Ben Lowndes #viewsoncomms

A perspective on PR, development and life in the South West

Category Archives: Public relations

If where you live matters, join the #WEbuildourfuture conversation

WEbuildourfuture images

(Created by JBP)

A big conversation is happening around Bristol that could shape local housing and transport for decades to come.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with colleagues to get ready for a major consultation which could map where thousands of new homes are built across the West of England over the next 20 years.

The phrase ‘West of England Joint Spatial Plan and Transport Study‘ won’t set pulses racing. But the issues it covers should interest anyone who has views about where they live, how they get to work or school or whether they will be able to keep a roof over the heads in future.

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PR lessons for English football after FIFA debacle

You don’t need to be a football fanatic (or a PR person) to see that the sport’s global governing body has been in the eye of a storm of late.

FIFA and its beleaguered President Sepp Blatter has adorned newspapers’ front and back pages, led the news bulletins and been the subject of an outpouring of online posts that have lasted for weeks.

In the UK and across Europe, the headlines have been overwhelmingly bad. Leading voices have wasted no time in putting the boot in after Blatter eventually announced his resignation in the face of mounting and sustained pressure.

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New era, same principles for engagement

I gave this presentation at JBP’s Bristol office on Monday night about how digital can be used to support engagement activity. The event was attended by professionals who work in planning, development and legal practice.

I was delighted that comms manager from East Devon Drew Aspinwall joined me to talk about activity that has taken place to support the development of the new community at Cranbrook. Listening to the conversation afterwards reinforced my view that Cranbook is out on its own in terms of the pace and scale of delivery and level of support it has locally. Partners can be proud of the community they’re helping to create.

My slides were put together using Haikudeck, which is great for clear and engaging content slides and easy to use if you know what you’re going to say. Like many tools, it seems to have its own quirky ways which can cause frustrations and I have struggled with sharing it and getting it to render properly in this blog which has added a couple of hours onto my day. I hope to get more up to speed with it soon!

My slides are below.

More detailed notes used with the slides can be found on Haikudeck.

The anti-social media election: digital can do much more for parties

“Fighting a word of mouth campaign and having conversations is absolutely what political parties should be doing. But they have to be genuine conversations which means ditching the antiquated simplistic messaging formulas. Slavishly repeating exactly the same phrase over and over again just turns people off and makes them tune out. You can continually repeat the idea behind the message, but only if you constantly adapt it to the circumstances and use your own words.”

Stuart Bruce blogging about election campaigns in January 2015

Labour's campaign poster on the NHS

Depressingly familiar: campaign scare tactics made noise but didn’t cut through

It’s taken me until now to write about the election.

After months of conversations about preparing for another hung parliament, or even a minority government and second election later this year, I was massively surprised by the result. I’m still in shock about the outcome and can’t begin to explain it; the Westminster crew will doubtless spend the next six months pouring over every detail in its search for answers.

One aspect of the election I can offer a view on relates to my experience of the campaign over the past few weeks. There wasn’t any direct contact with my family, even though we live in one of the most marginal seats in the South West – where former MP Tessa Munt won the seat of Wells in 2010 by around 800 votes. This was a race with just two horses, with a 1% swing to the Conservatives enough to unseat the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP.

Save for a few drab leaflets through our door, nobody came to our street to talk to us or our neighbours. It may not have made a difference to the result, such was the scale of Tessa’s defeat. But the quality of direct campaigning was a depressing feature of the election for me.

I’ve read lots recently about the extent to which this was the ‘social media election’, with digital campaigning techniques spawning a ‘new era’ of engagement and parties reaching out to people. It was claimed that whoever won the social media campaign would win the keys to Number 10, which has been put into context by Stephen Waddington this week. I’d go further than those who’ve said the social media campaigning has been depressing and one-dimensional. While there was much to enjoy and fascinate, the main party campaigns were largely anti-social and a turn off.

A bit harsh? Read Stuart’s blog piece from January about why campaigning has to change and ask whether it really did.

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#ukhousing jargon: what we can do about habitual horrors

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”

Richard Branson on why we should ditch jargon

Nonsense I have an issue with jargon, and it’s not because I’m a pedant…

At its worst, it alienates those who we’re trying to reach and highlights a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.

It also makes no business sense, because it wastes the time of the person who is giving and receiving the information. Those are strong reasons to stop the ‘cut and paste’ approach that litters business correspondence and get back to basics.

Whilst the world of housing (particularly the bit in which I work) isn’t alone in having its own ‘special’ phrases, it’s clear that we have a problem when it comes to clearly explaining what we do. Ask anyone who joins the sector from another industry (as I did once). They’ll probably tell you much of their first few months were spent wondering what people are talking about in meetings and struggling to decipher emails.

