GOV.UK has been working hard to migrate formats to use the new publishing platform over the last year. By the end of April, we expect to have migrated 16 Whitehall formats, with many sub-types of content, totalling almost a quarter of a million documents.

We’ve also rebuilt Specialist Publisher to use the new publishing platform.

The team's kanban board showing the migration tasks that have been done

This work is important because it reduces technical debt and enables us to speed up and start the work we’ve planned for the 2017 to 2018 roadmap. We blogged about the benefits of using the new publishing platform last year.

We’ve also been migrating mainstream formats to use the new publishing platform. I wanted to explain how we’ve approached it and give an update on the progress we’ve made so far.

What are mainstream formats?

By mainstream, we mean the formats that meet the most common user needs for citizens coming to GOV.UK. There are 13 mainstream formats, which made up 55% of pageviews on GOV.UK in the last 12 months. This was a little bit daunting for the team – we were concerned about causing disruption to a large number of users if something went wrong.

Mainstream Publisher – the publishing application used for publishing mainstream formats – is one of our oldest applications and is heavily dependent on our old publishing architecture. This makes migrating these formats complex and a bit risky.


We learnt from the work on Whitehall migration that migrating formats can be really complex and we wanted to identify any complexity as early as possible.

Our aims for the discovery were to answer 3 broad questions:

1. How should mainstream formats work using the new publishing platform?

Here we looked at:

  • the workflow and functionality of each format
  • the data needed to display each format
  • the reliance of each format on our old publishing architecture

2. How should we migrate the formats to use the new publishing platform?

Here we looked at:

  • how much preparatory work should we do to simplify the old publishing architecture before
  • migrating individual formats to minimise the risk and complexity
  • the path for migrating each format at a high level
  • the order we should migrate each format
  • which formats needed to be migrated together
  • which formats are more risky to migrate
  • which applications each format should use (both publishing applications and frontends)

3. What dependencies are there on the publishing platform team?

Here we looked at what would block us technically from being able to migrate each format.

Decisions from discovery

Completing the discovery meant we were also able to make important decisions about the scope of the work, for example:

  • by doing significant preparatory work to simplify the old publishing architecture, migrating individual formats would be simpler, quicker and less risky
  • using the publishing platform to publish and render the content would be enough to unblock important work for next year’s roadmap, such as the template consolidation.
  • continuing to use the same frontend application rather than building a new one (as we’ve done for some other formats)

We also decided to retire 4 formats:

  • Videos – these weren’t meeting a user need and had very little traffic.
  • Programmes – these were so similar to the guide format that we didn’t need both, and we could easily convert all programmes to guides without any impact for users.
  • Campaigns – we’ve built a new campaigns platform so we should move campaigns there.
  • Business support finder – we decided to make this format consistent with other finders which have already been rebuilt on the new publishing platform as they’re so similar.

Preparatory work

We simplified the old publishing architecture to make migrating individual formats simpler, quicker and less risky. Sharing this work across multiple product teams was a good example of working collaboratively to achieve a common goal.

We’ve also been able to retire an old application (Panopticon) which was responsible for tagging content to browse pages, topics, organisations and other related content. It was also responsible for unpublishing content and managing URLs. We’ve significantly reduced the complexity of migrating each format by breaking their dependency on Panopticon.

Migrating formats

We started by migrating help pages, because there aren’t many of them and their traffic is fairly low. Since the team hadn’t worked on migration previously the developers used mob programming for the first format. This was a great way for the team to develop their knowledge together.

Since then, we’ve been working in pairs to migrate the remaining formats – we’ve done 7 of the 9 so far. We’re really happy with the progress we’re making and think spending time on discovery and the preparatory work has made the process of migrating a format much quicker and simpler.

Retiring formats

We’re also making good progress to start retiring the video, programme, campaign and business support formats from Mainstream Publisher.

Getting over the line

When we’ve migrated all mainstream formats to the new publishing platform, we’ll have significantly reduced technical debt in our platform and simplified our architecture. We’re confident we’re on track to finish by the end of March so that we’re in a good place to start on the 2017 to 2018 roadmap in April.

Mark Mcleod is a product manager on GOV.UK. You can follow him on Twitter.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

Following on from the success of our sessions with Mastodon C and Facebook last year, we kicked off 2017 with the third in our series of Tech, Digital and Data leaders Seminars. This time we heard from Aditya Agarwal the CTO at Dropbox, a file storage and sharing service, who took part in a “fireside chat” with James Stewart.

As discussed in our recent blog post on Software as a Service (SaaS) we’re keen for government to use more tools that are already available to improve the way we work. This session gave us a greater insight into one of those tools and the current thinking of one provider. It was also a good chance for us to share back some areas where we’d like to see more development.


Interoperability is a term that has a lot of different meanings and we spent some time exploring that. For government interoperability is about removing barriers to entry and reducing lock-in, making sure we’re able to easily use a range of suitable tools. For Dropbox it’s about supporting a wide range of user devices and operating systems, and supporting organic adoption. Both angles can often be dismissed as an idealistic thing. Something which should be aimed for, but in practice is a primary focus for very few companies.

Users often work across a wide variety of platforms so having a tool that transitions seamlessly is ideal. Interoperability also benefits Dropbox by allowing easy, organic growth and allows them to work flexibly across all big tech systems.

MacOS vs Windows

MacOS and Windows are the two biggest platforms. Dropbox tests usability of their products across many versions of those two platforms, making sure that both sets of users can understand and easily use the tool. Interestingly, Dropbox found that Mac and Windows users seem to use their devices in very different ways. For example, Dropbox users can simply click and drag a file into their Dropbox to automatically upload it. Mac users tend to be more adept at using that feature than Windows users.

