Communicate to Inspire – leadership communications


Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading a new book by Kevin Murray, Chairman at Good Relations Group, about leadership communications. It’s called “Communicate to Inspire – A Guide for Leaders” and builds on his previous book of more than 60 interviews with organisational leaders (reviewed here).

In his latest book Kevin explores how leadership has changed in the digitally-connected world where transparency is far greater than ever before. He moves from how this affects leadership generally towards how the communication skills of leaders must be more developed so that they can lead successfully.

His approach puts an understanding of emotion and aspects of neuroscience at the core of great leadership communication. This is a refreshing change from some of the more cliche-ridden texts on leadership communication. Kevin’s analysis goes behind what good communication looks like to understand more about why good communication actually works.

There are two strong themes that emerge for me from Kevin’s analysis and models for effective leadership communications: the value of listening and the importance of storytelling.

Listening is an important skills for leaders to master and use regularly. Kevin explains why this is the case and also looks at the other signals that leaders can use, deliberately and inadvertently, to influence people they work with. I like his suggestion of doing a “signal audit” to make sure that you’re aware of the signals that leadership teams give to the rest of the organisation – how behaviours are affecting the way things happen.

Storytelling in leadership communications is a theme that featured in Kevin’s previous book – indeed it was stuffed full of good leadership communication stories. In Communicate to Inspire he looks at stories in more detail and explains why stories work in ways that rational, fact-stuffed presentations don’t, how stories are constructed and where to get genuine and meaningful stories from.

This section of the book particularly resonated with me. In my experience the most successful leader communicators are those that have the breadth of communication skills to vary the way they communicate to the needs of a particular audience. We’re conditioned to make fact-based arguments and presentations, but while this may work for some audiences, it overlooks that people often think in stories, gossip and anecdotes.

If we learn to tap into this natural predilection towards story-based content, our communications can achieve results that pure fact-based content can’t. As Kevin says:

Stories have an emotional power to persuade that gives them the edge over pure logic.

The book ends by referring back to examples from the interviews with leaders and using them as short anecdotes that reinforce the key thrust of Kevin’s manifesto for better leadership communication.

It’s very rare that I read a business book that I get so much from as I did when reading Communicate to Inspire.

Kevin balances some action-focussed theories and models with just the right amount of stories and case studies to make this an interesting read with plenty of practical steps for improving your personal leadership skills.

In fact, I’ve made a mental note to come back and re-read it in a couple of months time as I’m sure I will have forgotten some of the things I’ve learnt this time around!

Disclosure: Free review copy supplied

Why "Share a Coke" was a successful integrated marketing campaign


I’m a bit of a sucker for decent evidence behind marketing campaigns – both to inform campaign development and to work out afterwards whether it was actually worth doing in the first place.

But commercial considerations mean that it’s usually only when a campaign has gone really well that a company or agency wants to brag about their work. After all an unsuccessful campaign doesn’t make for much of an award entry does it?

A piece on The Drum in late January on the “Share a Coke” campaign caught my eye as it was based on statistically valid research into brand awareness and perception as well as actual advertising exposure. 

The case study gives a really good insight into how the campaign worked – with two things standing out to me.

The first is a recognition of the value of personalisation in a marketing campaign as well as the difficulties of getting this right in a data-sensitive consumer environment. 

The reason good personalisation works is that it taps into an emotional connection between a brand, an individual and their networks. The “Share a Coke” campaign demonstrated this is possible without taking a heavyweight big data approach to personalisation in marketing campaigns.

And secondly the data highlights that social isn’t simply another marketing channel that you consider alongside other channels. It highlights the value of a social approach in maximising impact from every marketing channel.

That’s because social is a pervasive force that is relevant across all marketing channels – as genuine social is about connections, networks and people – all of which exist independently from the marketing world. 

So that means that an integrated marketing campaign needs to exist across multiple channels according to objectives and audience, but also be developed with the socially-connected audience in mind.

This which means understanding the human pyschological and emotional responses involved in the marketing mechanic – meaning marketers need to think more about whether the campaign should work on Facebook or not.

Leaving local government for an exciting new opportunity


In April I’ll be leaving my role at Medway Council and East Sussex County Council for an exciting new opportunity. I’ll be joining Canterbury-based Deeson Group as director of communications and marketing.

After almost ten years working in local government, I will be sad to be leaving the sector where I have learnt so much and have had the pleasure of working with teams of whom I am genuinely proud. Both teams have achieved a lot and I am looking forward to see their partnership thrive in the future.

