Wednesday, February 28, 2007


My thoughts are featured in this month's Training Zone's headline article - check it out.

Basically, I'm back on my high horse stating that we should be equipping business leaders with organisational communication skills rather than always delivering our training to practitioners - while the leaders learn how to make the most of PowerPoint.

Anyway, it's nice to see my reasoned rant in cyber-print.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Technorati Stuff

Technorati Profile

What should the newbies know?

I'm running a session for internal communication practitioners in a large global company next week. Most are young, very bright and on the upward curve in their careers. Some have come into the roles from university; others from sales, marketing and HR - but none has a background in corporate communication. They've been handed communication portfolios to manage for discrete parts of the organisation and operate fairly autonomously, providing a service for their functional or market 'top teams'.

The scary thing is that while they're most likely very competent managers, none yet regard themselves as competent in the craft skills of communication.

That's no problem when you first take on a comms role - but some of these managers have been in place for a year or more. My take is competence in writing for internal audiences is the start point for an IC career, but the reality is that it's a skill that's learned on the job by many in the new generation of communicators.

So what pearls of wisdom can I share in a couple of hours? Fortunately, my task is made easier by focusing on newsletters, print and electronic.

I'm going to run through the basics:

  • When is it right to use a newsletter
  • Where do newsletters fit in your comms strategy
  • How to define outcomes and use the newsletter to deliver them
  • What makes a good story
  • News v Features
  • The importance of accuracy
  • Who, what, where, when how....and why?
  • Simplicity, active language and compelling writing
  • Audience shoes
  • Sign-offs and approvals
  • Structuring for maximum impact.

So, I need two days not two hours - but this is a first scratch at the surface.

I'm after hints and tips on good newsletter writing to share - and have already put out a request through both CiB's Freelance forum and the IABC's memberspeak.

But if anyone passing through here has a 'must have' tip to share, please take time to leave a comment below.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Weird week

Well, my week has gone to pot with cancelled meetings and rapidly changing deadlines. Monday was a good busy day with work heading into a client, quickly turned round and revised.

Tuesday I was supposed to be at the RAF Museum in Cosford putting together a piece on the new National Cold War Exhibition for an aerospace website. But, as I was about to step out the door, the PR called to say they had a major power failure and the exhibition was to be closed for the day! That was hard on the heels of another client calling to say my meeting on Wednesday in Scotland was postponed (again). That one bit in a manner familar to any freelancer out there. The meeting has now been twice postponed and has moved out from Feb 6 to the 14th and now the 27th. So, work I thought I'd have completed before the end of this month now won't even start until the beginning of March. Scheduling, no doubt, will be fun. Also, I'm now carrying nearly £200 of expense for the original flight and two subsequent changes to the flight details. I haven't been formally briefed on the job yet, and there's certainly no purchase order - and this is a company that doesn't pay for at least 60 days after receiving an invoice. It's nothing critical, since I think it'll turn out to be a pretty good job, but it left a hole in the middle of my week - and more hassle for my cashflow.

Sod's law dictated, of course, that I took another call yesterday from someone who works in Edinburgh looking to brief me on a completely different job - I could have been there to go it all face to face. Now it's a matter of phone bashing and a partial brief in London next week.

Then to put a seal on things for this week, I'd been waiting for a large chunk of web site material to edit to arrive in my inbox yesterday evening, and had set aside much of today and tomorrow to complete the work. I've now been told I won't get that until the 21st.

Everyone had a really good reason for shifting work, meetings and timescales over the last few days - it's just freelancer law that I'm on the receiving end this time round. I have two other tasks I can get on and complete today - and now know the pipeline's absolutely full from Monday for about the next four weeks. I just felt like tearing a few strands of hair out yesterday.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Are these the core competencies of internal communication?

Liam Fitzpatrick and Sue Dewhurst have been conducting interviews recently through their company to identify the core competencies necessary to be a great internal communicator.

According to Liam, writing on the IABC website, there's a consensus that there are 12 core competencies for internal communicators - it's a sort of palette from which you can mix and match to create your ideal profile.

The competencies Liam and Sue have identified are:

*Innovation & Creativity - Looking for new ways of working, exploring best practice and delivering original and imaginative approaches to communication problems.

*Business Focus - Having a clear understanding of the business issues and using communication to help solve organisational problems and achieve organisational objectives.

*Vision and Standards - Defining or applying a consistent approach to communication and maintaining professional and ethical standards.

*Cross functional awareness - Understanding the different contributions from other disciplines and working with colleagues from across the organisation to achieve better results

* Developing other communicators - Helping other communicators build their communications competence and develop their career

* Building effective relationships - Developing and maintaining relationships that inspire trust and respect. - Building a network and being able to influence others to make things happen.

* Consulting and coaching - Recommending appropriate solutions to customers; helping others to make informed decisions; building people’s communications competence

* Planning - Planning communications programmes and operations, evaluating results.