So how do concerns around interoperability affect designing new features? Aditya explained that 60-70% of the time features do work well across multiple platforms. Other times a few minor alterations can rectify any problems.

However there have been some rare occasions where a feature works amazingly well on one platform but just can’t translate across. In those cases the new features have been abandoned.

The group questioned how simple it is to turn off a feature if one user group aren’t using it. It can be painful to turn off a feature on just one version. Aditya pointed out that Dropbox are keen to provide a consistent service to their customers. A Mac user today may be a Windows user next year, or use different platforms at home to in the office. This means it’s very rare for features to differ.

Apps vs Desktop

Several years ago internet use started to move towards the use of tablets and smartphones rather than computers. Some companies predicted we’d eventually become ‘mobile only’ and made the decision to focus purely on that market. After a while tech firms realised that wasn’t universally the case.

People are using different devices for different types of activities and for Dropbox mobile use was just a subset of what people do with their primary device. There is still a big market for computers, particularly for work – sending a couple of emails from a mobile is fine, but Dropbox’s observation is that few people would chose to carry out detailed content work from a mobile device.

There needs to be a balance between the two to ensure that functionality isn’t lost when switching between mobile and desktop.


For government, security is always at the forefront of our thinking and concerns about controlling access to sensitive documents can make government departments hesitant to use cloud services.

There’s a cost to that and being overly cautious can prevent productivity.

For both government and organisations like Dropbox an important area of focus will be providing the right interfaces to help users understand the implications of how they use tools (eg. who has access to what files) and providing complete visibility and accountability to IT administrators in ways that help improve security without focussing on prevention.

This is an area where there’s a real need for interoperability – as organisations employ an ever wider range of SaaS tools it’s important that it’s easy for organisations to understand usage without having to build special monitoring for every individual tool.

What does it mean for government?

The session also gave Dropbox the opportunity to learn more about how things work in government.

James Stewart talked about the excitement around the move towards SaaS tools, and some of the particular considerations around using them in the public sector (and often other large organisations). For example, as well as some of the interoperability and security considerations there are also special considerations around how information is archived.

We also talked about some of our common challenges around when to support old devices and operating systems. When it comes to public services, terminating support for out of date technology is not a simple decision.

The least advantaged people in UK only access government online services by using computer in Job Centres and libraries which can be slow to upgrade. Aditya questioned how we make those decisions and we talked about how mechanisms like spend controls and service assessments give us useful insight, as well as how significant security issues like the POODLE attack on SSLv3 can accelerate change.

For both organisations the increasing use of software that automatically upgrades itself is a very positive move that we hope will make things simpler in future.

You can sign up now for email updates from the Government Technology blog or subscribe to the feed. Follow Emma on Twitter.

Original source – Government technology

A debate has been sparked about the profile that comms and PR people should have. Here’s one view. Be invisible to all but senior manegers and finance.

by Julie Waddicor

Jack Adlam’s excellent recent post about the need to promote the role of Communications officers, and to do our own PR better, set me thinking. I’d like to pose a contrary view, and I’d be really interested to hear people’s thoughts on it.

I’ve said for years that a good Comms officer is invisible. When we do our job well, everyone else takes the credit for what we have put in place and delivered. When it goes wrong, the Comms team is firmly in the firing line. The nature of our role is that our every mistake is public, and every success makes someone else and / or the organisation look good. That’s the nature of the beast, and I think we have to suck that up a bit really, however tricky it might be personally.

People don’t identify with comms

I don’t think we are ever going to get the public to champion to role of communications. We, of all people, know how important it is to keep messages simple, and the reality is that comms is not simple. That makes it hard for people to grasp. If you ask a child what they want to be they when they grow up, they will say ‘doctor’, ‘nurse’, ‘astronaut’, ‘train driver’. Tangible roles that are easy to understand. They don’t say ‘I want to brief the Leader on his lines for an interview, before identifying the key stakeholders for this service change, whilst coming up with some brilliant creative about something really boring and managing the latest social media troll.’ The same goes for adults. They identify on an emotional level with the people who they see perform a service: the doctor who saved their mother, the road worker who fixed the pothole they could have broken their car on, the lecturer who inspired them to do brilliantly on their course. They don’t identify with the Comms officer who sorted out the internal communications so the doctor felt well informed and able to do their job, and promoted the online reporting tool so that Bob knew how to tell the council about the pothole, and worked with the lecturer to make that student feel at home enough to study well.

Better us then them

What we do is intangible to most, so we’re an easy target for lazy journalists to bite the hand that feeds. But does it matter that much? I’d rather that journalist had so few bad things to say about my organisation that they decided to pick on the Comms team. That’s much better than reporting on a culture that led to malpractice, the frustrated motorist who feels his voice isn’t being heard or the student who wasted £9K on fees or, much worse, committed suicide because they were never helped to feel a sense of belonging and didn’t know where to turn for support.

Invisible but to some

In the last couple of years I’ve refined my thinking a bit. I now believe that a good Comms officer is invisible to everyone except the senior management of the organisation and those we need to work with. The people we need to impress are those who hold the purse strings, enable us to have the influence we need to give our best, and cooperate with us to get the job done. The public will identify with the front line staff who we support, and that’s okay. Our organisation will know we are absolutely vital if we’re doing our jobs well and reporting on what we achieve in the right way. A bit of bad press isn’t great, but it won’t have any lasting impact. We need to have the same resilience when faced with lazy journalism that we show in our jobs all the time.

