TRACKER SURVEY: Would you spare two minutes?

Hey public sector comms people how are you feeling?

Back in June 2020 I asked the question by running a survey and blogged the results here.

Three months later I repeated the exercise and blogged the results here.

Now we’re in January I’m keen to repeat the exercise with the latest version of the tracker survey.

If you are fire, police, local government or central government would you take two minutes to let me know how you are faring?

The survey link you’ll need is right here.

As an extra incentive, there’s a box of Gower Cottage chocolate brownies on offer in a prize draw.

Thanks in advance.

SURVEY NUMBERS: As the pandemic drags on public sector comms mental health is suffering

If you’re working in public sector communications seven months into the COVID-19 outbreak your mental health is suffering, a survey shows.

Almost seven in ten of government, fire, police, NHS and local government communicators say their mental health is worse now than before the pandemic struck.

The data from a survey of almost 300 communicators carried out in October and November 2020 show the long term effects of working under pressure is starting to tell.

However, almost eight out of 10 reported that they still feel as though they are working for the common good – an increase of three per cent compared to June 2020.

In truth, the results are alarming.

But the hidden downsides to the work are increasing. Feeling isolated are 47 per cent of respondants – up from 34 per cent in June.

In addition, 53 per cent said their physical health was worse compared to before the pandemic.

Feedback given anonymously in the survey is also disturbing.

“I do find that I feel anxious about work. I feel stressed constantly looking at everything as a task and feeling failure if not done quickly.”

“My line manager hardly checks in to see if I am ok, the workload has increased and I can’t see an end to it currently.”

“COVID has been my introduction to anxiety. And its getting worse as the months go on, and the professional pressure keeps rising.”

fig 1. How is your mental health compared to working before the pandemic?

Positives remain

However, data collected in October and November do point to a communicators believing in what they were doing. There has been a three per cent increase to 77 per cent of people who feel they are working for the common good.

In addition, 45 per cent of communicators felt as though they were working as part of a team.

So, what does this mean?

When I first surveyed public sector communicators in June it was as a one-off but this has now developed into a tracker survey to plot the progress as the panedmic goes on.

In truth, the results are alarming.

On the surface, people often get through their day and their tasks but this is coming at a price.

I’m no expert, but if you are feeling stressed then ask for help.

If you are a manager, a head of communications or a director of communications this needs to be something you look at. Your staff believe in what they are doing but they are suffering.

If you’re public sector do me a favour. The NHS has a good web page with resources here. Take a look and do something. You are not alone. The survey shows this and the chances are there are people in your team feeling the same.

You could also contact Samaritanscall: 116 123 or email: jo@samaritans.org if you need someone to talk to.

If you are public sector and want to take part in the January iteration of the survey click here.

TRAINING UPDATE: Quickety quick, two more online start dates are up

Hey, pop-pickers.

It struck me this morning that I haven’t blogged about the online training I’m doing for a while so here’s a heads-up of some new dates I’ve posted.

The ESSENTIAL COMMS SKILLS BOOSTER is five different blocks each of an hour in length delivered online so they fit more easily into busy days. It’s designed to be a crash course in the things you’ll need to get to grips with 2021.

The five elements

MEDIA LANDSCAPE AND COMMS PLANNING. The landscape is changing and its useful to know how people are consuming content. What worked last year may not mean it works this year. You may not know that WhatsApp is now the third largest channel in the UK.

CREATING CONTENT AND UNDERSTANDING THE ALGORITHM. It’s fine to create content but what if it goes against the algorithm? It won’t reach as many people. You may not know that adding a link to Twitter is penalised.

UNDERSTANDING NEW CHANNELS. We’ll look at TikTok, WhatsApp and Nextdoor. You may not know that that there are 12 million TikTok users in the UK.

WORKING WITH FACEBOOK GROUPS. Facebook is the second largest channel in the UK. Two thirds of users use groups. So how best to connect? You may not know that you can join a group as a page but its always down to the admin whether they let you in or not.

HOW TO HANDLE COMMENT, CRITICISM AND ABUSE. The theory is fine. But what happens when people shout? Relax, there’s a flowchart I’ll take you through. You may not know that a set of house rules that govern your social channels make taking action far easier.