The complexity and diversity of the local government world is something that I have enjoyed working in, but now it’s time in my career for me to move on and continue to challenge myself professionally and personally in a new environment.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to my new role with Deeson Group. They’ve has been helping businesses and organisations to achieve their goals through digital solutions, publishing, branding and marketing communications since 1959. My role will be working across the group’s three divisions: Deeson Member CommunicationsDeeson Creative and Deeson Online.

It’ll be good to be able to draw on my previous career experience in my new role too – including working in client-side marketing roles across financial services, retail and interactive television, as well as agency-side marketing and internal communications for clients including BP, VodafoneSABMiller, Nominet, Principality Building Society and Fujitsu.

I’ll be working with the Deeson team to deliver some really innovative and strategic marketing communications projects and to help grow the business further. Professionally it’ll be a great opportunity to work entrepreneurially across a broader range of marketing, communications and digital projects in a variety of sectors – something I find very motivating and can’t wait to get stuck into.

Here’s the official press release from Deeson Group that’s gone out today:


Canterbury-based agency Deeson Group announces a new senior appointment to spearhead its continuing business growth.


The digital, publishing, branding and marketing communications agency will welcome Simon Wakeman in April as director of communications and marketing.


Simon, former head of communications and marketing at Medway Council and East Sussex County Council, has PR and marketing experience across the financial services, e-commerce, telecoms, retail and local government sectors.


He brings significant digital and web experience, including launch marketing for the UK’s first interactive TV service and customer experience management for a major internet bank. He has led nationally recognised innovation in public sector social media and the development of highly rated council websites.


In 2013, his contribution to digital practice in the public sector was recognised in the national Digital Leaders 50 Awards.


Simon will work across Deeson Group’s clients, as well as developing new business opportunities with private and public sector clients.


Established for 55 years, Deeson Group is the UK’s oldest customer publishing company and an internationally recognised website developer. Clients include Robbie Williams, Shepherd Neame, ITV, Johnson & Johnson and the Society and College of Radiographers.


Tim Deeson, managing director, Deeson Group, said “Simon’s significant experience across digital, marketing and communications will enhance our success working with blue chip companies, professional bodies, major media brands and some of the public sector’s largest organisations.”


Simon Wakeman said: “I’m really excited to be joining Deeson Group in this new role. I’m looking forward to working with the team to deliver innovative and strategic marketing communications projects to help grow the Deeson Group business further.”

A GDS for local government?


Richard Copley has written a well considered and detailed blog post about what a Government Digital Service for local government might look like and why the sector should have one.

This is a debate that’s bubbled up a few times in recent times, with Carl Haggerty’s local government digital group emerging to try to push for greater co-ordination and sharing among those working in digital in local government. More details here.

Richard does a good job of highlighting the indisputable benefits of a more joined-up approach – including the potential savings from the removal of duplication in systems operated across hundreds of councils and the benefits to users from a more consistently user-focussed experience on council websites.

The latter is something that is still not properly embedded in the sector. We should recognise things are moving in the right direction, but the local government digital estate is still too dominated by councils doing things their way rather than building around their users.

Internal silos showing up in site architecture, use of jargon, wrangles over ownership and customer journeys dictated by the way obscure back office systems work are still all too common and obvious in many council websites.

The latest generation of council websites recognise the importance of a focus on user goal completion, but often when you look deeper you can see that while there’s a veneer of user centricity on the surface, underneath you’ll still find the clunky processes that are hard wired into old systems that sit within the organisation.

Richard’s vision for a local government digital service rightly challenges the assumption that every council needs its own website.

This is great stuff – it recognises that for the majority (but not all) of tasks that a user seeks to accomplish with their council digitally, there’s not a lot of difference across different councils. So why haven’t we invented a different way to do it for each council?

He then sets out a detailed approach to how the back office integrations for multiple councils would need to work with a single digital front end – which all sounds sensible in theory to me (although in all honesty that’s not my area of particular expertise).

But where I think I have the greatest concerns with the approach is not in its indisputable appeal in principle, but in the context into which it would need to be deployed.

The work of the government digital service has been a success for many reasons – not least because it’s a very sound concept – but one that we mustn’t forget is that it comes with a consistent and long-term political mandate for change from the top within the civil service, with an influential minister backing it.

That’s not to underplay the difficulties they still face in delivering change across many central government departments, but the mandate and consensus around need for change is well established in the machinery of central government.

What I struggle with when applying Richard’s thinking to local government is that I can’t see where an equivalent mandate for such radical change would come from.

The distributed nature of the sector means there’s no single source of such a mandate that could give the backing to a new sector-wide digital approach.

Anyone that’s delivered partnership working or shared services in local government will be familiar with the challenges that delivering change across multiple councils can bring.

