It’s 3am on a Friday morning. I’m restless and can’t sleep. There’s stuff going round in my head that needs to be noted so I don’t forget it. I get up, make some tea and sit down to start writing. I then see the cup I inadvertently used. It all comes together.
Three of the preceding four working days have been taken up attending my organisation’s leadership conference and then two days of LGCommsAcad – our public sector communications conference, fortunately for me, both in Leeds.
It’s fair to say I’ve been inspired and challenged in equal measures and thanks again to the organisers. I have work to do to put the learning into practice. I have to consider what impact I make and amend things accordingly. I have to help people see the benefit of having and sticking to a communication plan before deploying requests for tactics that will be ineffective. I increasingly have to use data (translated into real people not just numbers in a spreadsheet), insight and examples to create communication solutions and provide opinions of what may happen if certain actions are taken or no action is taken. Most of all I have to continue to act with integrity, earn trust, add value, sometimes providing opinions that aren’t what people want to hear. And as one keynote speaker succinctly put; not create stuff that is ‘complete bollocks’. And unfortunately it really does happen. Not by me obviously, so it was light relief that my week had numerous references to The Thick of It, Yes Prime MInister and W1A. Exactly. Yes.
Part of my organisation’s conference was delivered ‘unconference’ style where attendees decide the agenda on the day. This is welcome progress in increasing opportunities for people to meet, talk and help plan how we do things and it appeared to be well received. The theme/call to action this year, developed from a refresh of organisation values, was ‘can do’. In the main conference there was acknowledgement and some great presentations explaining innovative and creative approaches to work delivered followed by the usual nudge suggesting we can do better if we increasingly do things differently. That’s fine but not an easy message to land if not handled sensitively. There’s potential to rattle the people who have been going the extra mile for a long time. I’ll be holding back on the ‘can do’ strapline and suggesting others keep it simple too. I’m not a fan of straplines or project titles, it’s the interpretation that matters.
At the public sector communication conference there was reference to the history of government communications as it’s 100 years since first mentions of national strategic public communications. Various communication milestones were highlighted that have brought us to today; fake news and all. In some ways not much has changed but so much has.
What many people might not know is the Keep Calm and Carry On poster and strapline, designed by the Ministry of Information in 1939 during the second World War, was never actually used. It was produced as part of a series of three “Home Publicity” posters. The others read “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory” and “Freedom Is in Peril / Defend It With All Your Might“. Each poster showed the slogan under a representation of a Tudor Crown. They were intended to be distributed to strengthen morale.
The publicity campaign was cancelled in October 1939 following criticism of its cost and potential impact. Many people regarded them as patronising and divisive and reflective of a misjudgement by upper-class civil servants of the mood of the people.
Almost 2,500,000 copies were printed but most remained in cold storage and were later pulped. It’s kind of ironic the slogan gets more use today. However it is an example that market research is important and not judging the mood of the people correctly can massively backfire.
Both conferences majored on behaviour change and doing things differently and how involvement of communications professionals at the earliest opportunity can help with increased awareness, understanding and participation. Both had inspiring and creative examples of what has been achieved in a really difficult year for the public sector with ongoing reduced budgets, unprecedented demand and tragic events including Grenfell and Manchester Arena. Hearing how colleagues contributed in the days following, and are still doing so today, was inspiring but challenging too. This is the reality of what is now our daily job and it isn’t going away anytime soon. It was also good to see staff welfare being given increased recognition and support.
My takeaways are mostly about behaviours. Using insight to help us do better things and encouraging people to stop doing what isn’t working so we can increasingly use our resources where they are likely to create most impact. So being human, writing more how we speak, consideration of audience mood and therefore of how best to land messages to maximise calls to action.
The one statement that stood out for me was “you cannot talk yourself out of a situation you have behaved yourself into”