So far I’ve posted 11 sessions. There’s two more on the website.

programme #11 starting 4.3.21

programme #12 starting 10.2.21

Shout if you want to chat about running the session in-house.

More will follow.

Shout if you’re interested.

GUEST POST: How and why the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ public health campaign was created

It’s always good to hear the story behind amazing campaigns. As public health fight tooth and nail to get their message across the more direct route was adopted by Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. SHAUN GIBBONS communications manager of South Holland District Council explains how it emerged.

Hello, how are you?
Let’s be honest: framing a public health messaging campaign around calling someone out for acting a dick comes with a fair amount of risk. Calculated risk… but risk, nevertheless.

In these heightened, sensitive ‘age of panic’ times the ability for people to find offence in anything that they’ve seen or read online is a headache for anyone working in communications.

This becomes even more relevant when communicators are searching for new ways to say the same thing. Just how many ways are there to say, “Stay at home”, “Wash your hands”? (It must be noted here that UK Government really need to develop the “how” and “when” messaging and consider employing more of the “why” …something they’ve been criticised for in the past).

It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals

who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


So why the dick?

Cutting through the social media noise and the ‘vanilla’ messaging (a colleague’s phrase, not mine) was Dick’s primary objective. And with nearly half a million views in the first few days of the campaign, this spiky little individual did just that.

Remember the why? Well, we wanted to root this campaign in a particular (give it some bollocks, you might say). Dick represents, according to a UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team survey, 8 per cent of people who are thought to be responsible for 60 per cent of the total transmission risk.

Put bluntly, Dick is a dick and his actions – and the inherent risks to everyone associated with him – need to be called out. And I believe that was done with a fair dose of humour which seemed to be appreciated by the vast majority who’ve shared and commenting on the campaign’s first
introductory post. Some are suggesting Channel 4’s The Last Leg parodied the campaign on its show last night.


Will this campaign change Dick’s behaviours?

Maybe, maybe not. Is Dick aware that his actions have consequences? Almost certainly. But does Dick know to what extent? I don’t think so, no. And if this campaign does nothing else it highlights the butterfly effect that even the smallest of behaviours can have a large affect.
But that’s enough about Dick.

What about Tom and Harriet?

These two heart-warming individuals represent those who continue to play their part in keeping the virus under control. These two need a voice and need to be championed for the sacrifices they’ve made. These are the majority who quietly go about their lives making a positive contribution to their communities. We need to hear more about the Tom and Harriet’s of this world. (Again, it’s worth noting that behavioural messaging lands much better when they are framed in a more positive sense rather than negative. Again, something the UK Government has been criticised for).

How did you manage to get this signed off?

Working in a multi-agency organisation with a number of instinctively command and control structures is often difficult and demanding, I won’t lie. As is the political dimension. But there’s three reasons why this campaign got off the ground.


Number 1: having a flexible communications strategy that said to partners: “Hey, if you don’t want to share our content, then that’s cool. We’re down with that. We understand you have your parameters and own audiences to consider. It’s all gravy.” All good content will stand on its own two feet.

Number 2: Gaining the trust of your team and those around you and being able to influence those you need to quickly, quietly and efficiently was key. I work with a fantastic group of individuals who know I’ve got their back and I know they’ve got mine. So, if you’re going to tiptoe around a minefield be sure-footed and know where the bombs are buried.

Number 3: Trust your own instincts and hold the line. As I said earlier, it was a calculated risk. But my instincts told me there was a very good chance this would land well with the audience it was intended for. Yes, of course there was pressure for me to take it down and stop the campaign – and I respect those individuals and the organisations they represent who asked for that to happen. But I kept telling colleagues hold the line and it worked out.

So what’s next?

Let’s face it: this campaign won’t appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry…the curtain twitchers from number 7 down the road probably WILL find it either offensive or downmarket. But this campaign isn’t aimed at those. It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals
who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.


Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager at South Holland District Council.

COVID COMMS #34: ‘We need dramatic stories of compliance.’

Right now we are in the eye of the storm of the pandemic and we are running through the tools we have available to us.

Government messaging has become blunted over time.

I’ve blogged about the need for local messages with a local accent and the need for tough local stories to cut through.

