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?’

Telling the story of our work to make places happen

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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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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Why social value must be at the heart of our places

Promoting the ‘value’ of development has been a standard approach for major projects for many years.

Statistics about investment, jobs and training opportunities are often used to generate headlines and online buzz.

After supporting projects for more than 15 years, I’ve seen how this can influence opinions towards a project when presented well. When set out using technical terms like ‘Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita’, it misses the mark, however.

But I’m getting the sense that its impact is on the wane, in the face of rising scepticism and changing views around what ‘value’ means.

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The South West somehow needs to find its voice – and fast

Castle Bridge at Finzels Reach in Bristol.

It’s almost 10 years since I moved from Manchester to start a new life in the South West with my family.

I’ve spent time all over the region since 2010, working in every county. I love its culture, quality of life and the opportunities it has offered us.

The South West is an area of contrasts. It’s largely rural, with successful and sought-after cities like Exeter, Bath and Bristol. These cities are brilliant places to live and work, if you have the skills and experience to find employment there – and can afford somewhere to live.

Somerset, where I live, highlights the region’s contrasts. Many people know the county for Glastonbury festival and Europe’s largest construction project at Hinkley Point C, which is worth £50bn to the region over the coming decades. These are very different things, which together make Somerset an attractive destination for many.

There’s shed loads happening here, and we’re proud to play a part in some of this at Social since we set up in the South West. We’ve supported major developments in Bristol and Gloucester. And we helped the region’s nuclear industry raise its national and international profile.

It’s difficult to know if things would be better for us if we lived elsewhere. But, of all the places I’ve lived and worked, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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