clip art and allotments.jpg

From sun dials to websites – good comms has always been about knowing your audience.

by Julie Odams

Forgive me colleagues, for I have sinned…I used a clip art image recently. It was absolutely, categorically not for work. But it was to engage people, so it was a comms piece. Sorry, but also a bit not sorry.

Being in a managerial position for the last few years has meant I don’t do a lot of fun, creative stuff anymore. When I do get involved with frontline work it tends to be difficult things like court cases, crisis comms (hello, Whaley bridge dam exactly a month after I started my new job) and culture change.

As a result, the chance to practice some of the practical skills I used to have was too good an opportunity to miss. As any comms colleagues who have been unfortunate enough to meet me in person or see my social media feeds recently will know, I got an allotment in April. Yes, that makes me one of those tedious wannbe hipsters: I’ve even tried growing kale. But I am a passionate gardener with a back garden the size of a postage stamp and so I do have an excuse. The allotment site I am on isn’t the kind of open, communal area that you might have in your head if you are from some of the more palatial parts of the country: allotment plots in the Potteries have hedges (or more often sheets or corrugated iron) eight foot high all the way around them, occasionally topped off with barbed wire. As such, the sense of community isn’t all that it might be: you don’t always see your neighbours, let alone anyone from the other side of the site, and our Committee struggles to get information out to people. There’s a noticeboard on the car park displaying the names of the Committee and the bylaws about bonfires, but that was it. To know what was going on you listened out for the cluck of new chickens, the swearing that’s associated with the inevitable nettle stings and a peak in to plots when someone had got their gate open.

All this is a long way of saying that there was a clear gap in information for plotholders and an opportunity to build up the community to help and support each other more. Selfishly, I wanted to see what other people had done with their plots and for them to offer me plants and tools they didn’t need, as well as my wanting to give something back. So I went to a Committee meeting in the local working men’s club to offer to put together a website and newsletter. It was like I had offered the moon on a stick: they were thrilled. So the site and newsletter are up and running and they are as basic as you like, to the point that I would be embarrassed to show them to a comms colleague. The website is the most basic WordPress site. The newsletter is done on Powerpoint (because it’s easy, I’ve got it on my home computer, I can print it out and most people have it so they can open it from an email) using photos off my phone and Pixabay when all my plants have been eaten by slugs and I’ve got nothing pretty to take pictures of. And that’s where the clip art came in. I had a gap on the first newsletter (not the good white space that designers like) and nothing to put in it, so I added a little clip art bee. And do you know what, it was fine. The world didn’t end. People love the website and now interrupt my digging to talk to me about it. The newsletter gets printed out for people who don’t have email (of whom there are lots) and is put on the noticeboard, and was held up as a revelation. That’s all it needs at the moment. I’m encouraging people to give me content to use, which is taking some doing – one plotholder said “Have patience, some of these lot are still using sundials to tell the time” – and social media would absolutely be a bridge too far right now. It’ll come, but we’ve got to get used to talking to each other before we are ready to talk to the world.

My point is an obvious one – good comms is about knowing your audience and what works for it. If I’d have suggested anything more sophisticated it would have switched my fellow plotholders right off. There’s no shame in keeping it basic if that’s what is needed – in my darker moments I suspect the hour spent setting up the allotment website has had more effect than a lot of the seriously complicated pieces I’ve done in my career – and only a little bit of shame in adding a clip art bee.

There will be times when you’ve broken our – usually absolutely spot on – professional rules, and I’d love to hear about it, and what it achieved. As long as you don’t ever darken our collective door with mention of Publisher. That is a step too far J

Julie Odams is assistant director of communications & customers at Derbyshire County Council. You can say hello on Twitter at @JulieDOdams and @commshigher

Image via the State Library of Queensland

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

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