Language needs looking at, too.

The situation is not ‘challenging’. A Rubik’s Cube is challenging. It is 70,000 dead and that, my friends, needs more direct language.

I was listening to BBC Radio 4 when Professor Stephen Reacher, of the University of St Andrews’ school of Psychology and Neuroscience was interviewed.

We are communicating this all wrong, he said.

If you tell people ‘everyone is doing this, stop it’ what you communicate is ‘everyone is doing it.’

In a British Medical Journal blog he advances the research that most people are sticking to the rules. He goes onto say that reporting individual acts of minor transgressions just builds a picture where EVERYONE is playing fast and loose with the rules.

Aside from being inaccurate, he said, it has the dangerous affect of normalising not sticking to the rules and it allows people to decide to more easily break them.

In short, no-one else is doing it, why should I?

On BBC Radio 4 Today he explained his position further:

A lot of time we see headlines about people breaking the rules and we see politicians saying to people: ‘Look, it’s up to you. You’ve got to obey the rules.’ Of course, everyone does need to obey the rules. We’ve all got to take responsibility for it but it’s not there that the problem lies.

“If you look at all the evidence it shows by and large most people are to a very high degree obeying the rules. It’s about 80 or 90 per cent and that’s stayed pretty constant throught the pandemic.

“The problem is we imply the public is the weak link when the evidence shows we’re not. The reason why it is counter-productive is two fold. Firstly, if you tell people ‘everyone is doing this, stop it’ what you communicate is ‘everyone is doing it.’ You set a ‘negative norm’ and people think ‘everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?’

“The second thing is, if we are going to get through this pandemic it’s got to be as a partnership between the Government and the public. Government have got to support the public and the public has got to go along with what the Government asks of them. If you blame people you break that partnership Government starts to be seen as ‘them’ and their influence starts to drop.”

Professor Reicher added that reporting focusses on the abnormal not the normal wshen what we needed are ‘dramatic stories of compliance’.

The next day the Today programme featured some of those stories.

A couple who have taken to playing Scrabble via Zoom, for example.

Or Richard from Lincolnshire. He spoke of the funeral for his wife Sheila who passed away during lockdown of a non-COVID issue. There was no Wake and no thanking the 30 who attended.

Petra spoke of her Christmas plans being changed and the service station was full of people exchanging large bags of presents at a safe distance.

It makes me think of the deep well of stories that are out there and how it would be good to see them played out.

COVID COMMS #33: Direct content is punching through the COVID-19 fatigue

A few days ago I blogged about the need for direct communications to cut through to people.

I’m so pleased to see that others independently had reached the same conclusions.

Why this change of tack?

Because people have grown tired and the messages of last March have blunted with new ones needed.

Reasons to be cheerful

There are things to be encouraged by.

Trust in local institutions remains and there are lots of trust in local voices.

Besides, perhaps surprisingly, the number of people sticking to the rules hasn’t dropped that much. Ask the BMJ who have blogged the results of surveys that show this and also highlight the danger in the circulating the perception this isn’t true.

This means that the right messages can still land if they are refined.

In this stage of the pandemic, the message has become urgently more direct, hard hitting and human.

For me, this also confirms the ages-old truism that news is people. Or to rephrase it, people connect with people. The old lessons I learned in a newsroom as a junior reporter are still relevant.

The human story of the COVID-19 victim

This post from Telford &Wrekin Council punches you between the eyes. It is a real person, a resident of Telford, called Sharn telling her story in her own words in a post shared with pictures.

You see her healthy at Christmas and you see also the images of her deteriorating.

I was admitted last Sunday and Tuesday I thought I was leaving in a box as I couldn’t breathe unattended!! I have never been so scared and alone in my life thinking you are never going to see your children again is torture.Fortunately I’m getting stronger everyday so will be home soon. Sadly not everyone is as fortunate so many bodies leaving this hospital it’s awful… TAKE THIS VIRUS SERIOUSLY GUYS

Sharn, aged 34, Telford, January 2021.

In 20 hours the post has been shared 2,400 times and there have been 1,100 comments. Scrolling through them they look almost entirely positive with messages to Sharn wishing her a speedy recovery.

Sharn gave her permission for her story to be featured.

