How was 2020 for you? If you work in comms, it’s probably been a mixed bag at best.
COVID-19 wreaked huge damage on parts of the sector, with jobs and businesses lost. Many who stayed in work, in the public and private sector, were much busier and more stressed. They worked under a cloud of uncertainty, responding to constantly changing events.
There will be learning points from this. On balance though, comms professionals can be proud of how they supported the COVID-19 response. They helped organisations adapt, kept the public and stakeholders informed and saved lives. Need convincing? Check out these examples of how the NHS is responding across all these fronts on #FuturePRoof’s website.
It’s a great shame, then, to see comments about ‘PR disasters’ when mistakes happen. It featured in commentary on the government’s COVID response, around issues created and managed (badly) by people like Dominic Cummings. Its cousin – the ‘comms failing’ – was name-checked when local leaders raised legitimate concerns at being out of the loop on important policy announcements affecting their areas.
Continue reading “PR disaster? Good comms people are proving their worth”
This week marks the start of a new financial year for us at Social, and my first as managing director of our South West division. I enter it with mixed emotions.
On the upside, I feel elated at our achievements in this most challenging of years. Our team doubled its size and turnover in 2020. We raised the bar in the quality of our work and the type of clients we’re supporting. We’ve adjusted brilliantly to enforced changes in how we work. We’ve been flexible, empathetic and innovative in supporting our clients.
While I don’t take any of this for granted, it is tempered by sadness, anger and despondency at the national response to the pandemic. As a comms person, I’ve despaired at what I’ve seen and heard about events leading up to the latest lockdown announcement.
In an attempt to set this out in coherently, I’ve split this post into two sections: three things I’d change about the government’s handling of this crisis and three things I will do myself. It’s not intended as a plan; it’s more a way to collate my thoughts and feelings to help me to look ahead with clarity.
Continue reading “Three points for government comms – and three for me – during lockdown”
A well-used phrase of mine – which bewilders my kids – is: if a tree falls in a forest and no-one’s around to hear it, how do you know it’s fallen?
It’s not intended as a philosophical question. In a work context, it’s used to stress the importance of letting people know what you’re doing, rather than just doing it and expecting a response.
So, if you’re creating a website, let people know it’s there. If a council makes plans that affect people’s lives, telling them early and offering a chance to feedback should be part of that process.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is to us, and colleagues and clients work every day to engage the public on important things that affect their lives.
Looking more widely, however, there remains a gap created by complexity and exacerbated by a lack of awareness.
Continue reading “Why engagement needs to change”
One of my saddest moments from the last six months came when I left our office in Bristol for the last time before lockdown started. *
It was 19 March and news broke that all but ‘essential’ travel for work was discouraged. Full lockdown was four days away, but we decided at Social to work from home until further notice from that point. Although we were used to flexible working, vacating our offices en masse took things to a different level.
On the bus home from Bristol, my head was spinning with questions. How are our clients coping? Would any of them leave us? What would happen if they did? When would we see the office or colleagues again? After all our work over the previous two-and-a-half years to build a viable business, this felt wounding and deeply unfair. Swapping WhatsApp messages with colleagues, sitting on the top deck, I felt alone.
That week, I spoke with each member of the Bristol team and felt that while there was a chance of getting through this, we had to dig in and work for that outcome. And that’s what we did.
We’ve kept most clients and found new work. We’ve moved into new areas, helping clients engage communities, manage issues and grow. We’ve grown and created new jobs. This week, a new starter joins my team. We’ve done all of this from home, having left our office in the summer.
When I think of how I felt on the way home in March, what’s happened since feels incredible. For me, it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s been physically and emotionally draining. Above all, it’s been hard work.
This is my personal backdrop to recent stories about the emerging narrative to persuade people to get ‘back to work’ in a bid to save city centres.
Continue reading “Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign”
Lockdown has provided us with the biggest behaviour change programme we have ever seen. It would be a real travesty if we went back to ‘business as usual’ without locking in some of the benefits achieved during lockdown.Ann O’Driscoll, North Bristol Suscom.
Wherever you’ve worked over the last three months, most of us can agree that lockdown has been challenging. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that its impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting.
But, as the West of England emerges from lockdown with the rest of the country, it feels right to reflect on some positive things to emerge from this crisis that are worth holding on to.
Businesses at the West of England Initiative’s latest meeting heard from those leading the local conversation on how we travel about lockdown’s impact on traffic congestion, air quality and carbon emissions. The findings are stark:
Continue reading “Businesses can steer us away from Carmageddon”
- Peak time traffic levels in Bristol are said to be around 40% lower than pre-lockdown levels, although are back on the increase.
- Bus passenger numbers are reported to be at around 13% of ordinary levels.
- Air quality in cities is markedly improved as traffic has fallen.
A version of this article was published in Bristol 24/7 on 11 June. Thanks to Martin Booth and the team for the opportunity to provide some thoughts on an extraordinary week for a city we are proud to be part of.
I’m not from Bristol but have grown to love it over the decade I’ve worked here. I love the city for its creativity, positive outlook and for how it does things its own way, rightly or wrongly.
Bristol’s idiosyncratic streak is part of what makes it such a special place, for all its foibles. Its failure to adequately address questions over its history with regards to figures like Edward Colston sit uneasily with its image as a diverse, multicultural city.
This uneasiness collided with direct action on Sunday, when Colston’s statue was toppled from its plinth and dumped in the Floating Harbour, where it’s remained until it was retrieved on Thursday.
I know from my work for the government and with other organisations in the city that reflecting Bristol’s past in the ‘here and now’ has been discussed over many years. After all that talking, Bristol has demonstrated that actions will speak louder than words.
Continue reading “Bristol shows actions speak louder than words”