What’s on your plate gives comms leaders a chance to highlight what is going on in their local area. For our first blog, JJ Penney of Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue gives us insight into the recruitment process of firefighters and the challenges faced in his role as a comms officer.
(1) What are the big issues you are working on?
As a small team we have a vast number of priorities of which we need to keep on top. One of our key focus areas for this year is improving our internal communications, an area we’ve not been able to spend as much time on in recent years. We are preparing to launch Workplace (or Facebook for Work) across our service, which we hope will play a big part in our revolution.
We are also working with other teams on a campaign to recruit firefighters, with a key focus on attracting applications from under-represented groups. We are about to begin a push for those wanting to be firefighters as their main employment, what we call wholetime firefighters.
We also recruit all year round for on-call (or retained) firefighters. These are people that have a day job, but are released by their employer to respond to an emergency incident.
Recruiting and keeping hold of staff, particularly from under-represented groups, is a massive challenge for fire services across the country, so at least we are not alone.
(2) What do you love about your job?
I feel in a privileged position of being a communication officer that is trusted to provide advice and guidance to the most senior people in our organisation. I know from speaking to other comms people that their biggest challenge is achieving that buy in from the chief execs. Having the ability to have honest conversations and constructively challenge the way we do things, and being trusted to provide expert advice, is something I really value.
(3) What would you change if you could?
Working in public sector comms is always about doing more with less. The challenge is to continue to deliver wide ranging messages, internally and externally, with as little resource as possible. To be able to have the comms critics on board, working with us rather than having to continuously justify what we do, would be lovely.
Also, as a slight aside, to be able to have the necessary time to plan and deliver really good quality communications. All too often we are given massive campaigns or projects to deliver by yesterday, which can be done, but not as well as they could be. Time to plan and prepare would be top of the wish list.
(4) How have things changed since you started in communications?
I know most people will provide this answer, but social media has changed so much of what we do. At one time considered a fad, it is now embedded into everything we do, in work and in our personal lives. This presents so many opportunities, and challenges, for comms teams, but more and more the most successful ones are the ones that embrace it.
Perhaps linked but maybe not, the decline of newspapers has continued. More and more now local journalists look for stories that’ll bring online hits and not worry about copy for tomorrow’s print edition. In Cambridgeshire we only have one daily local paper, with the rest being weekly.
(5) What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Understand social media! Not just how to send a tweet or use an Instagram filter. Really get under the hood of the analytics and see what they are telling you. What is the audience demographic, when are they engaging, how are they interacting? Also explore different applications and see what benefits they can bring.
Remember video is usually more engaging than words....why write a news release when a 30 second video can tell the story?
(6) What's your ideal weekend?
Picking up my son and him telling me what we are doing :)