This is the kind of content that has cut through. Telford & Wrekin Council’s Kellie Thompson who is responsible for the content deserves enormous credit.

The human story of the workers at the temporary morgue

But it’s not just content for Facebook.

All age groups use traditional media the most to find out COVID-19 information, Ofcom say. Surprisingly, eight out of 10 16 to 24-year-olds turn to these channels for their pandemic updates.

In this BBC content, Surrey County Council worked with traditional media to feature the new temporary morgue built in woodland as an overflow as the morgues in the county’s hospitals are full.

In the footage, we see the construction, the empty racks for the dead bodies and interviews with staff who work there. The BBC in this clip are at pains not to film the bodies out of respect for the families of the dead.

The Local Resilience Forum spokesman sets out the big picture and Kirsty the re-deployed Surrey police detective talks about the numbers increasing not decreasing.

Credit to Andrea Newman’s team at Surrey County Council for this.

You can watch the clip on the BBC website here.

The human response in the Facebook post

Also in Surrey, Surrey Heath Borough Council are also in the eye of the storm with rising infection and death rates. Like many other public sector organisations they’ve been posting the official messages but have been facing the rising tide of abuse, frustration and conspiracy theories.

Credit to Joanne Atkinson and the team for using a very human approach. In the post they dispense with the well worn government graphics and throw their hands in the air. We get it, they say. We’re all fed-up. So are we. But because the rates are so high we have to keep playing our parts.

The response is positive. In 20-hours, there’s been 98 shares, 15 positive comments and 168 positive reactions. This is a good response.

Conclusion

These are three examples of content that capture the current direction of travel. I’m sure there are many more.

Directness can work.

The more direct and human appears to be cutting through to people online. It is, of course, a different matter as to whether or not these messages convert into action.

I’m so impressed at the work of public sector people right now. That needs to be repeated as sometimes those at the coalface don’t always see the bigger picture. If that’s you, thank you for what you are doing.

COVID COMMS #32: Icarus is falling but how do we warn people?

XIR3675 Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, c.1555 (oil on canvas) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69); 73.5×112 cm; Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium; (add.info.: Icarus seen with his legs thrashing in the sea;); Giraudon; Flemish, out of copyright

There is an oil painting I heard about shortly after 9/11 that is so perfect looking back I think I may have imagined it.

It was a landscape by 16th century Flemish artist Peter Breugel be Oude. A farmworker absorbed is stooped over his plough, a shepherd daydreams, a fisherman is wrapped in his work and sailors busy themselves with tasks.

In the mid-distance if you squint and unnoticed you’ll see a tumbling body fall into the sea.

That’s Icarus falling to earth after flying too close to the sun.

I heard of this painting not long after 9/11 to make the point that as big events happen we miss them because our lives are taken-up by detail.

Right now, we are at one of those moments. On January 8 2021, it was announced that London hospitals are within weeks of breaking point at the out-of-control wave of COVID-19 patients. Please act, the report said. Wash your hands. Stay at home.

Our NHS is about to shatter.

We are the ploughman in this scene and our grand children will ask what the heck we were doing.

We’ll tell them that we were tired of lockdowns, we were meeting friends, we were going to the supermarket and we were watching TV. Some of us were laughing at it all, saying it was not true and some journalists were too busy to take down the drip of misinformation that would kill some of us.

It’s not the job of communications people to wake people up it’s ALL our responsibility to wake up and warn our friends and family of the impending disaster.

As I was watching BBC ‘s Newsnight I was struck by the experts interviewed. The first was a man who has dedicated his life to his field and was clearly troubled at what he was seeing. His use of language was deliciously British. There is a thousand deaths a day, he said, and we can’t do that.

The second interviewee, a consultant, said that things are tremendously stretched. It’s language I recognise from the public sector. Things are challenging. It’s a worry, he said. Language always masks the reality. A thousand deaths a day isn’t a challenge, it’s 10 Hillsborough disasters stacked on top of each other stretching out into the future.

But the consultant is a prisoner of the language that he uses. It got me thinking that this language isn’t getting through.

It made me think of the Italian Mayors in the early stages of the pandemic. Footage of them going spare at people went viral.

