As soon as we at the Chartered Institute of Housing started planning the launch of our latest report– on the impact of the government’s benefit cap in Haringey – I knew I wanted to do something a bit different to our usual report plus press release, maybe a blog and that’s pretty much it model. Our policy wonk colleagues had kept us firmly in the loop since the beginning of the project and we could tell it was shaping up to be a major piece of work. But as someone still fairly new to comms, let alone wonkcomms, how to go about it? As a former journalist, I’d like to think I can craft a half-decent press release, but I was less confident about putting the other skills that are becoming increasingly vital in our jobs into practice.
What convinced me that we did need to do something different was attending a Wonkcomms event earlier this year, on research in the digital age. The way we consume information has changed – we’ve become grazers because there’s so much out there and it’s coming at us at such huge speed. And it means we need to tailor our message for different audiences – sure, some people will still want to read the 47-page report, but for others an infographic, a podcast or an animation might be more effective. I knew we should be doing all this – and we were in isolated pockets – but the event gave me the kick up the backside I needed to bring it all together.
The media side of things was still pretty traditional – I worked with the comms team at Haringey Council to put together a press release, and sent it out to journalists a few days before the launch date along with the report (with a good old-fashioned 00:01 embargo!) Our chief exec was invited to appear on BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, and Radio 4’s Today programme, and it was picked up by, among others, the Guardian, Sky News, the Independent and the Daily Express. There were blogs and editorials in the Huffington Post, the Spectator, the Telegraph and the Evening Standard. Needless to say we were incredibly pleased with the coverage – but I was just as happy with the other things we created for none-media audiences. We picked out some key stats from the report and created three datavines which aimed to capture the findings in just six seconds:
Our assistant director of policy and practice, top wonk Abigail Davies, recorded a two-minute podcast which we posted on Audioboo and included in our weekly news update for CIH members. I got halfway through an infographic before time ran away from me – one to pick up for next time.
Three things I’ve learned:
- It doesn’t have to cost the earth or take up all your time. Take advantage off all the free tools out there like Vine, Audioboo, Easel.ly, Piktochart and Infogram. A little bit further up the cost scale (but not very much) we’ve been playing around with PowToon to create animations for our member communications and next time we’ve got a bit of research to showcase we’ll definitely consider using that. It’s never been easier to keep up to date with all the great stuff that’s out there – join the Wonkcomms LinkedIn group or follow brilliant people Iike @comms2point0 on Twitter. I’ve found the online comms community incredibly generous when it comes to sharing knowledge and expertise.
- Don’t think you have to do it all on your own. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the feeling that we need to be one-man or woman copy writers, web designers , photographers and video makers – and to some extent that’s true – but don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help. I knew Jon Barnes, our digital communications project officer, had been playing around with Vine using stats from some of our previous work, so I knew he was the perfect man for the job when it came to our benefit cap report.
- Just do it – what have you got to lose by diving in? If you’re too scared to try something new you’ll get left behind. Give it a try, and you might just find a new way to make sure your message really hits home and reaches audiences you’ve previously never managed to communicate with.