PUNK ATTITUDE: Today’s comms person needs to learn three chords and form a band over and over to still have a job in 20 years time

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It’s funny how two things collide and you start thinking about things in new ways.

Take today. I’m reading Jon Savage’s history of punk  ‘England’s Dreaming.’ It talks of Sniffing Glue fanzine’s revolutionary advice on forming a band. Learn two chords. Then a third. Now form a band.

Why? Because punk was simple. Anyone could do it. You needed a lot of attitude and some talent.

Later today, I’m reading Paul Sutton talking about the music industry and how society will change in 20 years time when there are those who’ve only ever known social media.

It got me thinking.

Never mind society. Will there even be a place for today’s comms people in a world in 20 years time when there are people around who’ve always known social media?

Your music collection is shaped by someone you’ve never met

Here’s a story. Bear with me. Once, when I worked in local government comms I worked with the museums service on an exhibition to celebrate the life and career of a bloke called Steve Jenkins.

Steve who?

Steve Jenkins.

The exhibition ‘Kylie, Britney, Justin and Me’ was about Steve’s behind-the-scenes role in the music industry across 25 years. He was a hugely powerful figure who had a role in more than 140 top 40 UK hits. He was part of the talent-spotting team that signed Britney Spears as part of a two year project to find the new Madonna. He was MD of Jive Records and the marketing brains behind Stock, Aiken and Waterman. He is a fascinating bloke.

He was also a press officer’s dream. Pete Waterman? They both used to plan campaigns in the back of a car going to Walsall games. Or the time they HAD to get Kylie’s album in the Top 40 or Pete faced ruin. They did. Just. And a pop star was born. Boom.

I met Steve back in 2009 and we’d only just started to use social media. He was intrigued by it. I’d love to go back and use what I’ve learned to promote it.

Save yourself by being a geek

Steve Jenkins got good because he was a geek about music and how the charts worked. As a record industry marketeer, he discovered that by promoting your record in Woolworths on a certain day with certain strategies would be the difference between a new entry at 38 – and the boost of a mention on Top of the Pops – and one that would stall at 42 and sink without trace. So, he signed an exclusive deal with Woolworths that saw only him place promotional content in their chain of stores. If you were a record exec who wanted to break top 40 you’d have to deal with him and his marketing company.

I often think of Steve when today I hear comms geeks speak about a way they’ve maybe got the algorithm to work for them. You’ve got to know the topic, love it, be able to take it apart and put it back together again and think about nothing but it when you’re walking down the street.

And once you’ve cracked it you need to do it all over again.

Why is this relevant?

To understand ANY landscape you need to be a geek and that won’t change. How people use social media shifts rapidly. For people who’ve only known social media understanding it in 2038 would be no trouble. They’d be fascinated by it but would they be a geek about it? Some will. Some won’t.

What the landscape will look like in 20 years

Today, it’s fine to have a range of traditional and digital skills. But the dial is turning slowly towards digital and it’s not turning back. Two things not to be fooled by? That the future will be 100 per cent digital. Or that your ability to write a press release will save you. It won’t. There was a pitch at commscamp last week about Analogue Comms and what role it still plays. If I’d have gone to that session I’d have said that what we’ll need are not skills but an attitude.

Your challenge? You’ll have to float and adapt

But the big challenge for those of us around today and who want to be in 20 years is in attitude. You’ll need to be able to float and adapt. Lessons learned in the early days of the internet are already as out-of-date as 1976’s payola tricks for today’s music pluggers. Those who have made their name in working out what the social web is for need to know this.

The gap between head frying innovation and mundane expectation has never been shorter. Once, telling people election results on Facebook in real time was ground-breaking. Today? That’s bread and butter.

When Punk came, new lessons had to be learned.

History tells us that not everyone will adapt.

To survive, you may have to ditch every single thing you know.

You’ll need to learn three new chords and form a new band.

Over and over.

That’s going to be your challenge.

Excited by that yet?

Picture credit: Eddy Van 3000 / Flickr 

CASE STUDY: How Walsall museum is cooler than Ben Stiller

In Ben Stiller’s  blockbuster ‘Night at the Musem’ exhibits burst to life when the public aren’t around.