So while I think the idea of a local government digital service is a great one in principle and the theoretical benefits are hard to argue with, I think it’ll remain just an idea for the foreseeable future.

I guess that’s why when you look at the current work being led by Carl and others, it’s quite organic and “from the ground up” in its approach – as without a central mandate for a direction of change, it’s only through consensus and the voluntary participation of engaged enthusiasts that digital progression will happen in a cross-sector way.

And sadly that means the scope will always be limited – and the major benefits for the sector and residents that Richard sets out will remain substantially out of reach.

I know this does come across a bit defeatist – which isn’t my normal take on all things digital – but I think it’s important to recognise that the nature of change means that the challenge here is one of transformational change rather than simply improving a digital service.

That said, I was talking this through with a fellow team member today who had a slightly different take – that while there may not be a central mandate for change, if the ground-up stuff is compellingly good, then it will drive adoption among councils the quality will be so high that it will be an easy choice for councils to make individually – with no compulsion or coercion required.

An offer so good councils want to use it. Sounds familiar?

Cision Top 10 UK PR blogs


My blog’s been ranked in Cision’s top 10 UK PR blogs once again – which is something I’m really chuffed about.

I was wondering how the list was determined. Here’s an excerpt about how Cision put it together:

Cision’s blog ranking methodology takes into consideration social sharing, topic-related content and post frequency.

You can see more about the list here.

Most of the top 10 blogs are already on my RSS reading list and I’ll be adding the others tonight too.

Sharpening the saw for 2014


If you’ve read Stephen Covey‘s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” you’ll be familiar with habit 7 – sharpening the saw.

In this excerpt he explains what sharpening the saw is all about:

It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.

As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Sharpen the Saw keeps you fresh so you can continue to practice the other six habits. You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish….

Feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It’s all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything. You can pamper yourself mentally and spiritually. Or you can go through life oblivious to your well-being. You can experience vibrant energy. Or you can procrastinate and miss out on the benefits of good health and exercise. You can revitalize yourself and face a new day in peace and harmony. Or you can wake up in the morning full of apathy because your get-up-and-go has got-up-and-gone. Just remember that every day provides a new opportunity for renewal–a new opportunity to recharge yourself instead of hitting the wall. All it takes is the desire, knowledge, and skill.

As part of my “sharpening” a year ago I made a commitment to do at least fifteen minutes of exercise every single day. I kept it up for just over six months and felt much better for it. Since then I’ve lapsed a bit, but I’m going to see if I can beat my record this year. The MapMyTracks one-a-day challenge for 2014 is a great way to kick this off.

The other area I’m working on as I find it stimulating and rewarding is about learning. I’ve been eyeing up massive open online courses (MOOCs) for a while now, but have always managed to find an excuse why I can’t learn some new stuff on a course or two.

But now I’ve bitten the bullet and made a commitment to myself to do some learning on some areas that personally interest me. Over the next couple of months I’m going to be studying:

Social and Economic Networks: Models and Analysis – with Stanford University
I’ll be learning about how to model social and economic networks and their impact on human behaviour. This includes looking at how networks form, why they exhibit certain patterns, and how does their structure impact diffusion, learning, and other behaviours? The course brings together models and techniques from economics, sociology, maths, physics, statistics and computer science to answer these questions – something that I’ll find really interesting and helpful to my work too.

Innovation for Powerful Outcomes – with Swinburne University
Innovation involves transformative thinking and the genuine ability to cultivate and pick the lucrative fruits of our creative labour. This course is about developing an appreciation for a range of tools and concepts that can help make innovation happen. It contains a stimulating mix of creative experiments, intriguing innovation examples, practical tools and robust concepts. These will help induce creativity, gain deep customer insights, and develop an appreciation for creating a compelling innovation strategy.

I’ve carved out the time each week to meet this learning commitment and can’t wait to get started. Who knows where this approach to “sharpening” might take me in 2014?

So what’s your commitment to sharpening the saw this year?

The science of persuasion

SimonClever stuff

I’m really fascinated by this kind of stuff and how it can be applied to make more effective marketing and communications campaigns:

Keeping to new year resolutions and the power of habit

SimonChange, Marketing

As a marketer I spend a lot of time, in fact probably too much, thinking about behaviour change and how to achieve it.

Whether it’s changing a behaviour for a commercial or social gain, getting people to do things differently is what most of marketing boils down to.

And at this time of year plenty of people are wrestling with making behaviour changes stick – as the novelty of changes they’ve made as new year resolutions begins to wear off.

It reminds me of a book I read last year about habits – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – and what I learnt from it.

Duhigg explains that many of the thousands of decisions we make every day aren’t made consciously – we just do many things on a kind of autopilot that’s hardwired into our brains. Psychologists recognise this as the unconscious or automatic process within dual process theory.

