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Has there ever been a tougher time to work in communications? One comms manager likens it to an iconic children’s TV show…

by Shaun Gibbons

OK, it’s just gone half past eleven in the evening and I’m sat at the kitchen table, everyone else is in bed – even the dog. (Not a creature stirs, and all that). It’s my first ok, second glass of Malbec and I’m having serious reservations about a lot of things, not least my dwindling drinks cabinet and my stuttering mental health.

I was once asked what I did for a living – some chippy sales consultant with deeply-questionable dress sense at a Christmas party round friends. (I don’t do dinner parties, I’m not posh).

“I work for the local Council,” I said. “Oh,” said Pringle Shirt, “that must be boring…” I smiled and sidled away, safe in the knowledge that at least I don’t wear patent leather slip-on shoes together with white towelling socks.

Regrettably, because of social distancing, I don’t have the opportunity to update our Mondeo-loving friend on recent events – although I do have the next God-knows-how-long to think of a witty retort should our paths ever cross again.

What I would say to him, however – not sure you’d agree – is that work, for me, has turned into an episode of the 1980s children’s television programme ‘We are the Champions, hosted by the legendary Ron Pickering. Ergo, I’m constantly surrounded by people (figuratively) shouting at me all at once to do things and I’m balancing bandy-legged on an inflatable raft desperately trying not to fall into a swimming pool full of shit.

Oh, and I’ve borderline ADHD symptoms and suffer from anxiety. All I need now is distemper or something and someone will need to put me out of my misery…

But I guess what stops me from falling into the brown stuff – and what gets me out of bed in the morning – are those colleagues who are on the front line: the ones who are up at the crack of dawn pulling on their boots to collect people’s rubbish; those colleagues who are working 16-hour days to hold everything together; those working from home who look after their small children during the day and work at night – what break do they get?

Look, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of communication professionals from all parts of the public sector who are better at this than me. But, for what it’s worth, here are my Top 3 essentials/advice for getting through this.

  1. Be human: the next time you’re responding to someone on social media, or talking to a colleague whether in your team or not, ask them how they are. Situations like the one we are faced with mean people’s true nature and personality appear, so be kind: show an interest in the people you work with and work for. Comms people are in the main extroverts, show leadership and put others first.  

  2. Be prepared to get things wrong: controversial, but true. We’re all working at a tremendous pace – and accuracy and speed rarely go hand-in-hand. If you do invariably fall in to a swimming pool full of do-do, there will be others who’ll help you back up on to the raft. You’re only human (see above). 

  3. Be a team player: given the nature of the circumstances we’re faced with, comms people will sometimes be given messages, narratives, strategies, etc. by others that are fait accompli. Suck it up buttercups. Now’s not the time to start getting prissy about the value of comms. Yes, comms people need a voice and, quite rightly, we should push back when we think it’s right to do so, but the pressures on everyone at the moment bring out the best, and the worst, in people… so be a team player. There will be plenty of navel-gazing and endless wash-up meetings after all this is over for you to put forward your thoughts.

So, that’s it. Not earth-shattering, just my thoughts. See you on the other side.

(N.B – these are my thoughts and mine alone and do not reflect those of the Council I work for. I reserve the right to swear in my own time).

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager for South Holland District Council


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