This Christmas was a good moment to reflect on what happened in 2017 and make plans for the year ahead.
Unusually for us, we haven’t travelled beyond Bristol this Christmas. Spending the festive break in Somerset provided an opportunity to really think about these things, as well as spend time with family and friends.
The last 12 months have been a hell of a time for me; memorable, challenging and exciting. It was a bit stop-start, with the snap general election disrupting projects whilst providing a new level of uncertainty for a government already absorbed by Brexit. Anyone remember ‘strong and stable’? It didn’t go well when the PM visited the South West and was a new low point for drab, one-way political campaigning in this country. It all feels like a different era now.
My blog on jargon in UK housing generated a great response and was my most popular post of last year.
I’ve not had time until recently to follow through on my promise to turn the feedback into an online resource. Today’s Twitter discussions about the importance of having a shared narrative and housing ‘owning our future’ (or #OOF) makes this a timely post.
I'm at #NHFcomms16 this morning. If we are to own our future, comms professionals are vital. It starts today
“The profession is polarising between those practitioners that are cracking on and using new forms of media to engage publics in two-way dialogue and those that continue to spam journalists with press releases.
“The former have a great future in the business. The latter will be out of job within a generation.”
This was an important and challenging conversation about housing and transport for the area’s four local authorities. Where 85,000 new homes should go and how transport should work are complex and thorny issues, with many differing and competing opinions. The last three months have seen the councils engage in genuine and thought-provoking exchanges. I hope it demonstrates the good practice Steven Waddington refers to in his quote above.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.