Communication is both an art and a science.
International, national or local, Lyric helps leading businesses, cultural organisations & charities understand how to communicate - with integrity - for powerful results
Comms Professionals: Your Call
Senior comms professionals can't always affect the "what", but we have a heck of an input into the "how". And that can be world-changing.
It's 15 years since I (and many of you) first responded to Government calls to develop plans for a third Heathrow runway. I learnt masses - not least from campaigners and residents (thank you to John Stewart at HACAN and the many residents, including Sipson Residents' Association) and have since worked with many communities, individuals and organisations who impact on them.
The third runway experience changed my own small world, but sadly, it didn't end the uncertainty for anyone around Heathrow; it's now 2018, for goodness' sake.
Remember, when we do our comms jobs, it's not just a job. How it gets done can give many people many sleepless nights or it can start to build trust. It's your call.
Sack, Crack or Back?
Change, wisdom and jesters
How do you know you're being a good leader? Can you spot the wear and tear behind your department heads' eyes? Hear the crackle in the office carpet as you pass? Sniff the "awkward" in the air at the Monday catch-up?
When your spidey-sense kicks in, but there's no simple fix, or even an obvious problem, it can be nothing short of exhausting.
So when that niggle starts to follow you home - or worse, when it becomes a poke in the eye that wakes you up - you can wish it under the carpet or you can stop what you're doing and face it square on.
But hang on a min: you've hired excellent professionals. Smart cookies, who've hired more smart cookies. Wading in is hardly "leadership". This is why you pay well.
But - but... How has your energetic powerhouse hire become this baggy-eyed grouch? And don't pretend you didn't hear your own "Phew!" when they said a competitor's laying people off - because it means your guys will stay put...
Creating teams that stay and thrive, through bad times and good
For over 12 years, I’ve supported Marketing and Communications Directors, Chief Execs, Co. Secs and Financial Officers who know when they need external booster packs for their communications, to help refocus their strategy and reenergise their teams in times of stress, without breaking the bank.
More importantly, I’ve left them with an up-skilled team that has lasting focus, energy, insight, loyalty and confidence. How? How can an external consultant add lasting, serious, bottom line value?
How did we become Henry VIII?! When change comes....
OK. Imagine you have a problem. Imagine your once-awesome offer has become tinged with "meh", "bleurgh" or simple "disgusting". How? Simple: the world changes. A vital component turns out to be a whale-killer. A founder turns out to be a very nasty person. The regulator or government says you need to give more, do less, build something, sell something else, charge more -
But it was never a problem before. Let's just hope it'll go away, says almost everyone on the senior payroll. Says almost no-one on the user/customer-side. Say very few on the staff... Now if you have good comms people in-house, they've spotted this, taken soundings, and they have your ear in good times and bad. And if you have hired serious comms talent, they have found a way to say the unpalatable and shake the building, without fear for their jobs, reputations, impact on team morale.
If this reminds you of the role of the old court jester, you're in the right space. A great comms person needs to be court jester at times, saying the unthinkable to power, regardless of the short-term personal - and organisational - risk. But is that what you hired your in-house comms guys for? Because you're a Henry VIII kind of organisation? You're here, reading this - of course you're not. Read on.
Why are our top comms guys not delivering the goods we want?
So you have a great - but inexplicably tired-looking comms team. And both you and they are getting fractious. Perhaps the Board is questioning the comms strategy. Maybe the results aren't what you hoped for. Things are not going to plan. You’re at a loss. Something has to be done. What are your options? Crack? Sack? Or Back?
Sack, Crack or Back?
1. Sack ‘em. Meh. You hired them / you like them / you know things could be better. You know this is about your own leadership as much as their energy. Next?
2. Crack. Take it all on yourself. Nothing can solve this. Worry yourself into the ground. Take it home with you. Kick the dog, moan at the Significant Other/s. Over time, really get to dislike, nay, despise yourself. Or, take all that pressure off yourself and apply it to the middle management til their pips squeak. Watch them try to do the impossible. Nah. Unnecessary. Because you know you can -
3. Back. Back them. Yep, back them. I said it in #1 - this is about leadership. You know it. They know it. Worse - they know you know it and if you don’t do something about it, it’ll just add to #2 (crack) or worse, #1 and it’ll be you facing the sack. So how do you do this one? How do you back a team facing what are essentially strategic communications issues without breaking the bank, or undermining them by hiring - for example - another bod at a senior level who’s kidding no-one?
Who you gonna call?
Lyric? Of course! Sadly , thanks to the limitations of the dictionary/shadiness of nefarious tax-dodgers, the title “consultant” has a bit of a stinky undertone, but a genuine consultant isn’t an employee who's kept off the books.
A great consultant should be your very own communications Ghostbuster (with some frank jestering in the offer):
You have a problem
They learn about it from every angle, and then - bonus! - without a marshmallow mess-
Together, you eliminate the problem.
It's never in isolation; it's with the team on the ground, the 360-degree stakeholders, and the board. And that makes it a process which in itself does something fundamental within an organisation's DNA (yes, it's a cliche, but a knowing one!). And that's how growth-mindset, learning organisations thrive. By knowing your consultants and when to use them.
How you gonna call?
Gill Kirk, February 2018
Passion Tells Tales Makes Sales
There you are, treating yourself to the Sunday crafts market. We’re (very, regularly) spoilt in Bath. A beautiful, disused station (Green Park, designed by John Holloway Sanders) hosts a weekly farmers’ market - where tasting is believing - and on Sundays, you’ll get vintage, craft, all sorts. I digress. It’s nature of Sundays. Relax and wander with me. It’s Sunday. A Sunday full of stalls and smiles and smells (coffee and bacon butties) - and we’re in the heart of Bath Brunch Market.