My kids are now 10 and 12, and I’ve spent their entire lives telling them about what I do at work. If you ask them what I do, they will say (and I know because I’ve asked people to do it): “Mum makes posters and leaflets”. Ouch. Every time they say it a bit of me dies inside. But the complexity of my job is too much for them, and frankly bores them. It’s the same for the public.

I need to take my satisfaction and reward elsewhere. Last week, I spent an hour with our Counselling and Wellbeing team talking to them about how to promote their service, how to target better and, as a result, how to improve what they offer so it really makes a difference. They literally bounced with enthusiasm and we’re having a follow up session soon so I can help them put their ideas into practice. That’s my reward, alongside the increase in the number of students who don’t drop out because they’ve been well supported. Those students will thank the counsellor that helped them, not me, and that’s absolutely fine. If I can get my kids to stop saying I make posters, then that will do as my victory.

Julie Waddicor is head of student experience and engagement at the University of Salford.


Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

 From Firemen?s Demonstration, Brookhaven, 1-26-1951. Sysid 102708. Scanned as TIFF in 2010-09-02 by MDAH. Credit: Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.


Here are three take-homes from a simple video that demanded public attention. 

by James Morton

We don’t really struggle in the fire service when it comes to arresting visual content. A huge fire or the rescue of a cute puppy grabs attention like little else.

But once the blue lights have left the scene, our challenge is retaining the public’s interest to relay that all-important prevention message.

A recent fire spat flames and smoke from a high-rise building in the heart of Portsmouth’s waterfront leisure complex – Gunwharf Quays – in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. High-profile stuff and a huge visual spectacle, online as much as in the real world.


Remarkably, no-one was hurt. The fire had been caused, as so many are, by someone forgetting about their cooking, so once the flames were out we knew there was a massive opportunity to capitalise on the interest and hammer home a critical public safety message. But how?

We negotiated access to the burnt-out flat and got the first two firefighters to enter the fire to talk us through what had happened. The reaction to the resulting video – Back to the Scene – stunned us.

In 48 hours, the video had racked up more than 20,000 views across Facebook and YouTube. Average retention for the video on YouTube was 80% – a pretty whopping figure for a video like this. Despite not being designed as a news item, it was used by all our local media in bulletins or on their websites, and other fire services quickly picked it up to use in recruitment drives.

What made the video so absorbing? With plans to revisit the successful format, we picked out three key factors:

1.    A human tale – using frontline staff to tell the story gave the video an authenticity no voiceover could hope to achieve. Research shows that while trust in public service leaders is nearing rock bottom, frontline staff are still trusted and well-respected, so the appeal from Firefighter Beth about keeping an eye on cooking carried extra clout.

2.    Completing the narrative – for many of the people who watched the fire drama unfold, in real life or on social media, Back to the Scene provided themissing final chapter. Turning this follow-up around in quick time ensured people were still gagging to hear the next instalment.

3.    Nosy neighbour syndrome – if you can rely on one thing in life, it’s that us humans will always want to know what goes on behind someone else’s front door. Getting access to the flat itself was crucial to illustrate the true impact of such a devastating fire – the backdrop to the film spoke for itself.

James Morton, External Communications Manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and current chair of the FirePRO network.




Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Live video has become a serious comms channel. Here is how you use it yourself.

by Dan Slee

It’s never been easier and it’s never been harder if you are a communications person.

Easy, because of the range of tools available.

Hard, because of the pace of change.

Live video has been around since the 1950s. But until quite recently you’ve needed a TV studio and an army of technicians.

Now? You just need a smartphone and a WiFI signal. But how can you use it? In surprising ways.

History suggests it’s safer to bet on Mark Zuckerberg than bet against him.

loive video: trust the data

Two years ago armed with data we began offering workshops in video skills. This gave people the ability to plan, shoot, edit and post good content. Each channel was different. Three minutes works on YouTube and 21 seconds on Facebook.

The data is again showing the need for comms people to get to know a different type of video… live video.

–          People have the ability to watch video on the move. Ofcom say that 72 per cent of adults have a smartphone.  

–          It reaches people. Facebook Live goes straight to the top of you page and is reaching more people than a generic post.

–          And they are watching. Globally, Facebook Live records 60 billion views a day.

–          People watch Facebook Live video three times longer than edited video and comment ten times more, Facebook say.

–          92 per cent of people who watch social video will share social video.

–          20 per cent of Facebook users watch live video.


Local media companies are taking live video seriously

Trinity Mirror’s Marc Reeves, West Midlands editor-in-chief, sees video as a vital future part of local newspaper’s strategy. 

“Eighteen months ago when we tried a digital first approach in our newsroom we weren’t sure if it would work. It is. It is. It is paying for itself. We are now looking at what the video-first newsroom looks like.”

A Birmingham Mail St Patricks Day Parade live broadcast reached 40kviewers while updates about a body being found reached 91k. Manchester Evening News’ live Storm Doris coverage reached 121k. 

 This is aside from established broadcasters like Channel 4 and the BBC.

When does live video work best?

We have the technology. But when to use it? We’re gradually working out how to use live video.

In a nutshell, live video works when the’s a value being in that particular spot at that particular moment in time is greater than the need for polished story telling.

–          A press conference with breaking news. A first-hand account.

–          A behind-the-scenes tour. Take a look at somewhere people don’t usually see.

–          An emergency. An incident breaking that you need to communicate about.

