My three most read blogs of 2020

Three balloons

Well, that was a year, wasn’t it!? Although I won’t be sorry to see the end of 2020, it’s brought what’s important into sharper focus.

COVID was immensely challenging, and continues to be. Brexit is distressing, but I have come to terms with it and hope we can start to move on from the sniping. Plate-spinning was relentless and exhausting. I’ve missed people. I can’t wait to see family, friends, colleagues and clients again. And I feel encouraged by a growing willingness to rethink how we live, work, travel and consume stuff.

I’ve written more regularly on this blog and for other titles in 2020, after a couple of years when I wrote very little. Along with daily exercise and music, it’s kept me clear headed and in reasonably good spirits. I will hold onto those habits in 2021.

I’m pleased by the level of engagement in the blogs and am grateful to everyone who’s taken the time to read them this year. I hope you’ve found them useful if you have. Below are the three most read posts from the last year. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read, share or comment on these and other posts. It means a lot.

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Five ways public relations can make places happen

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably interested in places and place-making. Maybe you work for a government body, housebuilder or housing provider. You could be involved in new development, regeneration or infrastructure.

This work often sits in the context of ‘delivery’ or hitting targets and numbers. While important in itself, it often misses the bigger picture around why this work matters. It matters because it makes great places happen. Done well, this transforms areas and improves people’s lives.

Throughout the disruption caused by COVID-19, good, agile communication is helping to make places happen across the country. Every project is different, and there’s no template to fit its needs. But here are five things we advocate through our work to make places happen that keep our clients moving forward at this challenging time.

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How to tell your story better: ask ‘why?’

If you work in comms, you’ll know that explaining your job to other people is challenging at times. This isn’t the same as explaining what you do, which can also be hard. *

Explaining the work of the organisation you represent is also tough, not least because it’s not just about you. It takes time navigating different perspectives. It requires understanding of the organisation and its key audiences. The explanation must be clear, memorable and relevant.

And (deep breath) it needs approving before it sees the light of day.

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Why engagement needs to change

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.

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Cities need more than a ‘back to work’ campaign

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.

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Toppling Colston’s statue could be an iconic moment for Bristol

This article was published in PR Week on 9 June. Thanks to them for giving me the opportunity to provide some thoughts from the perspective of a Bristol-based business.

Recent anti-racism protests across the world illustrate that, while language matters, action changes things.

Sunday’s dramatic events in Bristol, where debates about 17th century slave trader and former MP Edward Colston have simmered for many years, are a case in point.

Discussions about how a man with shared responsibility for transporting tens of thousands of Africans to British colonies is reflected in Bristol’s history were swept aside by protesters. It highlighted a sense that the time for talking (and getting nowhere) is over. In reality, as the debate goes global, the local conversation may be about to get going again.

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