If people who work with us feel like that, what does a small business or resident think when trying to find out about something like a new development in their community, for example?

There may be a case for using jargon sometimes; if the audience understands it, using specialist terms can be an efficient way to make a point. But context matters and dumping technical information into a note intended for someone who isn’t an expert bugs those who are on the receiving end.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms (another post for another day)! Our language is littered with them, ranging from the reasonable (HCA, DCLG) to the odd (LA for council) and plain daft (GCN? Great crested newts, or just newts!).

Sure, comms people with their ROIs, metrics, SOVs and other clever words have their own idiosyncrasies. But this should concern anyone who cares about whether people ‘get’ what we do. Read more of this post

#StateOfPR: how I’m doing something about it

As tweets go, the responses to my lament that the headlines from the CIPR’s latest research into the profession are depressing were at opposite ends of the scale.

The first one, from Love Bot!

Then former CIPR president Stephen Waddington, whose blog on the ’10 areas of pain’ identified in the research I was responding to.

A bit more robust, although he is pushing the industry to raise its game. It also had the ring of a demanding client or stressed out line manager (of which there are many, if the research is correct). Stephen’s blog post and the headlines in this infographic mirrored my view view that the industry needs to do more to raise standards and improve its reputation. But his challenge got me thinking: where do I – a mere manager in a small public sector comms team – sit within this snapshot? And what am I doing about it?

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How we helped tell a housing success story

“I’m delighted with the new development that’s being built in xxx. It’s a huge success story which local people and partners can be proud of.”

How many times have you read – or written if you’re a comms person – something like that and really taken it in? Like ‘transformation’ or ‘ground-breaking’, such words can be used so often that they start to mean very little.*

Then there are projects like Cranbrook in Devon, where slogans don’t do justice to what’s happening on the ground. Based on the fringes of Exeter, when complete it will include around 6,000 homes, schools, a town centre and a host of other amenities and jobs.

After more than 20 years in gestation, building work started in 2011, and now more than 800 homes are lived in and the primary school which opened in 2012 has more than 300 kids. That this has happened in the face of the downturn is remarkable, and every time I visit I’m amazed at the progress being made.

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Why we’re deserting supermarkets – and saving money

Tesco over-egging its profits by £250m (yes, that’s a quarter of a billion quid) is a big overstatement and led to statements of shock across the media this week.

Twice the price; 5kg of spuds for £3.50

Tesco price: 5kg of spuds for £3.50

Explanations for its ‘fall from grace’ centre on issues ranging from being caught in a sector-wide pincer movement between Aldi and Lidl and Waitrose, to a rise in internet shopping hitting its out-of-town megastores and the sense that shoppers have simply fallen out of love with Britain’s biggest retailer. It’s still making hundreds of millions in profit each year. But the CEO Dave Lewis probably can’t afford too many hits like this, even though his response to the outbreak of the crisis was swift and impressive.

I’ve worked as a comms person for Tesco, supporting local consultations designed to inform its planning applications for new stores. I was struck by the dedication and drive of those connected with the business; everyone bought into the vision. We’ve shopped there for years and been devotees of its Clubcard loyalty scheme, which we’ve used to ‘reward’ ourselves with meals at Pizza Express and trips to Longleat.

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Purdah principles for modern comms

It’s that time of year when public sector comms practitioners must carefully consider all activity to ensure that they are not seen to compromise their neutrality or favour any political group as the local and European elections approach.

This will be the last ‘purdah’ period before the Scottish referendum in September and next year’s general election, when we can rightly expect to see stringent guidelines which will affect promotional activity, speaking engagements, events, political visits and, in some cases, even business decisions.

I’ve blogged about purdah before and have become used to managing communications around this time. The guidelines are looked at in time for every election and I was interested to read this blog post from former local government comms pro Dan Slee who provides some pointers around social media. Should give food for thought for those who manage Twitter, Facebook and other accounts, to go with the official guidance that is issued.

Media say old habits remain with ‘new’ PR

It’s beyond doubt that PR has changed massively, and continues to do so, thanks to the opportunities created by digital communications and the diversification of traditional media.

CIPR president-elect Stephen Waddington asked a room full of comms people at the South West Communicators’ Conference in Bristol recently how many had bought a newspaper that morning, and only one confirmed that they had. It’s possible that some people in the room were too busy on their tablets or smart phones to realise he was asking them a question. But he had made the key point; that the media is changing rapidly and communicators must respond to this. Many operators in the South West are rising to this challenge with some great work, as Bristol agency Spirit demonstrated with its support for the Gromit Unleashed campaign in the city.

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