–          A protest. Airports in America were flooded with protestors angry at President Trumps travel ban.

–          An incident. Daughter of Keith Lamont Scott calmly Facebook Live broadcasted the aftermath of the shooting.

–          A bit of risk. The ‘will it, won’t it?’ of Buzzfeed blowing up a watermelon with rubber bands.

How can I use live video?

Twitter and Facebook have done a pile of research and their how to pages give a lot of great tips. Some key points emerge.

–          Run a trial first. Test what you are doing if you’ve not run a broadcast from there before.

–          Tell people that you’ll be broadcasting. Tell your audience where you’ll be.

–          Make sure you have a good WiFi connection. No WiFi, no live broadcast.

–          Have an engaging title for the broadcast. Make people want to watch.

–          Be human. Be authentic and engaging during the broadcast.

–          Reply to comments. Reply to a question as it will build a connection with your audience. 

–          Be around for up to 30 minutes. It allows people to find you.

–          Have a bit of risk. What will be the outcome of the debate? Who will win?

–          Make it available to watch again. Facebook Live video Chewbacca Mom was seen by one person at the time and more than 150 million in the next six months.

We’re launching a new workshop

Over the past two years we’ve co-delivered a workshop on ESSENTIAL VIDEO SKILLS FOR COMMS with freelance camerman, filmmaker and academic Steven Davies.  We were the first to offer this workshop dedicated to comms people. We’ve trained more than 500 people across the UK and Ireland. We’re now offering a workshop to help you give you the skills.

BIRMINGHAM Skills You Need for Live Video. For more info and book here.

LEEDS Skills You Need for Live Video. For more info and book here.

Dan Slee is co-creator of comms2point0. 

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

It’s a fact of life that whenever some sectors invest in communications it sets parts of the media off on one. This post promotes the importance of NHS communicators communicating, and explains why managing your identity is absolutely a part of our role.

by Jack Adlam

I hate to be the one to break it to you readers, but the NHS is no longer prioritising patient care.

That’s right – thanks to a faceless cabal of ‘identity managers’ NHS priorities have gone ‘completely wayward’ and we are now too busy choosing which colour to paint the walls than to care for Aunt Doris.

I am, of course, exaggerating – although only slightly.

Recent media coverage following the release of updated NHS identity guidelines created the predictable furore about wasteful NHS managers and a dusting off of the generic ‘publicly-funded comms people are bad’ statement from the Taxpayer’s Alliance.  

The Daily Mail also gave its readers a bit of context, helpfully listing the problems the NHS is battling, such as cancelled operations, overflowing wards and increased demand, as if these issues were somehow caused solely by NHS ‘identity managers’.

It is not my intention in this blog to defend the need for updated brand guidelines in the NHS. James Turner has already beaten me to it …and has done an excellent job I might add.

This blog is intended to focus on a broader point.

The headlines we saw last week are nothing new. They are the same stories that lambast ‘NHS spin doctors who do nothing to deliver frontline patient care’ and therefore presumably should be sent away to some remote island, thus allowing hundreds of doctors and nurses to come flooding into the NHS. Hooray, the NHS is saved!

The reason that media stories like these resonate with people and create so much debate is because the public do not understand what it is we do and the value that we add.

It is the case that rather ironically, we are useless at our own PR. We have an identity crisis.

At a time when the NHS needs good communicators more than ever we find ourselves an easy target for the public’s scorn and to be honest, I don’t blame them.

Given the limited facts and sensational headlines from the media and others I too would be angry about the thought of my taxes being wasted on so called ‘non jobs’.

But this, as we know, is complete nonsense. It does not reflect the realities of what we do, from ensuring that staff are engaged and up to date, showcasing success and innovation, responding to media enquiries, keeping stakeholders and partners informed, finding new and innovative ways to communicate and engage with people…and much more.

I have worked in the NHS for seven years and not once have I had a doctor or nurse (or any healthcare professional for that matter) tell me that the work I do is a ‘non job’. They value what we do because they have seen the positive difference we can make to the work they do. Take for example this comment from one of our clinical managers:

You are seriously amazing. I used to dread hearing our name in the press, now it is always a good news story. I think it makes a huge difference to the morale of staff.

I have no doubt that comments such as this are commonplace across the NHS, yet they are rarely shared.  

Things are starting to move in the right direction and we are getting better at telling the public why what we do is important. Colleagues such as Rory Hegarty and Amanda Nash have both written about the realities of working in the world of NHS comms and this is a great start.

But the truth is we need to do more, not just in the NHS but across the public sector.

We all know the positive contribution that we as NHS communicators make (yes, even to patient care) and we all know that our job has nothing to do with spin.  While we must always ensure value for money the fact that public sector communicators are funded by the taxpayer doesn’t make them any less important, and if we can’t convince people of that then we truly are in the wrong business.

Jack Adlam is Deputy Head of Communications at London North West Healthcare NHS Trust

image via Navy Medicine

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Tweet-a-thons may not be ground-breaking in public sector communications any more but they still have their place in telling the stories of the services we use. Sarah Lay shares learning from the recent #1NHSDerbys day she co-ordinated for Southern Derbyshire CCG.


When Darren and Dan, co-founders of this esteemed site, first ran a tweet-a-thon back in 2011 to share a 24 hour snapshot of Walsall Council services it was a communications first and still stands as an impressive feat of co-ordination and reach. In sharing the day-to-day work of the council – everything from investigating noise complaints, to litter picking, to (of course) gritting – they were able to embed social media more strongly in the organisation but vitally were able to make visible the services folk don’t realise are there until they need them.

