Earlier this week, my colleagues Imogen and Stuart ran a workshop as part of our work programme with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The workshop was around information sharing to support offender rehabilitation, and the audience was a mix of practitioners and managers from various organisations, or ‘partners’ if you will. I won’t go into the full details from the workshop as it’s the communications angle I want to focus on (plus we'll do a few dedicated DWP blogs later in the month so keep an eye out for those).
Part of the day was titled ‘embedding the process’ and I was asked to come up with an exercise for the delegates regarding communications.
This got me thinking, even though those of us who work in communications have been saying the same old thing for years; ‘what’s the key message’ and ‘know your audience’ (I could go on with communication clichés but you’ve probably heard them all before…), is the message getting through?
The workshop this week was partly looking at process, so the exercise was designed to show that even if you have the best process in the world, if nobody knows about it, what’s the point of having it? This question could be applied to anything though really - a project, product, new programme, change of working or campaign - whatever it is, you need to communicate about it.
The exercise I designed was a ‘fake comms plan’ (no, nothing to do with ‘fake news’). Essentially, it asked delegates to think about the questions their own comms team would (hopefully!) ask them to successfully communicate the message. By looking at these questions at the start of the process, the practitioners and managers would then already have the answers and be one step ahead – helping both themselves, and their comms team in the process.
I must admit that I was quite chuffed to hear that a few delegates from the day asked for spare copies of the template to take away with them (always a good sign!), however the overriding feedback seemed to be that people were saying ‘but we don’t have a comms team, I do that too’.
I suppose given the era in which we live and work, and to borrow the overused term of ‘doing more with less’, I shouldn’t be surprised by this. But yet I was. I’m not saying these people are unable to successfully get the message out there, but it’s not what they were employed to do, an 'add on' to their day job in many respects, so they may not have the experience, or be able to give it the time it deserves. Is it that those in charge don’t see the value of having a comms team? Someone who is dedicated to landing the right message at the right time, and most importantly, with the right audience?
My plea is this – if you have the luxury of a comms team, use them. I’ve heard in the past colleagues say ‘the comms team I used to work with were all ‘no’ people’ – and perhaps that was true. I admit when I worked in a local authority comms team I often said ‘no – you’re not having/doing that’ - especially when I was asked for spinning tops to give away at an event (yes, I understand someone may idly spin it whilst standing at your stall during the event but let’s be honest, what's it going to achieve? It’s then going to sit in their desk gathering dust until they either a) get a new job, or b) those dreaded rumours of ‘hot desking’ which have been whispered in corridors finally become a reality).
So perhaps it’s all about how you pitch it; integrate with your comms team, get them involved at the start – explain why you’re doing something, and why it’s important that your organisation or partners know about the changes. After all, if you go to them with the ‘ta-dah’, here is my [insert new procedure/campaign/ways of working here] that you need everyone to know about and use, they probably won’t have the first clue of what you’re talking about.
Here at the Centre, we encourage partners to share information with one another for the benefit of the service user, so if you have a comms team, speak to both them and your partner’s communication lead and explain the benefits of having that information shared, after all, they’re not mind readers; they need to understand the benefits of information sharing to be able to communicate the value of it to everyone else.
So get them involved at the start, and here’s an exclusive – they can probably help. They may even warm your audience up to the idea of change, or do some staff engagement to get feedback and improve what you’re doing. Just a thought, but I’ll leave it with you.
And what if you don’t have a comms team?
If you’re in a leadership position – do something about it; find out if your staff have the time to think about comms in addition to the project in hand or have any experience of communications - and if the answer is no to either of these questions then make a change.
If you can’t make that change, and you’re the person who says ‘comms – yes I do that too’ then do your best to be open and honest and discuss communications with your partners at the start of the project rather than at the end. Or, if you’d like a copy of the fake comms plan I mocked up, you can download it here; Basic communications plan template. I can’t promise it will give you all the answers, but hopefully it will give you a start.