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26 things I learned at #UKComm16

There was a lot of learning at the 7th Annual GovDelivery Public Sector Communications conference – #UKComm16 – in London yesterday. If you missed it here’s a quick summary.

Back when I worked in local government six or seven years ago I popped along to catch the last few minutes of an event at a Birmingham science park. Maybe 30 people were in the room for the event delivered by this new company called GovDelivery.

Scroll forward and that company has grown to become one of the cornerstones of bright public sector communications and the event has grown too. More than 750 people were registered for their annual event which never fails to deliver.

This year, myself and comms2point0 co-founder Darren Caveney, were honoured to be compering the event.

As Ernest Hemingway said, prose is architecture, not interior decoration. Choose a platform. Use the right content.

In the best traditions of events here’s some pointers about what I learned.

1. RIBA in Portland Place is a ruddy great venue. About a 15-minute walk from far Euston station it’s a joy to be in.

2. Being a communicator in 2016 has rarely been harder but rarely been easier. There are frightening challenges but there are the tools out there to make you more effective. It’s knowing them and when to use them that’s more than half the battle.

3. Please, please, please if you are working in the public sector try and pin a financial benefit to what you are doing. If you don’t you will be considered a nice-to-have luxury and you will be taken out.

4. So, Stoke on Trent City Council calculating the potential benefit of better web in pounds, shillings and pence made me want to leap from my chair. By building better eforms fewer people called the council. So there was less pressure on hard-pressed call centre staff. In time saved, this worked out at almost £400,000. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Good work Emma Rodgers and her team.

5. There was much talk of service improvement and offering a better service. At a comms conference. I know. Think about that for a minute. Why do we communicate? To tell people about stuff. To listen and to flag up things that can make people’s lives easier. Making lives easier is why the public sector exists. The role of a public sector communicator is not as a press release monkey at the end of the process but to be involved in the process. That’s where your worth is.

6. Yes, getting involved in the process can be difficult if you are a small team being asked to do big team things. But try a small project. Be involved with that and show what you can do.

7. Huw Ap Dewi is the second most famous man in Wrexham. Mickey Thomas is first. Huw is second. He is the voice of Wrexham Council.

8. Emails sent out by Wrexham Council to remind people about bin collections saw a 43 per cent reduction in calls to the bin collection people.

9. Emails sent out by the team that spreads the grit in Stoke-on-Trent to say they’d been gritting led to a drop in threats made to gritter drivers that they hadn’t been gritting.

8. Everyone needs to listen to FutureGov’s Carrie Bishop every so often. She is a walking reminder that it’s not you it’s them. Don’t stop doing good things.

9. If you have more than three priorities you have no priorities.

10. David Pearson takes good pictures and Rebel Uncut do a good livestream.

11. Game of Thrones memes are communications too.

12. It’s about what the resident really needs not what the resident ideally wants.

13. Don’t benchmark against the private sector. They want to flog new taps. You want people to become foster carers so they will give a better start in life to a child who has had a bad start. That’s oranges and apples. Or taps and real people.

14. Real people recorded on video tell your story far more effectively than anything.

15. Steve Ressler should come to Birmingham to taste a proper balti.

16. All organisations are on a digital maturity scale. You can measure yours here.

17. All adults are online, right? No. Rachel Neaman from doteveryone told us that 23 per cent of adults lack the most basic digital skills. This is a problem. For you if you are a comms person. For them because they are becoming more and more and more disadvantaged.

18. Comms can help with channel shift. A press release won’t do it. Bringing comms, IT, digital, customer service and senior buy-in and a lot of commitment and hard work *may* do it.

19. Pictures of cats in emails are fine.

20. There were four really strong candidates up for GovDelivery’s communicator of the year award. Dan Cattanach of Bath and North East Somserset Council is a worthy winner. There is no-one in the public sector using video more engagingly, more creatively and more effectively. Class, be like Dan Cattanach.

21. Steve Langrick from Kirklees Council reminds us that children don’t care about the channels that us grown-ups use.

22. The biggest barrier to good digital comms is fear of change.

23. When brown envelopes with clear windows aren’t opened SMS often are.

24. Trump, Brexit, Bake Off. We live in troubling times.

25. Nigel Bishop’s download is available here and has a big pile of useful stats that map out the public sector communications landscape. Budgets have fallen by around £25 million in local government in the UK in three years.

26. Lists of what you’ve learned at events can never be exhaustive.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.