Since then the idea has grown with other areas of public service taking the idea and growing it, using combined voices to amplify messages and extend reach. There is now a local government wide day – #OurDay – which has been taking place annually, various police forces have shared their work in this format, and the NHS has also shared a day in the life of our health services.

While the format may no longer be ground breaking the value is still great and so as part of the work I’m currently doing with Southern Derbyshire CCG the idea surfaced again in talking about communicating core messages, particularly around relieving the current winter pressures. These messages are immediate calls to action but are also part of a longer term population level behaviour change – essentially, A&E is for emergencies only so present to the right place for your needs. These messages span self-care and making greater use of pharmacists,  to the urgent care end of the scale with minor injury units and urgent care centres, as well as conditions for which you should see a GP, mental health, and ongoing national campaigns.

That’s a lot of ongoing awareness messaging which (is intended to) contributes to changing thinking about where to go when you’re poorly. Are the tweets about keeping A&E for emergencies intended for the person finding themselves in a situation and checking Twitter before calling an ambulance – no, of course not. They are intended to be passively seen as you scroll through your feed so next time you fall heavily on your wrist showing your kids how to do skateboard tricks (I’ve heard it happens…) you know to go to the minor injury unit at the local community hospital rather than rock up at A&E. Awareness still has its place even if campaigns hinged on it are a bust in the current public sector comms climate.

So #1NHSDerbys was conceived and duly co-ordinated over a few weeks lead in. Six organisations involved in healthcare in the Derby and Southern Derbyshire area, all committed to sharing patient stories and showing how they work together over the course of one day. From Derby Hospital to Derby City Council, through to the CCG sharing pharmacy facts tweets across the 8am-8pm effort traced patients through the system. From Lego up noses, and Stingray bites (yes, even in this landlocked county) to cardiac arrests, self-harm, and longer term care for stroke patients the varied work of care came through.

As a group of practitioners in partner organisations we learnt how to work our messages more closely together, to break out of silos and show how care happens. As a campaign we extended the reach of our messages (137, 151 accounts reached across the day) and found a new way to communicate things we need to talk to people about every day. It reinvigorated our thinking, attracted further partners to join across the day, and piqued the interest of a local media jaded by the standard health messages.

The outputs were many and positive, the contribution to the longer term outcome of behaviours changing remains to be seen.  We’re looking ahead now to stretching out from the Twitter platform to extend our reach to demographics we know hang out elsewhere, develop more engaging formats for our messages (video is where it’s at, we all know this), get practitioners (and patients!) sharing their stories not just on a given day but consistently, and to do further work to strengthen the links across the system where health crosses between NHS and local government. We see this as a start of partnership communications, of near-to-real-time sharing of stories across the system, and an additional way to nudge toward that behaviour change.

Sarah Lay is an award-winning digital content strategist, music journalist and editor. She specialises in digital work within the public sector, is part of the panel here at comms2point0, and you can find her on her website and on Twitter.

image via State Library of South Australia

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Slogans have been around for an age but can still be hugely influential important to the success of a campaign. This new post by one of the best creative minds around serves as a good reminder of their value and potential to communicators…

by PANEL WRITER Richard Elwell

Slogans. I love writing them. There is something really satisfying in summarising the musings of my very clever Planning Director into one strapline.

I also love politics and many a slogan has adorned a party conference stage or lectern over the years.

When people ask me my favourite strategy or campaign I don’t answer Nike, Guinness or the usual suspects, I say ‘New Labour’. For if there was ever a strategic masterplan aimed at changing perception, that was model thinking from Smith, Mandelson and Beckett (put that way, it sounds like an agency). Political slogans fascinate me and usually fall into two camps. Either seeking to unite or claiming the high ground over ‘the other lot’.

Everyone remembers ‘Labour isn’t working’ from the Thatcher stable – the result of Maggie’s unflinching respect and trust in the Saatchi siblings and Tim Bell. Sometimes it gets personal and seeks to demonise or "Demon eyes’ – in the case of the Conservative negative campaign designed to out Tony Blair’s more darker side.

Now and again however, they do buck the trend.

A few years ago, Michael Howard’s ill-fated general election campaign for the Conservatives asked voters ‘Are you thinking what we’re thinking?’.

Deliberately ambiguous and admittedly very different to the usual bland ‘we are the answer’ type offering, critics quizzed exactly what it was voters were supposed to be thinking. To me it was designed to align and link common sense thinking between party and electorate but actually went on to realise quite the opposite.

Many interpreted the slogan as sneery, curtain twitching and Daily Mail like – divisive even in its connotation. Alas, Howard didn’t go on to win at the poles.

More recently, Trump adopted ‘Make America Great Again’ which is increasingly being re-interpreted as ‘Make America Grate Again’. What you can’t doubt is its power over the great disenchanted versus Hilary’s message of bland ‘togetherness’.

With two months to go to French Presidential elections, Marine Le Pen has adopted ‘In the name of the people’ which is ironic given her endlessly xenophobic policies.

At One Black Bear party headquarters, we seek to capture the very essence of not just what your brand is now, but what it strives to be. Not just pithy, hollow words but solid, strategic communication foundations of which everything else is built on.

That approach seems to be winning over lots of people so why not join the party?

This was a party political broadcast by Richard Elwell on behalf of One Black Bear
One Black Bear is a through the line Birmingham agency that hopes to get your vote


Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0


As communicators, pr practitioners and marketers we’ve never had access to more tools, tactics, data and platforms to make our work fly.

