Four years ago this month, and not without a great deal of sadness, I said goodbye to North Shropshire District Council and set sail upon the turbulent sea of freelancing.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride. I’ve had lean periods, I’ve had times which were much too busy. I’ve come to terms with never knowing where the next pay cheque will be coming from. I’ve learned loads and taught some things. I have blogged about things that seemed interesting or relevant.
Anniversaries tend to make us reflective and I have been reflecting and using my historic blog posts to help me make a bit of sense of how things have changed over the past few years.
I have to laugh at the fact that just before I exited I posted on my frustration at the lack of digital engagement amongst local authority PROs. Thank goodness those days are behind us eh?
A worrying pattern in my early posts was to pick a recent PR campaign and then to critique it (slag it off really). I’m not sure what I felt I was likely to achieve by this. Did I think that brand managers were going to stumble across my blog, read my excoriating prose and say
“we’ve been fools: sack our expensive and experienced agency and hire an ex local government comms manager”.
I think, in summary, my digital PR strategy was flawed. Though a post I wrote after a File on Four programme about the RSPCA generated some interest. A surprising number of people who seemed to have it in for the RSPCA contacted me by email. Just to share it would seem.
More interestingly was evidence that the industry was beginning to wrestle with “bloggers”.
In October 2008 a crisis comms story was still all about traditional media coverage. In November that year I said
The success of Barack Obama’s election campaign suggested that something interesting was stirring in social media land. I made five predictions for 2009. Only one came true. Facebook is quite important.
By December 2009 Kate Hughes was saying that Housing Associations should tweet. I was cautiously supportive. A month later I was absolutely sure that social media was vastly significant for local authorities. By May 2010 so many people were asking me to explain social media to them that I had written a briefing on the topic (this establishes me as firmly in the “you do need a social media policy” camp).
By the Autumn I had discovered the joy of open data. I think that really changed my view of where corporate comms, especially in the public sector, is going. So thanks to @hadleybeeman and hyperwm. (everyone else remembers that Hyperwm for the face-off between hyperlocal bloggers and press officers).
And by January 2011 I was so totally persuaded of the need to do things differently that I set up a barcamp for Shropshire.
And in August the riots exposed how far digital technology was changing not just PR but the behaviour of citizens. This continues to fascinate me and technologies like Ushahidi make things possible that we could not have contemplated a few years ago.
Right up to date it seems to me that social media/digital comms must now be integrated into all corporate comms work. We also need to recognise that it is a tool for citizens, it levels power relationships and opens up organisations.
We have to stop looking at the shiny and focus on how it is going to make people safer, healthier, happier, richer or (in the case of the fire service) less dead.
So looking back what astonishes me is that PR has not changed as much as I would have expected. The world has changed around PR professionals and around corporate comms teams. Those that have not changed with it may wake up one morning to find that they have been left far behind.
I am genuinely surprised that has not happened yet.