And in front of me is a man. With a smile, and a table, and some things made of wood.
And those 3 simple things are the doorway to a universe of stories.
Simon Webb - for it was he - makes incredibly beautiful pens and cufflinks from wood filled with stories. And oh, what stories. Which is why he has very kindly let me write about him. Simon’s not one of my clients; he’s “just” an inspiration.
He told me about the family who inherited their mum’s table. But it wasn’t quite to their taste. Along came Simon, and Mum’s table has become two beautiful pens: one for each adult child. Heirlooms that "talk". Now she's remembered with a creative flourish, rather than with bruises and unhappy tablecloths.
He told me about the Victorian pew that became cufflinks, fountain pens and ballpoints. And how Newton’s apple tree is being turned into National Trust cufflinks.
I wanted to tell you about Simon because his objects are irresistible. Not because he spins a yarn, but they are irresistable because like him, they are made by the stories they carry.
Every item has its own beating heart. The fountain pen in the picture above comes from one of the UK’s oldest walnut trees, in Lydiard Park, five minutes from Simon’s home. It was much-loved, and climbed by thousands of children over its 300-year life, but was blown down in a storm. As Simon says, “it lives on in pen form". This is no marketing add-on. This is genuine passion, which he pours into every creation.
So here’s a final story to tickle your purpose and passion.
Simon was given some wood that had been unearthed from Swindon’s railways works. He asked to see where it had come from. They led him to the place. It was the site of his late father’s desk.
You can see Simon’s beautiful - and affordable - work for yourself online at https://www.facebook.com/simonwebbartisan/ @simonwebb and www.simon-webb.co.uk.
Trust is all we have
Donald Rumsfeld has been - fairly - much mocked for talking about "unknown unknowns". What he seemed to be having trouble with was the notion of what lies between people, or parties, when they communicate.
When I wear my other hat, I'm a dramatist: a produced playwright and aspiring screenwriter. In that job and this, I'm paid to listen very hard to what is happening in-between. To those "unknown unknowns", if you like.
We all do it, in fact.
When you people-watch, you're not listening to words but you are hearing meaning in every millimetre of movement.
"Oooh, she's upset but he hasn't noticed!"
"Uh-oh; I wouldn't want to be in their shoes when they get home!"
"Oh, look! That's ...."
The space that we create between us is much more powerful than words, Every professional dramatist makes their living from that fact. No script is helped by the noise of dialogue all over the place. Words can be cheap; actions are what counts. And we all enjoy the frisson of that space, wherever we see it; its sizzle is the excitement of something new being brought to life. We want it to catch fire and become something fresh, surprising that tickles our neurons - but we also want a happy ending.
This is why Lyric's founding motto is "Action is eloquence". It's a line from Richard III but I must stress that I don't follow his school of communications. An individual's relationship to another human or an organisation (be it church, throne, state, charity, employer or figurehead) is based completely on trust.
And where there's trust, great things can happen.
But trust must have consistency, transparency and respect. These are the sun and rain for every productive dynamic. When organisations forget that, trust withers, and the fruit goes rotten.
Sadly, too many busy leadership teams decide to scrimp on the trust-building, leaving it to the inexperienced and underpaid. When the damage is done, of course, it takes serious expertise to put it right.
Empathy is an essential business skill
I have the great honour of working with people who care very much about what they do. Specifically, about the impact they have on the world around them.
This is the very heart of stakeholder relations: understanding that our work affects a wide range of people, and that ongoing, good relations with stakeholders makes us better at what we do, eliminates unnecessary conflict and build a better offer for all concerned.
As adults, as workers, as leaders, it can be hard to hear that people aren't very happy with what we're up to. We have a choice:
1. to cross our arms, hunker down and go on the attack, or
2. to take a deep breath and start the process of genuine listening (that's not about waiting for our turn to speak).
It's good for everyone's mental health, quality of life and for business. Here's someone else (Jeff Booth of BuildDirect) saying the same thing with Amazon & Airbnb as great examples.
Empathetic organisations are powerful, because they are engaged with their world; they are responsive and they show respect. If you stop showing your stakeholders respect (or if any of them feel disrespected), you're on the way down.
A good consultant's like your favourite plumber
"What it is about Lyric that works so well for you?"
Yep: it was project review time and I was ready for feedback. I do have great clients; they're thoughtful people, with organisations that care hugely about getting it right. So while I'd hoped for good feedback about team morale, strengthened skills and a clear way ahead, I wasn't expecting this:
"Not only do you understand our business
and the pressures on our team at all levels,
but you removed all the smoke and mirrors!
From high to low, we all feel confident
in how we communicate - thank you!"
Extremely luckily for me, this doesn't do me out of job.
Instead, these more confident communicators know the value of an external adviser who can come in for a short time, "fix the plumbing" and leave the place tidy.
Not only are their external relationships strengthened, but we have a relationship that they can dip back into, in this organisation, or the next.
Local Authorities must invest in community communication
The beautiful city of Bath, my home for 10 years, faces huge stakeholder comms challenges. Local authorities can't afford not to invest in good community relations.
This year, Bath & NE Somerset has faced fire on plans to move the central library. They've also reversed years of controversial Park & Ride plans.
Yesterday, they gave outline planning permission to local social housing provider, Curo, to demolish a major community. It will result in a net loss of social housing, when the local waiting list has 6,000 on it. As the aftermath of Grenfell Tower shows, local authorities have some way to go on their stakeholder communications. The stakes are about as fundamental as you can get: homes, communities, jobs.