The Clutha tragedy and the future of Police Scotland’s comms team

The stories of pub-goers, passers-by and the emergency services have been brilliantly reported in the last couple of days. I have spent the weekend mostly decorating, with 5Live and Radio Scotland for company throughout, and more than once did I down tools to focus on the compelling commentary and testimonials that occasionally left me speechless.

Glasgow’s response to the tragedy has been inspirational and, speaking as someone with no connection to the city, I’m not sure every other community could claim it would equally emerge with its reputation enhanced if faced with a similar challenge.

Supporting those at the scene will have been a great number of people often overlooked in the reports of such incidents: council road workers, 999 operators and, yes, comms officers, among many others. Now, I’m sure no-one in those lines of work would claim a parallel in what they do with the awful reality of dealing with a major incident at its sharpest end. But, they all have their own pressures and stresses that they need to manage.

I’ve been struck by the fact that, just a day or so before this tragedy, plans to restructure – and perhaps to reduce – the Police Scotland comms service were reported. Read the rest of this entry »


Life after journalism – an opportunity in Highland Perthshire for ex-hacks?

The many casualties of cuts across the newspaper industry could do worse than cast their eye towards Aberfeldy and an opportunity to take over a self-sustaining print publication with a growing online presence.

The long-standing publishers of ‘Comment’, a monthly news magazine in Scotland’s geographical heartland, are looking to pass on the baton. This is due in large part to its editor being, in his own words, ‘Shrivelled by age and splattered by cancer and its treatments…’.

But there’s also an element here of the current incumbents seeing the potential for fresh management to make more of both the print and web editions, not to mention social media. Unlike other parts of the broader print media, at least the development needed would begin from a position of relative strength, and wouldn’t be required merely to to save a sinking ship. Read the rest of this entry »

My three perspectives on the news staff cuts at the BBC

A conversation with a BBC friend yesterday about some people having their shoulders tapped in anticipation of job losses prompted some musing on waste at the corporation.

I'm old enough for this to have been the BBC logo when I started working for it

For those that don’t know, I started my career in the BBC – working for Radio Shetland, mostly on local output but with the occasional network news and programme contributions thrown in. I was there for a touch over two years, so we’re not talking about a long and distinguished career on the cutting edge of journalism, but it was a great training ground and I like to think I earned my crust as a cub reporter (mostly on mundane matters, but notably with a 16hr shift reporting on a fatal air crash in the absence of the normal network reporter and breaking the equally tragic news that a helicopter winchman had been lost at sea mid-rescue.) Read the rest of this entry »

Lies, damned lies and the abuse of statistics – do storks landing on your roof bring you kids?

In previous posts I’ve covered the importance of numbers to PR and the relationship between epidemics, gossip and PR based on a book I’ve read.

I also own another book which I spotted in a charity shop – possibly because of its terrible title: “Be a wizard with numbers”. Anyway, without being too much of a nerd about it – although it’s possibly too late for that – there are a few gems in it.

One of the chapters deals with statistics and their frequent abuse. To summarise some of the examples given:

  • Claims that one extra alcoholic drink per day increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by 6%, once analysed, reveal that this really means an increase of 1 in every 200 women (or, 0.5%).
  • The figure that 40% of sick days are taken on Mondays and Fridays might seem to confirm views that people tend to extend their weekends unofficially. However, an even spread of illness over the week (20% on each of the five ‘normal’ working days) would give you exactly the same result. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Local issues under a national spotlight’ – current media relations challenges and solutions

This is the text of a presentation I gave (largely, as delivered) to a fairly broad audience at the AI Media Comms seminar in London on 9 June. I didn’t use Powerpoint so you’re not missing any slides but also please bear in mind is was written to be spoken, rather than read.

For the avoidance of doubt, it’s my personal view based on my experience at the council and previously, rather than being representative of any official council view, decision or policy. (You can never be too careful!)

It looks ridiculously long in a blog post, but the whole thing is about 2000 words – or 15 minutes speaking time.


For my part, I’m going to share with you today some of the main media relations challenges we currently face at the council, in the context of how visible we tend to be.

I’ll be looking at the speed of communications being a double-edged sword, how our target media is often not the media at all, how we can’t even be sure what a journalist is any more, and why hyperlocal media is going national. Finally, I’ll summarise what we’re doing about those. Read the rest of this entry »

Elections: just another event to organise…?

No, is the answer. However, it’s clear from recent conversations that some people have absolutely no idea what’s involved. Why would they, I suppose?

Events, dear boy, events

My hat goes off to the events specialists who can put on all sorts of fabulous occasions such as awards, trade fairs and  conferences. I’ve organised a few minor events myself over the years and know that there’s a great deal involved in getting it right and creating a day (or night) to remember.

But there is something different about elections. They really do matter and getting them wrong has significant consequences. There are all sorts of legal requirements and, unlikely though it may be, individuals can end up in the dock. Read the rest of this entry »

Crunching and spinning the numbers – why maths matters to PR

‘How long is a piece of string?’ is a book I own, and fascinating stuff it is too (truly – even for non-nerds!) As the blurb says, it’s about the mathematics of everyday life. Unfortunately, its authors seem to think that valuing the good use of words and numbers are mutually exclusive.

They say, in a chapter on the use of stats in the media, that: “There is nothing that spin doctors would like more than a generally innumerate society , so that we can be fed exactly the numbers they want to feed us.” I hope they don’t apply the same sloppy and unfounded generalisations in their maths. Read the rest of this entry »