But there’s a bundle of challenges we have to navigate around in order to make the most of them. One has emerged as the THE challenge – the biggest barrier to us delivering great communications.

By Darren Caveney

In my consultancy work with organisations over the past few years I have focused on tackling three barriers to embedding effective communications in organisations – I call them the 3 T’s:

Training, Trust and Technology.

And I still believe that these are very important issues to tackle.

But another has emerged. It’s always lingered but it’s grown and grown of late. Like a genetically modified comms challenge which has outstripped the others.

What do you think I’m referring to?

Time, you say?

No (although that would be handy because then I could supplement my three T’s with a fourth T and call them ‘the four T’s’)

Yes, time is a barrier, but we have all developed ways of managing our time better over recent years. Time management is a skills every one of needs for sure whatever job we have.

So what is the biggest challenge?

*Demand management*

I believe it’s the biggest single challenge facing communicators in 2017. Period.

The size of your team may have increased, decreased or stayed the same in the past year. This will affect our ability to manage demand, of course.

But whether you’re a large team or a small team you’re still likely to be at what I now call the ‘demand management cross-roads’. Size of team isn’t necessarily the issue here.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had the great fortune to work with a large central government communications team, a medium sized police comms team and a small (and getting smaller) local government team. I was running some in-house training for one, helping another develop a new communications model, facilitating an away day with another.

A common theme running through all three sessions was the sheer scale of the demand coming into each team, and the expectations to deliver on that demand. To a degree this isn’t new – in comms we have always had our planned, known work and then the unexpected, reactive work.

But communications teams are being strangled with a side-wash of demand coming into them

I sense that demand is growing. Actually I don’t suspect it, I know it because I keep seeing and hearing it on my travels across our comms lands.

So I recently asked the question on Twitter – the sample size is small, of course, but the results told their own story…


Comms people are getting busier. So what’s the answer?

1 Know your capacity

The first thing that we need to do is identify what is the available capacity to deliver – as individuals and as teams. Do you know what capacity you have in your team in a standard month? How many hours are available to deliver activity?

This is fairly easy to do.

2. Monitor the demand coming in

The second thing comms teams then need to do is understand and measure the demand coming in each week, month and quarter. Is it increasing, decreasing or staying the same?

If it’s increasing where is that demand coming from? Once you know your ‘demand hot spots’ you can talk to those individuals or teams and explain the situation with some hard data to inform the conversations.

Are you in credit or debit each month in terms of demand versus credit? That could explain why some of you are still in the office at 7pm some nights.

3 Prioritise the priorities

I once asked a senior leadership team to come up with their top 5 priorities for the year ahead so that I could shape a new comms strategy to support them.

They came up with a list of 28.

That isn’t a list of priorities – that’s just a very big list.

And no comms team in the land can nail 28 brilliantly executed campaigns and comms plans all at the same time.

4. Being strategic is key

Understanding the priorities – and agreeing them with your internal leaders and customers (yes I did use the customer word) – is the way to go. Then when you know what your capacity is, what your demands are, what the agreed organisational priorities are then you can say no to the daft stuff from a position of fact and power.

If the fresh demand is agreed to be important then you and the organisation can take a view about what needs to give to make the new pressure alleviated.

Easier said than down, I know, but this has to be the line to follow.

4. Tools to help you

There are tools out there to help comms teams manage and understand these demands. Historically many of us haven’t always been the best at making the most of them. That has to change in order to keep our heads above water and for good, effective comms to survive and thrive.

Now I don’t mean some horrible time and motion exercises and which could just add to your burden. I mean tools which help you understand and measure demand each month. Do it across a year and then you can state with certainty how your demands are changing. What are the patterns?


Now you could be the awkward sod sat in the corner – we’ve all seen them – arms folded saying “sorry, I’m too busy to pick up any new work”. That’s one way to go but I wouldn’t recommend it. The next time your team gets a head count trim you’ve just put yourself in the frame.

Instead, know your capacity, know your demand and talk with confidence about whether that next new request can be delivered effectively or not.

Demand management’s time has come so embrace it and it will help you, I promise you.

I’ve developed tools of my own to help the teams and individuals I work with. There are plenty of others out there too so finding ones which suit you and are simple to use are the way to go.

Reporting this data back to your leaders is important…

The data you collect on demands should be included in every comms teams’ monthly report to management. If you don’t tell them the latest trends with demands then guess what – they won’t know.

And when the next budget cutting round does its thing in your organisation have you done enough to tell your team’s story about what you’re being asked to deliver. Look out for yourselves, fight your corner, and tell your story well. With data.

You can have all the Facebook Live’s and Instagram Stories you like. But it doesn’t matter a jot if it’s all you can do to answer the phones some weeks.

Something has to give.

If you have brilliant and smart ways of managing the demands coming into your team I’d love to hear about them, and share them with the comms community. Drop me a note – even better write a blog post about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned.

A final thought…

There was a time when I led comms teams that I used to sometimes say to myself “when things settle down we’ll sort that out.”

Things don’t settle down. Ever.

And your work demands are only going to grow – now’s the time to nail them.


Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

image via Orange County Archives

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

The hardest part of getting a communications management role is often landing that all important first job. The second and the third then become a bit easier to . So what are the trade secrets to give you the best chance of landing that first leadership position? We asked 10 leading comms leaders for their advice.

by Darren Caveney

Be consistent and reliable.  When I’m building a team I look for people I can trust and rely on.  Occasional moments of brilliance are great, they are needed in a team, but those that progress to management positions tend to be those who consistently put in the effort, consistently deliver and consistently try to improve themselves and their performance.