Those habits are vital to us going about our daily lives without getting stuck in endless deliberations with ourselves about mundane things that just need to happen. If we used conscious thinking all the time, everything would take a lot longer.

And this is where the power of habit comes in, as Duhigg explains how you can train your mind to rewire the hardwired habits within your mind to help change behaviour – whether it’s yours or trying to influence behaviour in others.

For a change like a new year resolution to stick, it takes more than just willpower.

Duhigg identifies the habit loop as being a useful tool in understanding habit-based behaviour. There are three components to the habit loop:

  • The cue – the thing that triggers off the habit loop
  • The routine – the behaviour that you exhibit in response to the cue
  • The reward – the thing that you receive – usually something you like – as a result of the routine

To effectively change behaviour in the long term, we need to clearly identify cues and then develop new behaviours as a routine response to these cues. Without doing this, the old hardwired habit loops will take over before too long.

For example, last new year I made a commitment to myself to do at least 15 minutes exercise every day.

I live a pretty hectic life so I knew this was going to be a challenge, especially as I’d tried before.

What I’d tried to do was to go for a quick run around 7pm once I’d put our children to bed each evening.

But once I’d kissed them goodnight, I really struggled to motivate myself to get changed into my running gear and go out in the dark and cold, especially having been at work all day.

In my case the cue, putting my children to bed, was linked to the routine of going downstairs and making something to eat. I was trying to override this habit and go for a run – but failing to stick to my commitment to exercise.

Once I realised this habit loop existed, I worked out that if I changed into my running kit before putting the children to bed, once I hit the cue, it was a lot easier to go straight out running as I was already dressed and ready to go. I managed to break a habit loop through a minor change in the order I did things in and change my behaviour.

So coming back full circle to marketing, it’s really important that when we look at the desired behaviour we’re seeking from a campaign, we think about cues, routines and rewards in how we design marketing campaigns if they’re to be genuinely effective.

Happy new year!

The anti-story


I was thinking the other day about writing for this blog, or more precisely about why I struggle to publish new content as frequently as I’d like to.

It’s too easy to blame lack of time, although that’s probably there in the background too.

But when I the thought about it a bit more deeply I worked out the real reason why. Most days I find myself thinking about what I could write, but then more often than not I then find myself thinking about the anti-story – what someone with an opposing view might write in response.

Don’t get me wrong here – nothing I consider writing about is particularly controversial – but as a communicator I constantly have an eye to where risks may come from.

But where I have gone wrong in thinking about my blog posts is that, for whatever reason, I have been too risk averse in my assessment of the likelihood of the anti-story actually happening.

So the lesson for me is that while a highly developed sense for the anti-story is a good thing, it’s important it comes with an objective assessment of the magnitude and likelihood of the anti-story actually happening.

Changing roles for local government communication teams

SimonCommunications, General

One theme that has emerged strongly this year in local government communication has been how the role of the communications team is changing.

The value of behavioural marketing is finally being recognised as being an important and under-utilised tool in delivering public services.

But what has really resonated with me has been the growing recognition that communications teams aren’t the only answer to effective communication.

Of course communication channels need managing professionally, but the greatest volume of communication between a public body and the people it serves doesn’t go through the communications team – it is through the people working across the organisation.

It’s the same in any service sector company too. And it’s been made even more so by the use of digital tools to connect staff and customers together as well.

So that means the role of the communicator is changing.

There needs to be a greater focus on internal communication, particularly as an enabler of a broader drive to enhance employee engagement.

I’ve heard this shift as being described as the need to create an army of narrators – with effective communicators enabling this to happen and being active listening and sharing nodes within formal and informal networks inside the organisation.

For a long time communicators have wanted to be the striker on the team, passed the ball in front of the goal and being the one to put the ball in the back of the net (and at times, dare I say it, take the accompanying glory as well).

We’ve wanted to have control of as much communication as we can to shape messages and own channels – seeing our role as being the final stage in the journey of information from deep within our organisation to the outside world.

But actually the role of communicators should be more like a roving midfielder, not afraid to move comfortably around the pitch linking together moves and helping the team function effectively. The role is as much about listening, engaging and facilitating as it is about being out front for the team all the time.

Sometimes we’ll still get a shot on target and be the people who get information out, but much of the time it’ll be others on the team that get the goal. And it doesn’t matter who gets the goal as long as that goal is what the organisation needed to deliver its objectives.

Of course there are some activities that remain exclusively the communicator’s domain as specialist skills and experience are valuable, but things are starting to shift as the scale and  value of genuine interactions with audiences are recognised in their own right.

Game on!