Byline to front line

Why spending time out with the people who deal with the public can - and should - change the way you do comms.

Understanding the organisation you work and communicate for is critical to ensuring the success of your strategy. The delivery of that strategy and the learning points are also important, but what is key is making sure you don't fall into the trap of becoming a desktop communicator.

You may think that reading the annual report, attending some management team meetings and going for coffee with your team should cover it, but while you may get a pretty good impression of how the organisation wants to be seen, you certainly won't get the full picture of how it really is seen - by the public and by those who serve the public more directly. 

You are the eyes and the ears of your organisation not a glorified receptionist - so get out there and learn about the people that make your organisation what it is. Accept that there will be good and there will be bad, but ultimately, you can't make a good decision based on only having half the story.

It's very easy to get caught up in managing a team, complying to management requirements and sorting out the stuff that is the business end of it, but by taking time out to meet the people that your decisions could ultimately impact on a day to day basis you'll find a whole host of benefits. I've always made it a point to go out, spend time at the sharp end and also encourage team members to do it. 

A large number of people moved into comms after being a journalist. I did, and I missed being out and about so I made it my business to find the stories, get to know the people and get in people's faces. I wanted that for everyone - if only to help people realise whether working in comms was for them. Here's what I learnt;

  1. People in operational roles respect you more for making the effort. This really comes in handy when you need people to help you with interviews, photo ops, and generally finding where the toilets/tea/nearest all night kebab shop is. 
  2. By showing you are willing to learn, you show how open you are to change. Learning from those that know shows them they are valued and this, in itself, is invaluable when dealing with particularly sticky internal comms issues.
  3. You get to the truth of the matter. People are scared to say something doesn't work when you ask them in a meeting. Join them in their world and you'll soon discover where you need to adjust something.
  4. People care about things you didn't even realise existed (or don't care about something you thought was vital). Back to the drawing board, but what a great way to show you're willing to adapt to prevent a potential organisational reputation fail.
  5. You get inspired. Seeing people have real passion for their roles working tirelessly to help others makes you realise why you started this job in the first place and you genuinely want to help them.
  6. It's fun. You're in a privileged position - think about what your friends do. How many of them get to see the real side of public services? I've flown in police helicopters, been out with paramedics, helped put out a fire, been very sick with the RNLI off the Sussex coast, climbed across rooftops, been a hostage on an airplane and had access to places that people only dream of. I've seen the real dark side of life but the beauty of humanity. And cuddled lots of lovely fluffy dogs. 

So, take time out from your job and learn about others. The perspective it will give you is so refreshing and insightful that you'll wish you'd done it sooner. 


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