Benlowndes

a perspective on PR in social housing and regeneration

How social can fuel great local conversations

“The profession is polarising between those practitioners that are cracking on and using new forms of media to engage publics in two-way dialogue and those that continue to spam journalists with press releases.

“The former have a great future in the business. The latter will be out of job within a generation.”

Stephen Waddington (@wadds) on the future of PR

After thousands of discussions, the West of England’s #WEbuildourfuture consultation ended yesterday (Friday 29 January).

This was an important and challenging conversation about housing and transport for the area’s four local authorities. Where 85,000 new homes should go and how transport should work are complex and thorny issues, with many differing and competing opinions. The last three months have seen the councils engage in genuine and thought-provoking exchanges. I hope it demonstrates the good practice Steven Waddington refers to in his quote above.

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Transport campaign toasts success

I was really pleased to see the West of England named today as one of a handful of areas to benefit from government funding to encourage increased use of electric cars on our streets.

Colleagues were among this morning’s gathering to welcome Transport Minister Andrew Jones’ announcement of £7.5m to fund more local charging points.

It was especially satisfying because we supported this bid with an excellent campaign which demonstrated strong public appetite in the West of England for government investment in infrastructure for plug-in cars.

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No predictions, just 3 hopes for 2016

If you’ve read any posts, columns and opinions about 2015, it would be easy to think that last year was a bad one.

People of Columnia have a negative tendency, but it seems that there’s plenty to trouble us. Terrorism, austerity, economic under-performance, migration, Europe and runaway house prices all point to a bad year.

I’ve also had many conversations about ‘leadership failure’ over many of these issues. It seems that people have had enough of being soft-soaped. This was demonstrated in Jeremy Corbyn’s extraordinary victory over the ‘Westminster elite’ in the Labour leadership campaign. It was also expressed in nastier ways through trolling and threats dealt out on social media.

Opinion formers have an appetite for predictions at this time of year. After so many people called the big events wrong in 2015, it’s daft to attempt it for the coming year.

I want to be optimistic and set out some hopes for 2016. Some relate to national issues, others are more local and there’s a personal one too. All are important to me and, if they happen, it should be a good year.

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Trolls and threats: don’t blame social for nastiness

I’ve always enjoyed debate and place great importance on our freedom to challenge opinions we disagree with.

This can be tough, and I have become jaded lately by what I’ve seen and experienced on Twitter in relation to Syria. I stayed away from it for a couple of days last week because of the unpleasantness displayed towards people who expressed different views to opponents of the decision to start a bombing campaign.

Social media enables anyone to voice opinions, unchecked and unfiltered, to the wider world. On balance, this is a good thing. It’s make discourse more interesting and gives an airing to views which are too easily overlooked by the mainstream. If there was ever a time when politicians, media and civic institutions shaped public discourse, it feels distant today.

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If where you live matters, join the #WEbuildourfuture conversation

WEbuildourfuture images

(Created by JBP)

A big conversation is happening around Bristol that could shape local housing and transport for decades to come.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working with colleagues to get ready for a major consultation which could map where thousands of new homes are built across the West of England over the next 20 years.

The phrase ‘West of England Joint Spatial Plan and Transport Study‘ won’t set pulses racing. But the issues it covers should interest anyone who has views about where they live, how they get to work or school or whether they will be able to keep a roof over the heads in future.

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PR lessons for English football after FIFA debacle

You don’t need to be a football fanatic (or a PR person) to see that the sport’s global governing body has been in the eye of a storm of late.

FIFA and its beleaguered President Sepp Blatter has adorned newspapers’ front and back pages, led the news bulletins and been the subject of an outpouring of online posts that have lasted for weeks.

In the UK and across Europe, the headlines have been overwhelmingly bad. Leading voices have wasted no time in putting the boot in after Blatter eventually announced his resignation in the face of mounting and sustained pressure.

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New era, same principles for engagement

I gave this presentation at JBP’s Bristol office on Monday night about how digital can be used to support engagement activity. The event was attended by professionals who work in planning, development and legal practice.

I was delighted that comms manager from East Devon Drew Aspinwall joined me to talk about activity that has taken place to support the development of the new community at Cranbrook. Listening to the conversation afterwards reinforced my view that Cranbook is out on its own in terms of the pace and scale of delivery and level of support it has locally. Partners can be proud of the community they’re helping to create.

My slides were put together using Haikudeck, which is great for clear and engaging content slides and easy to use if you know what you’re going to say. Like many tools, it seems to have its own quirky ways which can cause frustrations and I have struggled with sharing it and getting it to render properly in this blog which has added a couple of hours onto my day. I hope to get more up to speed with it soon!