Learn to speak out.  Communicators need to be able to challenge and speak out – at the right time and in the right way.  My top tip would be to find someone in your organisation who does this well and watch them.  Watch how and when they speak out, how they learn to read their leaders and challenge in a way that means people stop and listen.  Trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to question.

Think beyond your own role.  Comms leaders need to be looking around the organisation, understanding how an action impacts across the business and how it supports business objectives.    The same applies in your immediate team.  Learn from those around you, don’t pigeonhole yourself.  In a management role you will need to work across disciplines.  Working in isolation lessens your impact and that of the team.

Bring others with you. Learn to read your colleagues, learn to trust them and most importantly learn to listen to them.  A good leader, in any discipline, has to have genuine interest and empathy and create an environment where others thrive.  Comms is no exception and given our position in an organisation and the challenges we face, this may be more important than any other skill you can develop.

Victoria Ford is Head of Engagement for the Common Technology Services Programme – a Government Digital Service programme in the Cabinet Office

Most people get their next job by being good at their current job, so the simplest piece of advice I can give is be outstanding at what you do now. Try to become invaluable, understand what keeps your boss up at night, and go the extra mile for the team.

Think carefully about what your USP is to your current employer and what you could offer to prospective new employers. What sets you apart from others and what extra skills can you bring to the table?

Once you do get that management role the most important thing is to be authentic. If you try to copy others or be something that you’re not people will see straight through it. Be yourself and settle on your own management style to make the most out of any role and get the best from your team.

Taking that step means changing how you operate and if it’s a promotion don’t make the biggest mistake, which is trying to do your new job and your old one. It’s always harder trying to do the thinking while you’re also doing the heavy lifting.

Be prepared to have different relationships with colleagues and always think OST in everything you do: objectives, strategy, tactics.

Ross Wigham is Head of Communications and Marketing, QE Hospital Gateshead

The airport book shops are stuffed with self-help books on self-improvement and rapid career progression. Working in comms, we need to recognise early in our career that there is no quick and easy path to getting that first management job. That is because you have to earn your stripes as a comms officer and you have to build up something of a reputation for yourself.

This should be easy stuff for us – because garnering trust and building reputation is essentially what we are about. Apply that to ourselves and we should be unstoppable. However, like the proverbial cobblers’ children, we often fail to apply what we do so well for others, to ourselves. We need our very own campaign.

To make ourselves stand out and land that first management job, we need to consider:

– What do we want to be known for? What are your particular attributes – diligence, creativity, team work… or a particular piece of work
– How do we want to be viewed – for example reliable, prolific, trustworthy
– Who are the people who have any influence over the job(s) we are considering. Senior managers in your own organisation including directors and chief executive; members, mangers in similar organisations who may be looking to hire…

This needs to be a planned and sustained approach. We need to check how we are doing regularly, just as we would with a campaign and make any changes needed to keep on target.

Mark Fletcher Brown led an excellent session many years ago at an LGComms conference which has stayed with me and to which I often go back. It is an exercise whereby you list all the people and groups who might be considered influential and or interested in you – in this case as a potential manager. You score their influence out of 10 and then judge where you might sit (between 1 and 10) in their estimation. The gaps show you clearly where to focus your efforts.

We are usually blessed with creativity and understand the value of insight. These two things give us a powerful head start to a campaign designed to land that job. If we don’t succeed first time – we know exactly what to do. We work out what went wrong or could have been done better; we put that to rights and set off again.

Happy job hunting!  

Jayne Surman, Communications and Marketing Manager at Warwickshire County Council


If I could give one tip to get ahead in large, complex, often politically led, organisations, it would be to develop a great understanding of the environment you work in. It’s an old management cliché, but you really have to ‘skate to where the puck is going to be’. The only way you’ll do that is to have in-depth knowledge of the things that are driving or obstructing change.

Also, don’t be afraid to put over the communications ‘point of view’. We’ve all left meetings thinking ‘If only I’d said that…’ You know, just say it. That’s your job. You won’t always get it right, but it’s important to speak up. In the long-run it will do your career more good than harm.

Oh, and lastly and most importantly – don’t piss off the PAs. They control access to the bosses, both officers and politicians. Without their support and access to diaries – you will be toast…

Will Mapplebeck, Strategic Communications Manager at Core Cities UK


The first tip, and most obvious one, is be good at what you do and love the sector you work in. I don’t mean just be good at writing press releases or marketing plans, but be good at giving advice, have passion and nous and show your value to key people like your Leader and Chief Executive. If you aren’t trusted and seen as an expert in what you’re talking about then your advice won’t be respected. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and speak your mind, especially if you have the evidence to back-up what you’re suggesting and have confidence in your own ability. Look for opportunities to show you can hear what your Leader and Chief Executive/manager want, and understand how you can help them get it.

You don’t have to be perfect at everything, and you should most definitely always know your weaknesses. If you can’t fix them through professional development make sure you aren’t threatened by people who are stronger than you but embrace and encourage them, as they will make you and your team balance.

Finally care about, and have pride in, what you do but don’t take things personally if they don’t go your way and learn from every situation.

Eleri Roberts, Assistant Director, Communications, Birmingham City Council

My top 5 tips for getting a management role in public sector comms

While there’s no magic formula for landing that coveted first management job in the crazy world of public sector comms, I hope some of these tips will help:

1.  Listen – a lot – and learn. Comms these days is a broad church. You’ll have come in from one route – say, journalism – but will be expected to ‘get’ (and, as a manager, run) everything else too

2.  Get involved and try new stuff. Push yourself out of your normal box. You may be comfortable as the most competent writer in the place, or the expert on internal comms. But if you’ve got project management or facilitation or public speaking skills in your back pocket too your armoury will be even stronger

3.  Draw on your experiences out of work – parenthood, running a football team, or a club, or a PTA. You’ll have learnt a huge amount doing any of those things – use it.

