The challenges of 2013

Amid warnings of financial meltdown, deep civil unrest and essential services going by the wayside, 2013 should be an interesting year for local government, to say the least.

For those of us whose role it is to communicate during these turbulent times of change, the challenges will be many and varied.

From my point of view, here’s a few things that will be required in 2013:

Efficiency: The workload’s going to be enormous, no point pretending otherwise, but you are still entitled to swing for anyone who utters the phrase “do more with less”. It can’t be done. Sorry. What we can do is work smartly and efficiently with less, ensuring that work is carefully focused and aligned to corporate priorities.

Resilience: When the budget axe is being swung, comms is in the firing line at the best of times. Proving our worth as corporate storytellers, listeners, creatives and innovators will be a daily challenge, but the smart powers-that-be should realise how essential good comms is to issues such as welfare reform and the public health transition.

Carpe Diem: Ah, the public health transfer. So on top of everything else, we’re now helping people quit smoking, boozing and drugs, upping breastfeeding rates and the rest? Yup – and unless you’re extremely lucky, there’ll be no extra resource to do it. But it must be seen as an opportunity to make a positive impact in an area where effective comms will be of paramount importance in bringing about behavioural change. It’s a big chance to get to the heart of the conversation and make a genuine difference to people’s lives.

Time to think: Inevitable reductions in comms teams may, in turn, see innovation diminish. But keeping tabs on an ever-changing social/digital landscape, spotting fresh opportunities and emerging platforms to engage with a demanding and constantly-connected audience will be vital. Take time out from the daily grind for a spot of creativity, planning and the eating of cake.

And to everyone – have a happy and peaceful New Year.

Media matters

In an age where we’re all demanding, creating, sharing and consuming content at such a frenetic rate, are relations with the so-called traditional media as important as they were back in the day?

Well, yes, if an excellent ‘meet the media’ breakfast event organised by CIPR North-East is anything to go by.

A thought-provoking session, it covered an array of subjects, from how PR could better work with both print and broadcast journalists to how the fourth estate is dealing with the unstoppable rise of social media.

In no particular order, here’s a few things I picked up once the caffeine had kicked in…

In general…

  • When pitching/sending stuff to the media, apply a bit of common sense. Would you want to sit through a ten-minute video of a managing director at his desk, talking monotonously to camera about how brilliant his company is? No. Nor does anybody else. A minute’s worth of the cleaner who’s worked there for 40 years waxing lyrical about the business, on the other hand…
  • Keep it simple. Don’t waste your time knocking out 1,500-word news releases which get through your tortuous internal approval processes, only to be instantly spiked by news/business/features desks when sent out. A straight-to-the-point intro, a few useful bullet points and a contact number for the best person to speak to will often suffice.
  • TV ain’t as precious as it used to be about “user-generated content” (UGC) – and the recent flooding crisis proved this when a few seconds of submitted iPhone footage of a swamped village led regional bulletins. It doesn’t have to be polished content. The golden rule is ‘best shot first’ and if that’s UGC, so be it – packages can be written around it.
  • Don’t send out press releases and then be unavailable to help. If you’re issuing something and hoping for coverage, make sure you have someone ready to answer follow-up questions or be available for interview that day, at the drop of a hat.

The future…

  • Will we still be dealing with journalists in five years’ time? Yes. Will there still be a regional press in five years’ time? Yes. Will it look like it does today? Not a chance. There’s a lot of trust invested in local and regional media. It is seen, rightly, as critical in holding authorities to account. Many regional titles are decades-old, with strong and trusted brands that will stand the test of time, whatever the platform. But for print, there’ll come a point when vans full of papers traipsing out to newsagents in far-flung communities just isn’t sustainable. Things will be much more digitally-focused.
  • Demand for hyperlocal will be even greater and telly news may reflect this. The 14 nightly BBC regional news shows already have a far greater combined audience than the main national bulletins.