If there is one golden thread that runs through a comms job it is the ability to deal with stupid requests. Often this is not often. But when stupid strikes…
By Dan Slee
Being a comms person in the Public Sector is difficult… there is austerity to cope with, the risk of serious incidents and a belief that clipart is fine.
It is hard and often thankless.
What can separate the good public sector comms officer is the ability to react calmly.
Just recently, I crowd-sourced examples of the stupidest thing you’d ever been asked on the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group. There were more than 80 comments on the Facebook thread. From this, I’ve picked 20 corkers. All were great and we only have space to post a cross-section.
Category one: That’s impossible
“Can you change what someone has just said in that video interview, please?” – Anonymous.
Can we get William and Kate to come? (Next month) – Alison Jones.
“Maybe we could get the message incorporated into the script of River City (popular Scottish soap), that would get the message out to everyone.” – Anonymous.
"Please turn Facebook off on weekends as we don’t want any questions out of hours." – Matt Murray.
Them: Can you get Michelle Obama to open <insert something insignificant>?
Me: What budget do you have?
Them: Nothing, it will be good exposure!
– Jo Morris.
"We want A Twitter and Facebook page, but can you switch off the comments feature please? We just want to put messages out, we don’t have time to respond to people" ? – Heledd Evans
“You know that major document that took weeks to co-produce, with content and images drawn from active engagement with our communities. Well I’m writing a document today and need it to look exactly like that one. By tomorrow.” – Adrian Osborne
Category two: That’s just stupid
"Our email systems are going to be down for the rest of the week – can you send round an all staff email so everyone knows?" Anonymous.
“We really don’t want anyone there – can you do a press release?” – Anonymous.
“Can you delete Facebook? The entire channel?” – Anonymous.
“Asked to send a survey to staff on why they don’t complete surveys.” – Anonymous.
Senior type: "Do you know journalist X?"
Senior Type: "I’d like to be on TV, can you arrange that?"
Me: "To do / talk about what?"
Senior type: "About me."
Me: Thinks…."Can you mail me some key points to forward to X journalist?" Smiles. (February 2016).
To date no email….
Them: Can you prepare a press statement about what we’re doing about the bird poo just in case we get media attention.
Me: why is there a bird poo problem?
Them: we had to cut down the trees round the area as preparatory works for development and it brought all the [add bird name, I can’t remember it]
Me: Isn’t that the bird species we wrote a press release about the other week, celebrating them coming to the town?
‘How am I supposed to answer all the emails in my Twitter inbox – every time I get to the end more come up?’ This was not even talking about DM’s just the main twitter feed.” – Morvern Rennie.
"Can you put this in the paper tomorrow please" (usually something completely unnewsworthy, from someone in every organisation I’ve ever worked for.) – Alice Insley Oliver.
Category three: That’s just wrong-headed
"Can you let me know how much this hashtag will cost?" – Anonymous.
"Can we brighten up the front cover of our slavery policy please. Maybe put a picture of a happy smiley customer on it?" – Anonymous.
“We have just given £1500 to a sectarian group – can you ensure that someone else is discussed?” – Anonymous.
"Can you photoshop out that member of staff’s tattoo – it’s not the image we want to portray and they won’t mind." – Anonymous.
"Can you find a photo for the campaign hero image? It needs to be of an ethnically diverse family that doesn’t look like it’s been chosen for that reason?" – Anonymous.
“Request: We wanna create a Facebook page about ‘chlamydia’ where young people can then like it and share with their friends.” – Alan Ferguson.
“Was once sent a pic for the staff mag from a colleague who had ‘met’ a celebrity. On closer inspection he’d clearly (and badly) photoshopped his head on to the body of a person who actually had met the sleb. Then used Microsoft paint to scribble out the original chap’s forearm tattoos…” – Anonymous.
“Several times this and only this: "I’ve been told there’s a comment on Facebook." Ummm…” – Sara Hamilton.
“I got asked to "create a strap line" for an internal project so that someone could put it on a cake…” – Anonymous.
HR type: "Our job descriptions look really boring."
Me: "That’s ok, they need to be pretty simple, people need to know about the job they are applying for."
HR type: "Can you design them and put pictures on them and all our staff benefits?"
"It’s really important that this a social movement rather than a campaign, so it’s not seen as coming from the state. Can <government minister> be at the launch event? And No 10 want to have some of their friends there too." – Anonymous.
Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.
Picture credit: SDASM Archives