I was one of the lucky five people to be given a Golden Ticket to attend ‘commscamp’ in Birmingham last month. It was an event for public sector communicators and labelled as a ‘unconference’ with no agenda set beforehand. I was quite sceptical about the whole approach at first, but having attended I’m convinced that anyone planning a conference should employ this approach in some way. The free ice cream van in particular is something I think all conferences should take on board, as well as the charity cake sale and raffle of complete tat…
At the opening of commscamp people pitch ideas, the audience says yay or nay on whether the session sounds interesting, and then all the yayed sessions are placed on a timetable so you can choose which ones to attend. You go along to the sessions and engage in discussion until you’ve shared and taken everything you need from it. Once you’re done with the session you’re encouraged to leave and walk into another.
One of the sessions I attended was on public trust. The person pitching it had seemingly prepared to talk about this beforehand as they’d printed off about thirty A4 job titles. We were all given one and told to stand in a line with the least trusted by the public at one end and the most at the other. There were no surprises when government ministers and politicians were placed at the least trusted end. Nurses, doctors and professors stood proudly at the other. Police officers fared well too with around 74% of people trusting them but still way off nurses.
There were lots of council comms people at the event and so naturally some of the conversations came round to ‘tick-box comms’ that keep public officials and other internal stakeholders happy (and relevant). In relation to giving interviews and creating press releases, the general feeling was that unless there‘s a major incident of some kind it’s much more authentic to put someone up for an interview/quote who’s relatable to the public and who actually does the work being discussed. That person not only looks the part but they can then explain how they are personally impacted by whatever is being spoken about rather than someone who sits at a much higher level in the organisation but doesn’t actually do the day-to-day work.
One useful tip to please someone that the public might not be that interested in hearing from that made me smile: Offer them the last 5 seconds of a video or the final sentence of a press release and tell them they’re having the last word.
Trust and the media was also spoken about, especially in relation to local news outlets. My once respected local newspaper, The Citizen, is now a shell of its former self with endless speculation online about shops that could ‘apparently’ be opening up and ‘Live Blogs’ about traffic cones that have been blown over in the wind. It’s both comforting and saddening that people from all different parts of the country are experiencing the same thing.
I was really pleased to hear that the consensus around the room seemed to be to begin severing ties with poor quality publications, fight back when they’re wrong, build your own trusted digital channels and publish your truth to them. You can then refuse to answer any more questions on the topic unless you want to. “It’s all in the story we posted online. We have nothing else to say.”. Someone also suggested putting everything you tell any journalist online somewhere too, so you’ve published your true version of events already and to prevent journalists modifying it.
Coincidently there was another session on at the time that I wanted to go to called ‘Is the press release dead?’.
There was talk too of Donald Trump and friends. Are we being pushed into a ‘post-fact world’ where it’s OK to say something one minute because that’s how you feel at the time and then change your mind the next? That could be a whole blog on its own though.
I really enjoyed the day and feel converted to the ‘unconference’ approach. If commscamp comes to a location near you make sure you grab the opportunity to go.
Digital Engagement and Communications Officer