* Craft skills - Using and developing the right mix of practical communication abilities to hold the confidence of peers and colleagues

* Specialist - Having specific subject matter expertise in a specialist area (this is meant to cover the work of people who are ultra specialist list the full-time conference organiser or the webs specialists who do nothing else)

* Listening - Conducting research and managing mechanisms for gathering feedback and employee reaction

* Making it happen - Turning plans into successfully implemented actions

Now there's nothing earth-shattering here, but it's interesting stuff and hard to argue with. It points to the fact that communicators need to be all-rounders - with the right mix of strategic knowledge and craft skills. That's not always possible in an individual, but their research has probably thrown up a blue print for creating an effective internal communication team.

I don't know if Liam's listed the competencies in order of priority - some of the hoary old dinosaurs I've worked with in the past would balk at craft skills emerging so low on the list - but he and Sue have come up with a list showing how far internal communications has moved even in the noughties. We have to be fully functional business managers to be effective in IC today - and anyone who thinks the role is corporate journalism is blind to probably four fifths of the role.

The only challenge I'd throw out to Sue and Liam is: 'Do we really want competent communicators? Competence sounds like 'just-good-enough' for me. If I was a client, I'd want great - and wouldn't settle for anything less than good. Competent sounds less than good.

So, from the little I've seen, great research and I'm sure it will bring them more work......I'd just question the name of the company!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Walking with my feet firmly in the clouds

I'm enjoying the day job at the moment - loads to do; an interesting variety of work and even a few breakthroughs with new clients and opportunities for trade and consumer magazine writing.

But I'm still a big kid at heart. So when I saw this, I had to put my name down.........Possibly it'll give me the impetus to rid myself of those extra 20lbs I'm carrying around, and get my fitness levels back to somewhere near they once were pre-kids.

I don't even like roller coasters, but going even to the edge of space is an experience I'd trade most things in my life for.

They say the space experience has never truly been translated for Joe Public because those who've travelled beyond the earth's atmosphere have been engineers and test pilots, scientists rather than those paid to have a way with words. Maybe it's time a workaday writer got to tell the story of a lifetime?

Anyway, I won't hold my breath, but I can still dream.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

It's all white now

Anyone reading this from the US, Canada, large chunks of central Europe, China or Japan will wonder what all the fuss is about. Four inches of snow and England has ground to a halt.

By 8am this morning, all my kids were celebrating the fact that their schools were closed. By 8.30am the snowman was taking shape and now, at 9.15am, I've already had two calls from clients who can't make it to the office today.

I've got two long e-packs to write but it's rather lovely to look out and see the white stuff all around. But hey, this is England. we've got rain forecast this evening which will wash all this away. In this maritime climate, snow always seems a brief, but uplifting interlude........even though we're not equipped to cope with it at all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I should be in Scotland today meeting with a client to look at how they market their training to colleagues within the business. Unfortunately I took a call from a very husky-sounding French lady yesterday evening postponing the meeting due to her illness - and a rampant sore throat infection raging through her team. So, the best laid plans turned into a bit of a tail spin. Oh well, it's supposed to be snowing up there today, so I'm better off down here......maybe.

At least it enabled me to resurrect another meeting closer to home this morning which has thrown up another plate to juggle over the next couple of weeks. Actually, driving back an hour or so ago, I was arranging and prioritising my work in my head. At the moment it looks like this:

1. Write an article for a charity's magazine on their new approach to meals on wheels
2. Draft copy for a new communications campaign for a security business
3. Write two e-training/communication packs for an international bank
4. Research/write a piece for an avionics website on the new Cold War Exhibition at the RAF Museum at Cosford
5. Plan a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford to check out the new AirSpace exhibit for BBC History Magazine
6. Write a piece for a training website on the communication training needs of line managers
7. Put together - and deliver - a training package on business writing for new communication managers
8. Create the supporting materials to launch a new communication channel strategy for a business
9. Revise and revamp my Output to Outcome course for another airing in April; and
10. Do loads of unpaid stuff for CiB.

I haven't had this varied a workload for a couple of years - and have to say it's quite fun, with a nice balance of organisational communication and 'anorak studies'. And all this without the work I should be being briefed on right at this moment. Can't be bad, eh?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Four years on

So I work in organisational communication, but my passion is air and space history. And today is another of those sad commemorative days, remembering the crew and families of the Shuttle Columbia. No doubt there'll be coverage today on NASA's site, and I hope the emphasis is on the lessons learned and our quest, as a race, to broaden our horizons in space.

We're too often held back by political expediency, but surely it's only human to reach for the stars?

Can we preach to the needy not the converted?

I've just posted something in the IABC's memberspeak area that's also worth raising on here. If you have a take on this issue, please do chuck in your view.

I'm writing a piece for a training publication in the UK on what communication skills we should be training line managers and leaders in across our organizations.

My take is that there are many great communication courses out there - both in-house and provided externally - covering both the strategic side of communication and the nuts and bolts of making it happen, yet places are invariably filled by professional communicators.

Leaders may get courses in powerpoint and presentation skills, yet remain ill-equipped to take on the challenges, particularly in internal communication, that our new democratised communication frameworks and social media opportunities offer. If we, as professional communicators, are less of the doers and more of the facilitators, what skills should we be enabling line managers to achieve? And, if we know the blueprint for what communiation skills the line should have, how far are we in terms of getting those managers skilled-up?