4.  Know yourself – and others. Emotional intelligence is crucial for aspiring and practising managers. What personal, professional and organisational buttons do you need to press? I continue to learn about this every day – it’s a journey.

5.  Finally – and this may sound rather obvious but is REALLY important – get your application form right and prepare well for your interview. I can’t tell you how many poor applications I’ve seen over the years, for all levels of posts, or how many times I’ve seen someone completely tank at interview even though they were brilliant on paper – see my blog post on filling in applications – this applies to managers just as much as everyone else.

Sally Northeast, Deputy Director, Organisational Development Communications and Participation


It may be hard for me to help, because I first came to communications management almost by accident. I was ‘kidnapped’ by a Deputy Chief Exec, who ‘moved’ me (it’s a long story) from customer services into leading a communications service.

I think what she saw was that I could be a moderniser, with an approach to segmentation and channel development to help change the old ‘broadcast’ model. I think if you asked her what my strengths were then, she’d say I understood that different people need different approaches, messages and tone; and that communications is a customer service which needs to get the right information to the right people in the right way at the right time.

My own tip though would be not just to focus on the communications bit of ‘management job in communications’ but to try to develop the management skills, often overlooked but essential in the role.

Eddie Coates-Madden, Head of Communications at Sheffield City Council


‘Your career is a marathon not a sprint‘ – my best piece of advice would be to not feel pressured or rush into a management role, only look to step up when you feel you are ready. Enjoy what you are doing now, take your time and only go for a management role when you are absolutely sure you are ready for the challenge.

Show initiative, be proactive – step up before being asked. Take any opportunity you can to show senior managers that you are willing to take the initiative and lead some pieces of work within the team.

Find a good mentor – this can be invaluable. A good mentor will provide sound advice and will support you in your development, the application process and provide support when you start your new role.

Don’t be afraid to set yourself apart from your colleagues – being someone that always volunteers to take on new opportunities can annoy your colleagues, don’t be afraid to do it, this is your career and you need to take control of it.

Become a mentor yourself – stepping up into a management role is not easy, however, being a mentor can help you develop the skills required to become a good line manger and it also looks good on your C.V!

Shadowing opportunities – try and facilitate an opportunity to shadow a few different managers. This will allow you to gain an insight in to the different styles of management and will give you a feel for the type of manager you want to be.

Be sure this is really what you want – don’t chase the grade! You can be amazing at what you do but not everyone makes a good manager, think about why you want to step up and maybe consider getting feedback from your colleagues.

‘Dress for the job you want not the job you have’ – this quote came from Olivia in my team and I think this is really powerful. Please don’t take this literally, I see this as behaving and acting in a way that demonstrates your ability to step up into a management role and shows initiative.

Karen Newman, Head of Communications at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board


I applied for a job with the ambulance service at a time people like me were becoming disaffected by the print media world. I was also not being supported in the way I needed to get through some tough exams.

Also the local newspaper industry was a starting point, not my big ambition in life to be perfectly honest – but I certainly didn’t plan that within a year I’d be a communications manager by circumstance, and not by design.

In fact, I had three roles in six months during 2007 – temporary comms assistant on joining, a period of unpaid leave for honeymoon, returned as an officer in the June, and became a manager when mine left to have her baby. It was complicated, moreso for Payroll than me J.

This was, in part, down to the no-promotion policy in the NHS – anyone can apply for roles, there is no automatic right to move into a more senior role, which has its pros and cons. But thankfully I seemed to fit the bill when I applied for the comms manager role to cover maternity leave, and was offered the job after interview.

So I’ve learnt two good things in my career: don’t worry about the role you’re in now because sometimes circumstances play the game for you. But this is a variable with risk, so do everything possible to be inspired by managers you can identify with or are where you feel you would be in three years’ time. It could be someone in a completely different team, but if they have the same personality type as you, a similar work ethic, whatever – just remember to credit their influence when you get the role you’ve worked so hard for.

Joy Hale, Head of Communications at East of England Ambulance Service


Be curious, be flexible, be resilient

Six words that sum up my advice for anyone aspiring to a senior communications role in a public sector organisation.

The public sector environment’s in a state of constant flux and the roles you see now are not necessarily going to be the same by the time you get to them. The skills and competencies needed to lead a communications team have changed beyond recognition since I got my first press office job over 25 years ago. You’ll need to keep adapting and learning to thrive in an ever-changing landscape.

You’ll also need to demonstrate you can think strategically and understand the organisation at a deeper level that allows you to navigate complex issues successfully. Relationships are important too. Open and honest dialogue with senior management and elected members is critical and not always easy to maintain in challenging times.

So how do you get the experience to qualify for a more senior role? Get advice from your mentors, learn from practitioners in other sectors and network whenever you can. Shadow more experienced members of your team or take part in a CPD scheme via a professional body such as CIPR. Volunteer for work projects where you’ll get experience you haven’t had before.

Finally, think about whether you really want a senior role. Will you be happy, confident and resilient when the pressures on or are you more comfortable within a wider team? The only right answer to this is whether it’s right for you.

Caroline Binnie, Communications & Participation Manager at Falkirk Council


Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd




Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0