Given how it turned out Theresa May’s recent cabinet reshuffle will largely be remembered for what went wrong, rather than what went right, and I am sure students of Westminster will study May’s handling as an example of how not to do reshuffles for years to come.
Lessons to learn
However, for comms students, especially those with a digital mindset, there is perhaps another important lesson to be learned - the need to remind the brass hats that you can’t simply wing digital comms. Here I am talking about the tweet which announced Chris Grayling as Conservative Party Chair only for it to be deleted and replaced with a second one which gave the role to Brandon Lewis.
Fail to plan, plan to fail
The truth behind this mistake will, I suspect, remain a not so closely guarded secret by staffers inside CCHQ. However, I strongly suspect the cause can be traced back to one of the biggest problems facing those working in digital comms - the fact that most think it doesn’t need planning and preparation.
From bitter personal experience, time and time again, I have seen significant announcements and campaigns put together with care and position for all channels except digital, and those looking after those channels being expected to pull it out of the hat.
While I have escaped my own ‘Grayling moment’ it has often been a close run thing, and leads me to conclude that the poor sod who sent the offending tweet did so because no one had bothered to keep them in the loop about last minutes changes, but still expected them to be pushing out the news to their timetable. So, why does this happen? Why don’t the brass hats often allow digital to be built in and not merely bolted on at the last minute?
The challenge of ubiquity
My view is that the core of this problem is the sure ubiquitousness of the tools, platforms and channels. With over half the UK population on Facebook and most people’s pockets containing a smartphone that allow their owners to field and send a steady stream of emails: it is not hard to see why those same owners think that digital comms are simple.
This simply isn’t the case for those designing printed materials protected by the technically difficult design packages and paper stocks and media teams who have a monopoly of dealing with journalists.
For those working in comms, especially those with a digital focus, this challenge isn’t a new one. And the solution isn’t either. The case that has to be made to one and all is that if digital is to truly play its full and proper role it need be understood properly by those higher up the food chain, and digital planning needs to start at the earliest opportunity. This isn’t rocket science, but this doesn’t stop it being true. And as well those examples of things going wrong when digital wasn’t considered higher enough and early enough, they are great examples of what can happen when it is.
Unfortunately, it's negative which does focus peoples minds more quickly. So Chris Grayling’s brief stint as Chair of the Conservative Party is going into my filing cabinet to be pulled out at the right moment.
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