Where are you going with these incontinent dogs? You need to stay at home. People are dying. Don’t you get it? Do you want us all to get ill? You are irresponsible idiots, colossal idiots.

– Massimillio Presciutti, Mayor of Gualdo Tadino, near Rome, March, 2020.

I hear that students are graduating and they want to have a party. We’ll send armed police and they’ll go along with flamethrowers.

– Regione Campagna, March 2020.

Now, releasing the Mayors to batter the crap out of people is one thing but it did make me think about use of language and of the content that we allow.

There was a debate this week online about access to intensive care units for journalists who are covering the story. There was frustration at the restricted access. There was counter-frustration from NHS comms people that access had been granted, that it was time consuming and anyway family are not allowed in so why should journalists? Besides, footage of dying people without their consent is deeply unethical.

I get both perspectives and I recognise the hours put in by hacks and communications people. They are now tired. Doctors are nurses are tired of shouting into the void only to be told by some that this is a fraud.

It made me think that maybe the only thing that can cut through now is dying patients, the voices of their families and the weary staff who are treating them.

Recent blogging has shown that the national message has blunted but local messages with local voices cut through.

Icarus is falling.

What tools do we have left to tell people?

And what will we tell our grandchildren?

Pic credit: Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

DC RIOT: The really striking thing is that the rioters were creating content for social media. It’s where the power lay

Like many people I watched the scenes in Washington DC with a sense of shock.

A crowd pumped-up by President Donald Trump marched on the Capitol building – the US equivalent of the Palace of Westminster – broke their way in and forced the suspenion of the election of President Joe Biden.

To someone who grew up on American soft power the occasion was jaw-dropping. There was a sense of 9/11 about it. Stuff was happening that shouldn’t be happening.

I’m in no place to comment on US politics but I’ve found myself hoovering it up in the last six months. This is partly because the character of who is the Leader of the Free World has a bearing on British politics. Partly, this is because politics is a petri dish for experimental comms and partly pure escapism from the truly depressing state of British politics in 2021.

I wasn’t going to blog about the episode but this tweet caught my eye for its simple truth:

Real power lies in the content you create and the protestors got that instinctively.

In 1812, when the British Army sacked Washington had there been Instagram there would have been Red Coats LOL-ing in the Oval office too.

I’m not sure why that tweet has landed but it has.

In 2016, the Turkish military staged a failed coup by rolling tanks up to the airport and TV station. President Erdogan defeated it because he was still in possession of his iphone and Facetimed his country to demand his supporters take to the streets. They did.

There is truly a different rule book in the 21st century.

MEMBER SKILLS: Training elected members on using social media

Dad used to work in local government ‘it would be such an easy job,’ he used to say, ‘if it wasn’t for the public and councillors.’

In my own time working for a council I kind of got what he meant.

In time I grew to realise that the elected member who was able to listen and tell people what they were doing were the ones that made the most difference.

This brings me to social media and the elected member.

I drew-up the LGA social media guidance for elected members for England and did the same for the Improvement Service in Scotland.

I’ve spoken to dozens of elected members to understand what makes them tick and surveyed many more and I’ve trained lots.

There are good ones and not so good ones and that’s fine. When I first trained elected members in 2010, it was more about telling them what was coming down the line and sitting down with two or three of them to physically set them up.

Things have changed.

Ten things elected members need to remember

What goes online stays online

When you post something it tends to stick around. Even if you have second thoughts there’s every chance there’s been a screenshot taken. So count to 10 first.

Be yourself

People really warm to people who speak human, including elected members. So if you have a dog and enjoy taking her for a walk across the fields then tell people. You become human instead of a press release regurgitator.

Professional and council standards still apply online

There’s a myth that the internet is the Wild West where you can say just whatever you like. That’s just not true. Many councillors have found this out to their cost. It’s not uncommon to see complaints rise with social media the driver. Check your council’s standards are.

Defamation still applies online

Defamation laws have evolved in recent years to meet the changing landscape but the fundamentals stay the same. Publishing a false allegation is the same if you print it rather than post it online.

You can’t control the internet

Unless you are North Korea District Council but their control mechanisms wouldn’t go down well.

