8 tips for NHS comms in 2018

You know when a baby wakes you at 4am every morning of it’s life so you don’t set an unnecessary alarm for the one day of the year when you need to be on the 6:30am train to London?

Well, you can guess what happened next and the slapstick, desperate race to the station ensured that I made it onto the long commute with literally seconds to spare.

Despite this the sweaty indignity was well worth it to catch the latest NHS Providers Communications leads network session which featured Daniel Reynolds, Stephen Waddington, Claire Riley and Darren Caveney. There was some excellent advice and discussion but here are my key takes for NHS Comms folks:

1 Purpose

Stephen Waddington introduced himself as someone who helps clients “Figure out the best way of communicating with their publics” and I think that clarity of purpose, stripped of the usual corporate doublespeak, is something we can all learn from.

Comms and PR MUST be aligned directly to organisational performance. That is the starting point for any NHS comms team after thinking really clearly about how they support the corporate outcomes of their organisation. We all need to think “why are we hear?” Get these clear measures in place and report back regularly.

2 The professionals

There’s a growing shift towards professionalism as the role of communicator moves from a craft to a science and that also needs to go hand in hand with proper ethical conduct.

From a personal respective I’m never convinced that naval gazing and comparisons to finance and legal are necessarily going to help us, but we can (and must) learn a lot from the way these disciplines evaluate development, practice and outcomes.

3 Digital

Survey after survey tells us that all of life is now on the internet. The recent Ofcom study had loads of information to pour over and I was at another presentation recently where someone said there are now more people with a smartphone than a toothbrush in the UK. That claim should probably come with a ‘citation needed’ but the point is clear that online is now the mainstream.

Stephen explained how the social ecosystem is becoming much more mature with the key players now well established. Good content is the secret to success on any of these platforms and while this can be really simple or irreverently stuff it needs to resonate with the audience of each particular platform.

4 The power of your story

Despite all these changes the power of strong stories and what we would have called good creative are still fundamental. Thinking about new ways of telling theses stories is the key to success and being able to adapt all our techniques for different channels is really important in cutting through the noise.

Clear, human and personal communications that dispenses with the ‘corporate bullshit’ is key in 2018 (copyright @wadds 2018!)

5 Reporting back results

Take every opportunity to talk about comms to the senior team in a strategic way, but make sure you’re talking their language and have the right evidence in place to be able to do so with credibility.

6 skills

Darren presented this excellent slide as part of the debate around generalists vs specialists. I’ll let you make your own mind up

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7 Leadership is vital

I’ve already blogged about this here, but leadership is going to be vital to communications in the coming years. All communicators in the NHS need to take every opportunity to develop and grow. It’s great to see such a strong programme from NHSE/I much of which is free. I also really recommend the NELA courses for leadership.

Claire explained how leadership isn’t about control – it’s about empowering others. It’s no good just demanding recognition because our work needs to do the talking. One of the most important areas of leadership is understanding your own values and being authentic. Consider “what it’s like to be on the receiving end of me.”

8 Final thought

The last word to Claire Riley “Stop apologising for working in communications, leave your emotions at the door and understand your strengths and weaknesses”

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