that most interest was in the ‘on brand’, retro pictures I pulled from our archive and some of the slightly trite observations I offered up at the end.

The other speakers from Sheffield Council and North Yorkshire Police provided some excellent case studies particularly around social and video, so it was with a sense of bumbling inferiority that I loaded up my collection of Paul Gascoigne quotes and weak Making a Murderer references that masqueraded as a presentation.

So, here’s an abridged version of my ten thoughts on public sector PR from the second half of the presentation.

#1 Why are we here? Not in the philosophical or existential sense but it’s vital to have a clear focused raison d’être that you can articulate properly and demonstrate has some value.

#2 We need to get over the myth of control. In any hospital or public sector organisation there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of public interactions every day. PR teams can’t control much of that but they can create the conditions for great comms to happen.

#3 Change. You hear so many people saying they embrace change and thrive on the pressure of change. In my experience the only people who like change are babies with dirty nappies and even they aren’t that keen. That’s why change communications are so hard to do well.

#4 Mobile devices are everywhere. Just so you know.

#5 In the public sector we probably spend far too much time spelling out process or explaining the complexity in the system. We should probably stop because nobody cares.

#6 Take time to read and think. Physically block that time out of your busy diary even it’s just half an hour a week. You’ll reap the rewards in creativity and new ideas. Start with #PRstack or #FuturePRoofed. You will learn at least three new things that you can use.

#7 These days you have to do the thinking and the heavy lifting. Less money and fewer people make that inevitable. It’s difficult but not impossible.

#8 Too much of public sector comms in the past has been about cheerleading. We should aspire to so much more than that. We need to be the conscience of the organisation and a champion for the voice of our audiences.

#9 Resilience. Horrible buzzword but it has been a feature of nearly every blog I’ve written in the past 2 years. Get a hobby, get an outlet, have a coping mechanism. Failing that, remember it’s a job not a region.

#10 You can’t please everyone. Unless you work for Gregg’s and can issue gift cards.

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