Cowboys and Indians come alive and a giant dinosaur plays fetch with a bone.

Walsall museum stores aren’t quite on a par with Washington DC’s Smithsonian but one thing is the same: You’d be amazed what you can find.

Thousands of items are stored as only a fraction can be put on public display at one time.

So how would social media connect a museum stores with residents? Here’s how. In a way that is way cooler than Ben Stiller.

THE EVENT ITSELF…

One Spring Saturday, photographers of the Walsall Flickr group were given special access all areas to take pictures at Walsall Council’s museum stores.

Street signs, an ARP helmet, and typewriters were just some of the treasure trove.

So were items of the nationally important Hodson Shop collection, a huge collection of working class clothes from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Eight photographers spent more than two hours poring over hundreds of artefacts.

What resulted in an amazing explosion of pictures of often rarely seen treasures. Take a look at some of the shots here.

More than 150 images were posted on Flickr in the days after and more than a dozen positive comments were posted on the group’s discussion board.

PLANNING FOR THE EVENT…

Why bother? Why arrange this?

It’s as simple as this: what’s not to like about pictures of Walsall artefacts taken by Walsall people?

Simple as the idea was, three months of planning led to the event itself.

Much praise needs to be given to talented photographer Steph Jennings (@essitam on Twitter) and the forward-thinking Walsall museum curator Jennifer Thomson supported by collections officer Catherine Clarke. Why praise? Because both parties started from different positions and arrived at not just a workable compromise but a groundbreaking piece of work that sets new standards.

REACHING AN AGREEMENT ON  COPYRIGHT CONCERNS…

At the heart of everything was copyright.

Museums traditionally are very careful to guard copyright of their artefacts.

On the flip side, photographers are very careful to guard their copyright too.

In the past, museums have allowed photographers to take shots only in highly controlled circumstances with copyright signed away.

The Walsall approach was different.

The compromise that was brokered was this: photographers retain copyright so long as they accepted that they wouldn’t be able to bring tripods to take saleable pro shots.

That was fine as the Walsall Flickr members didn’t want to sell images.

The group also agreed to limit the size of the shots they uploaded to 1MB and agreed to ask permission before they used the images.

Crucially, what made this process work was the genuine commitment to make the event work by both Steph and the museum team.

The compromise permission form can be found here.

When social media works well it sees a two way discussion. Brilliant things can happen.

An unexpectedly marvellous spin off led to the setting-up of a museum Flickr group to encourage people to submit images.

AN UNEXPECTED SPIN-OFF…

This isn’t just shots of the museum but a place where, as Steph suggested, pics can now be submitted for ‘shadow’ exhibitions. Planning an exhibition on seaside holidays? That shot of Great Aunt Maude paddling at Weston-super-Mare can be submitted and used as part of a revolving powerpoint of similar images. That’s something the whole family can go and see. Excellent.

This isn’t a Walsall Council success story, for my money. This is a Walsall success story. It was the coming together of museum staff, the communications unit and most of all the enthusiasm of the borough’s thriving and talented Flickr group that made this work.

What we found can work here can easily work anywhere.

Hosting a Flickr meet: Five benefits to the museum.

1. Connecting with non-traditional audience.

2. Showcasing exhibits and helping to find an online audience for heritage.

3. Art. Great pictures are just that. Art. What better way to showcase your artefacts?

4. A set of marketing pictures. At Flickr members’ suggestion the group were happy for their images to be used by the musem. Many amateurs are keen to get an audience for their work in return for a link to their Flickr page and a pic credit.

5. Pictures to link to via a Twitter stream.

Attending the Flickr meet: Four benefits to the photographer.

1. Rare behind-the-scenes access.

2. Being able to retain copyright of images.

3. A unique photographic challenge.

4. A chance – if you are happy to – to showcase your work through council marketing.

Thanks to: Jennifer Thomson and Catherine Clarke from Walsall museum. Steph Jennings and the members of the Walsall Flickr group who attended the session.

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