Sometimes people will say nasty things

People seem to be getting angrier and they want to influence the things they can control. So, bins not collected can lead to meltdown. Why? It’s easier to do that rather than complain about bigger things but yes, there are strategies for this.

Avoid being political

Truth: what that Minister said on Marr on a Sunday morning is of interest to very few people. If you’re a politico you may be engrossed. This will probably not be the talk of the public bar in the Bull & Bladder, Brierley Hill. But talk about local issues? Now you’re talking. Tackle those issues and that’s even better. Tackle them while talking about your dog occasionally too and you’re really cooking with gas.

Use the tech

A smartphone can do it.

Not after 9pm and not on a Friday night

There was a councillor I remember who had this rule who I spoke to for the LGA work. He didn’t tweet at these times because he’d noticed that people had had a skinful by then. Take a look yourself.

Social media is an addition

The delivery of leaflets in normal times will generate some response but it’s not a golden bullet and neither is social media. It’s one tool amongst many.

Do shout if you’d like to chat about helping you with training for elected members.

LONG READ: Predictions for 2021 for public sector communications and public relations

Every year at the post-Christmas point where I open the fridge door and wonder why the hell we bought so much cheese, something comes over me.

Fuelled by Shropshire Blue I set myself the challenge of writing predictions. I look back too at what predictions I got right.

After 2020, there’s a temptation to throw everything up in the air and take-up knitting.

But what the heck.

Predictions I got right for 2020

Well, I did say that ‘if the last 12-months have been turbulent the next year will be more so.’ To be honest, I was thinking more political Brexit-shaped turbulence rather than pandemic. Such simpler times.

Prompted by the pace of change in the landscape, I also said that teams that make a root-and-branch review every 12-months will prosper. COVID-19 has made things change faster. It has bulldozed IT departments, flattened chief executives and exposed the tardy. I stand by this.

Local newspapers and local radio have become more trusted. This happened. Traditional news brands was where 70 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds got their pandemic information. That rose to 94 per cent for over 65s. We trust traditional brands. We just don’t fancy paying for them.

Nationalism has grown. Britain, the country where I grew up has been changed by Westminster’s tack to what would have been called the extreme right when I was a kid. Three hundred years of peace on the island has put down firm roots which are being pulled apart. English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish nationalism have all risen.

Mental health washing has been endemic. We’ve all seen it. The email once a year that reminds you to take regular breaks cynically sent with one eye on an industrial tribunal. Utterly undone, of course, by demands of 14-hour days for nine months straight.

TikTok did become more important doubling in size to more than 12-million users. NHS comms was all about crisis comms. Facebook groups did grow with 66 per cent of the platform’s users using them. With groups and closed networks like WhatsApp, the need for pre-buttals is ever more important. Have we woken up to this? We’re starting to. But very, very slowly.

Predictions I got wrong in 2020

The need for more regulation of social media platforms was made clear by the pandemic. I reckoned there wouldn’t be much change. Late in 2020, UK Government gave its belated response to 2019’s Online Harms whitepaper. Change is likely to come. But lets see.

Brexit cast a long shadow. Kent became a lorry park. But overshadowed by the public health emergency it wasn’t as marked as I’d have thought. In the South East, late 2019 was pretty grim. But the last minute deal averted the disaster of no deal on the country.

Ethics were challenged less than I predicted. Britain has long had an independent civil service and a politically restricted group of local government communicators. As Brexit has been less of an issue than the pandemic, there has been less pressure.

Fire comms was less about crisis comms than I thought. Cracking voice search was a luxury of an issue to worry about and 5G’s roll out has been slower than expected.

No, I didn’t predict Black Lives Matter as an issue or the pandemic.

Predictions for 2021

In past years, the predictions were of channels changing and evolving.

That’s true of 2021.

But the real predictions here are about policy, politics and the pandemic.

It’s going to be a tough year.

There you go, there’s some low hanging fruit for you.

Here’s how…

For all the gloom I’m setting out, one shining positive is that they will play such an important role in settling the pandemic and bringing the UK back towards some kind of normality.

An avalanche of mental health problems

There is only so many unappreciated 14-hour days with the looming threat of redundancy a person can cheerfully take. That point has been reached for some and will be for more.

Managers, please manage.

Sorry to start the year on a downer.

