A crystal ball for communications

At commscamp 15 last week, I pitched a session on the future of communications teams.

We all know that the model of communications has changed massively. People now have the ability to have their voice heard more than ever before. It means traditional communications models can fall well short and that we need to be up for listening, engaging and acting on what communities and others are telling us.

I was keen to hear what good stuff people are doing and what ideas they had for the future of communications teams in this context. Made all the more helpful for me as I grapple with what is coming down the track for a head of communications in a unitary local authority.

It seemed others were more than willing to share their sweets and knock about a few thoughts. A real mix of public sector peeps took part – from police, central government and local government and health to name but a few and even more helpfully communications and non-communications people too. Here are some of the things I took from it.

  1. There seemed to be two trains of thought in the room – one focussed on it being about communications and how we better ‘sell what we do’, the other about the need to recognise that fundamentally communications can never be the same again and we need to embrace this
  2. We need to get better at showing the alternative and stop being so transactional – people can’t see the difference we make. Be brave and help them to see – don’t just rely on their imagination.
  3. While we do need to be more technical, it is about attitude, flexibility and adaptability not skills. If we’re lucky enough to be recruiting, that’s where our focus should be.
  4. It shouldn’t be that we only get good at selling ourselves when we are forced to. There was a really on the money point made by a participant that they had only got better at doing it with they took their budget away. It was made clear that this wouldn’t have happened otherwise. And why when our role is to sell something, aren’t we good at doing it for ourselves. One to challenge when back at the ranch I reckon.
  5. Build your relationships and connections with community groups, neighbouring communications teams, businesses, health and others. It’s about the wider ‘Place’ and we need to be leveraging our influence to work together to best effect. We may be becoming smaller in size but we need to become bigger in influence. We are lucky to have ‘helicopter views’ of our organisations and we need to use that.
  6. It was so hard to hear people present recount that still the main challenges and battles they face are from within the organisation. The words ‘soul destroying’ was used to describe how externally others bought into what was being achieved but this was not being recognised internally. We need to think about how we can make sure this doesn’t happen in the future.
  7. We need to ‘let it go’ and stop trying to control everything. We need to trust others inside and outside our organisation to do it and make sure communications becomes everyone’s job – not just ours.
  8. Recruit the disrupters and people who like change and help people to be clear on why they are there and the role they play in the team
  9. Look at an organisation’s problems and understand their context so that you can anticipate the next big challenge and respond.
  10. Think about new technology and the implications for you, your team and your organisation. Digital disruption is happening and it’s happening now – we have to adapt, move away from the here and now and the institutional and force change, on behalf of our residents, for the future of our organisations and of communications. It’s scary but loathe the fool that thinks it can be simply be ignored, it can’t.

These are tough messages to take away and personally and professionally it’s challenging. I do believe though if we get in the right space with the right attitude, it can take only take you forward. And it will hold you in good stead while we wait for that crystal ball.

Thanks to everyone who contributed. You were awesome.

Posted on 16th July 2015