My slides are below.

More detailed notes used with the slides can be found on Haikudeck.

The anti-social media election: digital can do much more for parties

“Fighting a word of mouth campaign and having conversations is absolutely what political parties should be doing. But they have to be genuine conversations which means ditching the antiquated simplistic messaging formulas. Slavishly repeating exactly the same phrase over and over again just turns people off and makes them tune out. You can continually repeat the idea behind the message, but only if you constantly adapt it to the circumstances and use your own words.”

Stuart Bruce blogging about election campaigns in January 2015

Labour's campaign poster on the NHS

Depressingly familiar: campaign scare tactics made noise but didn’t cut through

It’s taken me until now to write about the election.

After months of conversations about preparing for another hung parliament, or even a minority government and second election later this year, I was massively surprised by the result. I’m still in shock about the outcome and can’t begin to explain it; the Westminster crew will doubtless spend the next six months pouring over every detail in its search for answers.

One aspect of the election I can offer a view on relates to my experience of the campaign over the past few weeks. There wasn’t any direct contact with my family, even though we live in one of the most marginal seats in the South West – where former MP Tessa Munt won the seat of Wells in 2010 by around 800 votes. This was a race with just two horses, with a 1% swing to the Conservatives enough to unseat the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP.

Save for a few drab leaflets through our door, nobody came to our street to talk to us or our neighbours. It may not have made a difference to the result, such was the scale of Tessa’s defeat. But the quality of direct campaigning was a depressing feature of the election for me.

I’ve read lots recently about the extent to which this was the ‘social media election’, with digital campaigning techniques spawning a ‘new era’ of engagement and parties reaching out to people. It was claimed that whoever won the social media campaign would win the keys to Number 10, which has been put into context by Stephen Waddington this week. I’d go further than those who’ve said the social media campaigning has been depressing and one-dimensional. While there was much to enjoy and fascinate, the main party campaigns were largely anti-social and a turn off.

A bit harsh? Read Stuart’s blog piece from January about why campaigning has to change and ask whether it really did.

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Three reasons why I’ll champion the HCA’s work

Five years, one month and a day after joining the HCA, I departed last Thursday to take up a new job.

I’m returning to agency life at JBP, an extremely well-respected company which specialises in PR (in all its forms) consultation and public affairs. From tomorrow, I’ll be a senior account director in its Bristol office and I am hugely looking forward to the opportunity.

That’s not to say that it was an easy decision to leave the HCA. After all, I was able to influence discussion around a hugely important area of government work. I had a flexible and fair employer and I enjoyed what I did. In the end, I moved because it offers me an opportunity to progress my career in areas that are most important to me.

I will still champion the HCA though and there are many reasons for this. Three of them have stood out in recent conversations. Read more of this post

#ukhousing jargon: what we can do about habitual horrors

“Some people love speaking in jargon, using fancy words and turning everything into acronyms. Personally, I find this simply slows things down, confuses people and causes them to lose interest. It’s far better to use a simple term and commonplace words that everyone will understand, rather than showing off and annoying your audience.”

Richard Branson on why we should ditch jargon

Nonsense I have an issue with jargon, and it’s not because I’m a pedant…

At its worst, it alienates those who we’re trying to reach and highlights a disconnect between us and the rest of the world.

It also makes no business sense, because it wastes the time of the person who is giving and receiving the information. Those are strong reasons to stop the ‘cut and paste’ approach that litters business correspondence and get back to basics.

Whilst the world of housing (particularly the bit in which I work) isn’t alone in having its own ‘special’ phrases, it’s clear that we have a problem when it comes to clearly explaining what we do. Ask anyone who joins the sector from another industry (as I did once). They’ll probably tell you much of their first few months were spent wondering what people are talking about in meetings and struggling to decipher emails.

If people who work with us feel like that, what does a small business or resident think when trying to find out about something like a new development in their community, for example?

There may be a case for using jargon sometimes; if the audience understands it, using specialist terms can be an efficient way to make a point. But context matters and dumping technical information into a note intended for someone who isn’t an expert bugs those who are on the receiving end.

And don’t even get me started on acronyms (another post for another day)! Our language is littered with them, ranging from the reasonable (HCA, DCLG) to the odd (LA for council) and plain daft (GCN? Great crested newts, or just newts!).

Sure, comms people with their ROIs, metrics, SOVs and other clever words have their own idiosyncrasies. But this should concern anyone who cares about whether people ‘get’ what we do. Read more of this post

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