April: A month of sunbathing and snow fall. And a new financial year for public sector comms teams which means new plans, new resources, maybe even new teams, and some fresh challenges to get stuck into.
by Darren Caveney
April is a funny month. It’s always felt like a turning point in the year and a mini fresh start after what can sometimes be a hard launch to the year in January.
When I was in-house it was the start of a new budget year too, and with it came the chance to rethink resources and plans. Sometimes.
Let’s be real – it depends on your organisation’s financial position and situation post-austerity (are we post austerity? That might need to be a separate blog post)
So, I thought it might be useful to share some personal reflections and also some observations from the conversations I’ve had recently with comms teams on what sunny/snowy April means in terms of challenges.
And a challenge of course can be flipped into an opportunity. Sometimes.
Here are my top 6 challenges for teams to think about this month. And 6 resources and ideas which may help.
1. Your shiny new budget
I used to love getting my new budget in April. It was clean slate and a chance to change tack if change was needed. Of course some of you now have tiny budgets so the potential impact of a change can be smaller but even a couple of thousand pound spent on some new creatives for a key campaign can provide a real injection into our work.
For others the budget may have been reduced from the 2020/21 version.
You may have some increased income targets to achieve.
You may have a restructure to map out and make workable.
These are tough challenges for the comms lead to navigate and for the team to get through together.
If any of this sounds like your world and you’re new to these demands seek out peers who have been through these particular budget ringers. There’s a lot of wisdom and lessons out there so don’t be alone with budget struggles.
2. How’s your comms strategy looking?
As we enter the new reduced restrictions phases of Covid around the UK you might be planning a refresh to your comms strategy. One characteristic of public sector comms strategies last year was the move towards shorter, stripped back, more agile plans which allowed teams to deliver at times monstrous demands to support the pandemic. But as services begin to spot the opportunity to bang the drum for their own comms support away from Covid activities your phones will ring and your inbox will get hit up. This brings the risk of increased plates to spin so if the strategy and deliverable priorities are not identified and agreed by the senior leadership then problems could arise in the coming months.
So, if that’s you and yours April is the month to make strategic moves. For some of you you’re in a pre-election period which hopefully gives a slightly better chance of success to dedicate some time and resource to crafting your new comms strategy. If it were me I would again keep my strategy short and flexible because, let’s face it, you still wouldn’t want to put any money on what happens in 2021.
Need a template to peg your new comms strategy around? Here’s my ‘go to’ comms best friend – my essential comms2point0 comms planning guide. I’m really proud that this has had over 5k downloads now.
3. Telling your story, telling it well
Once you have your strategy in place you may need to refine your narrative too. Or, ideally develop them in conjunction so that they ebb and flow and fit together as one combined approach with clear remits, objectives and messaging.
For local government this will be telling the story about leading your areas into a recovery phase of reduced restrictions in the coming months.
For the NHS this will be continuing to support key Covid messaging whilst also pushing on with other patient engagements and health campaigns.
For the emergency services it will mean a mix of managing the restrictions as well as business as usual.
For higher education there’s a generation of current – and soon to be fresh student intake – wondering just what all these ongoing changes mean to their education and opportunities.
And for central government there’s no small matter of a hefty communications restructure which will be the key priority.
Wherever you sit in the public sector one things for sure your story must be credible, clear, bold, and must stand out creatively in a hugely cluttered market of noise and competition for our attention.
This narrative building toolkit on the Local Government Association’s site is worth looking at and can be used by anyone needing to craft an effective story for organisation, place or campaign.
4. Trends, data and insights
As a part of your comms planning work you will obviously want to look at your own local data and analytics from across all available sources. You can merge these with national trends and insights. The Ofcom communications market report is a valuable go to resource for you to access and use.
And, just launched for the public sector comms professional is this new Public sector approach to digital engagement 2021 resource I have collaborated on with Orlo and Microsoft UK. It highlights the state of play with all things digital, engagement, resources, and strategy and is a really useful benchmarking opportunity for public sector comms teams to make use of.
Plus, I am just beginning a new collaboration with Aston University to really uncover what worked best on social media during Covid – content and channels, messaging and method. More on this soon.
5. Regaining that creative magic
Whilst huge amounts of creativity have gone into communicating Covid the inevitable fog of fatigue is present for many after over a year’s worth of crisis comms. This means that we may need to work a little harder and differently to rekindle your creative fires. You can’t just click your fingers and switch on creativity. Especially with remote working still a feature for most. And making the time is the biggest challenge but the also the biggest opportunity.
How do others do it? Well, I’m glad you ask because something new and exciting is soon to launch: Creativity Lab.
Launching on the 20 April, Creativity Lab is a chance to hear how others encourage creativity into their work and – importantly – maintain it to give their campaigns the best chance of success. Come along to the creative party and join (so far) 190 other comms pros in trying this new venture by signing up here. It’s free and guaranteed to be fun and helpful with the special guests I have lined up.
6. Safeguarding your mental health and wellbeing
Yes I’m going to mention this again. And yes I am a stuck record on the issue.
For me this is the number one challenge for every comms team in 2021, and many are making really important strides and taking time out to ensure each team member is being supported after over a year of full-on pandemic comms.
But we know don’t we that it’s so easy to fall into habits and ruts which can impact any of us negatively.
We can have the greatest comms strategies, plans and resources in the world but if you’re feeling unwell or unable to cope they count for very little.
Once of the things I have been doing in the past couple of months is joining comms team meetings to hold dedicated wellbeing session. They have been valuable opportunities for comms pros to drop the work talk for a while and to focus on their own wellbeing – whether it needs urgent attention, a light touch tweak or a just more of the same it’s been so interesting to see how people are really feeling and to understand that the pressures are actually different for everyone. Whether you’re working from home in and amongst a houseful, or experiencing it all solo, there are different impacts when trying to stay on top of a considerable to do list, not to mention personal Covid concerns.
I’ve felt quite honoured to be able to hear these stories and the tactics colleagues have found work best for them. And for those struggling there’s advice and practical tips available to try to help lessen any negative impacts.
As ever, Comms Unplugged continues to lead the way on managing mental health and wellbeing in our industry so check out the website for a whole range of blogs, podcasts, advice and resources to help.
I hope something here struck a chord and is a sign-poster to some resources to help you. Good luck and enjoy April.
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Image via Steve Snodgrass