Royal reflections show doing what’s right beats doing what looks right

People gather at the funeral procession at the roadside with soldiers at either side of the Queen's coffin

Events of the past week provided an opportunity for collective reflection, whatever your views on the monarchy.

I felt unexpectedly emotional and uncertain about the Queen’s passing. There is some personal context. I turned 47 on Sunday and have come through a tough couple of years. The last thing we needed was more uncertainty. But despite the madness happening around us, I start the week feeling optimistic about the future.

I’ve been saddened and moved, without approaching anything near full on ‘mourning’. It was strange stepping away from blanket media coverage and online discourse about a ‘nation in grief’ to see people having coffees, travelling to meetings and getting on with their lives.

Good comms, bad comms

I’ve supported clients’ communications whilst looking on in bemusement as some brands showed ‘respect’ in weird ways that caused a stink. On Twitter, @GrieveWatch provided some light relief by sharing the dafter examples of ‘respect’.

Many comms people (once again) provided sound advice during the mourning period. They helped organisations strike the right balance between respecting those affected by the Queen’s death whilst recognising that many will not be. They advised against anything too promotional and put events and campaigns on hold. And, yes, if they had been in the room at the time, they would have said that kicking paying customers off site for a day isn’t ‘respectful’.  

As the Queen’s funeral approached, the gap between what I’m seeing and the media narrative has narrowed. After years of backbiting and division, here we are feeling and speaking as one, right? Or, at least, we’re giving people space to express their views without trashing them for it.

I take heart from how so many people joined this conversation. They used words like ‘dignified’, ‘duty’ and ‘constant’ repeatedly. Many saying this did not know the Queen. This highlights the strength of a narrative supported by an enduring truth.

It also points to something we seem to have lost. And it all stands in stark contrast to how we see today’s political and business leaders.  

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Why the public shouldn’t hate ‘comms’: an open letter to Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris wrote on Saturday that people ‘hate comms’ for its slickness and vacuuity. This is my response to his comment.

Dear Matthew,

I enjoy your writing about politics, and the Conservative party you represented in Parliament during less febrile times.

Your analysis about the lack of new ideas in British politics today strikes a chord with me. I also share your despair at how this is playing out in the turgid Tory leadership contest.

You were right to warn on Saturday that the party is heading towards the abyss as things stand.

I was also struck by your comment about the comms profession’s supposed role in the campaigns, when saying:

“[Rishi Sunak] has fallen prey to the vultures of what we now call “comms” — professional communications advisers. A breed with a blind spot when it comes to the one truth about comms that matters: that the 21st-century British public hate comms, spot it a mile off, and walk away.”

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Distinctive future for stand-out comms team

Green leaf stands out in a load of brown leaves

After nearly five great years at Social, I’ve just completed my first full week as owner of a new comms consultancy.

Social’s former South West business is now Distinctive Communications. A plucky, collaborative talented team of six who I’m proud to call colleagues is joining me on the journey.

This follows an agreement between Social and myself to sell its South West business to Distinctive. It offers a rare combination of continuity, credibility and the excitement of starting afresh. Although it’s a huge decision personally, I think it’s a massive opportunity for all colleagues involved.

The Distinctive team, at the Engine Shed in Bristol
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No logo. Why giving creative time away won’t work

No

Heated responses to the West of England Combined Authority’s call for ideas for its London Underground-style regional transport brand were timely for me.

They came as I set out priorities for the year ahead. Who do we want to work with? How can we build on last year’s success? What can we stop spending time on to focus more on what we need to do?

Then WECA’s call to residents to submit brand ideas for the region’s public transport network drew a sharp response. It also highlighted issues that comms professionals grapple with every day.

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My three most read blogs of 2021

Three

My recent blog-writing efforts reflect my tired plod towards the end the year. I’ve been busier than ever in 2021 and have not written and published a full blog on this website for a couple of months. I’ve started a few, but not finished them all. Others were overtaken by events. But those I have written have performed better than they did last year.

It’s a fitting metaphor for a stop-start year: grinding, but ultimately good.

Despite the grind, there’s much to take pride from what we achieved this year. We continued to grow as a team and returned to an office in Bristol (briefly). We were delighted to see our client Gravity’s Local Development Order adopted by Sedgemoor District Council after supporting them for more than a year. And I was honoured to collect our first award, when we were named consultant of the year in South West Business Insider’s Residential Property Awards.

With all that’s happened, I’m glad to have found time to blog about anything. It’s an added bonus that people took time to read them. Massive thanks if you were one of those people.

Here are the three posts that had the most views in 2021.

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#PlaceIndex webinar catch up: engaging communities after the pandemic

Industry leaders discussed our inaugural Place Index report at a webinar organised by Social colleagues today (14 May 2021).

It was an enjoyable and fascinating discussion chaired by political journalist Geri Scott, which covered key issues raised in our recently published report. I was on the panel discussing topics including ‘levelling up’, engaging young people about the future of their areas and building trust in the development process.

My heartfelt thanks go to colleagues for organising the session and for working on the report over recent months. It’s been seen by loads of people, been well picked up in the media and was great to work on. I hope those reading it find it useful.

Thanks also to TCPA’s Fiona Howie, MOBIE’s Mark Southgate and Ahead Partnership’s Stephanie Burras CBE for joining the panel today. We had some great feedback and want to do something like this again soon. If you attended and asked questions, thank you too. I hope to see you in person at a future event before too long.

You can catch up on the webinar below. It lasts for about an hour.

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