Content creation: Disinformation and misinformation

Once upon a time, a snappy poster had the ability to change the country. In 2021, the ability to create sharable content that challenges dis and misinformation is the difference between success and failure.

WhatsApp: Disinformation and misinformation

Creating sharable content to challenge is one thing getting that in front of people is another. Getting people signed-up to your WhatsApp for Business and asking them to distribute on WhatsApp will be one key.

Facebook: Disinformation and misinformation

Knowing your Facebook group admin and creating an army of supporters to share and challenge content is vital.

Return to the office pushback

In 2020, we learned how to work from home overnight as our offices closed overnight. Don’t think that this is irreversible. Bean-counting chief executives and managers who think WFH is a duvet day haven’t gone away.

Locally made content with a local voice

Data suggested that the single national sharable message has an increasingly short shelf life. But the locally made message with a human voice and a local accent cuts through massively.

This will continue in 2021.

Deepfakes

Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message with a deep fake version of the Queen delivering the message pushed the issue overground. In 2021, they will become more common.

Being able to spot and call out deep fakes will be an important skill.

Artificial Intelligence

The knowledge gap within public sector comms over AI will start to close slowly. Its pace will be slower than is needed as journalism and web platforms will experiment and make the mistakes first.

Equality in PR will get worse and the right people won’t feel worse about it

CIPR data showed that there are fewer working class or ethnic minority people pursing careers in the profession. This will get worse when it should be getting better because we’re pre-occupied with the effects of the pandemic.

Excluded groups will get louder and make comms trickier

The economic headaches that will run through 2021 will see more division but the pandemic and economic impacts will drown them out.

Be brave on this one, people.

Whose fault is it? It’s the social media page admin’s fault

It’s the fault of Westminster, the rich, Bill Gates, the poor, the poor who have children, the South, the English, the Scottish, Yes voters, No voters, the Welsh, the Northern Irish, Cardiff, Stormont, teachers, police, civil servants, judiciary and gritter wagon drivers.

As we struggle to influence the big picture ourselves the smaller picture will be a channel for the public’s anger.

Much of this will end up on the lap of public sector comms people who look after social media.

Look after them more than anybody because they will be the ones who will fall over and get up insisting that they are okay.

Age gaps will continue to grow in public sector comms teams

The lack of younger recruits coming into the profession will continue and will become a bigger issue. How can we communicate with all our profession if our profession is aged 40, white doesn’t use the channels that younger people use?

Media relations continues its revival

As trust in traditional media maintains its trajectory, media relations will maintain its increased importance. The ability to answer a question is hugely important. So is creating content that will fulfill the need of the journalist.

Brexit will be a quiet background noise of disruption

It’s easy to forget that the UK leaving the EU remains a big thing. Why? Because COVID-19 and because a trade agreement has been shaken hands on.

Problem solved? No, problem devolved.

The coming months of 2021 will see disruption as the real impact of Brexit plays out. The 1,200-page document will have hidden benefits and hidden landmines. They will be uneven. Traffic disruption in Kent, fishing issues in Peterhead, automotive prosperity in the West Midlands, border tensions in Larne. Each part of the UK will find its own set of stories. All will be important to them and all will be drowned out by each other.

The impact will be toughest here on local government and local businesses.

Police comms… relax

And keeping the peace for all of this will be the police and its communicators. This will be such a difficult job to get right. Relax, you won’t get it right so do the best you can.

COVID-19 jabs and 85-year-old influencers

Comms for this will be local, local, local. For Halesowen, it needs to be with a Halesowen voice so the people of Halesowen are won over. By all means have those big picture scientists but its Jen’s 85-year-old Nan getting the jab who will convince the town.

Public sector comms will save the day… it needs to capture this

For all the gloom I’m setting out, one shining positive is that they will play such an important role in settling the pandemic and bringing the UK back towards some kind of normality.

It’s so important that comms captures and records its role in making this happen.

And finally…

Yes, it will be difficult.

But if you work in public sector comms you’ve never been more needed and you’ll never be prouder than when you tell your grand children in years to come that you did the best that you could when you had to.

The secret to 2021 is to do the best you can when you can and keep something in the tank for tomorrow. You’ll cover more ground that way.

Good luck!

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