The comms crystal ball: What should the in-house PR team of 2020 look like?

Crystal Ball by Mark Skipper

A chap called Geoffrey Hoyle wrote a book in 1972 – predicting that, by 2010, everyone would be wearing jumpsuits, work a 3 day week and would have electric cars delivered in tubes of liquid.

He also predicted the widespread use of ‘vision phones’ and doing your grocery shopping online.

I was reading a BBC article about it the other day. Apparently, a facebook campaign managed to track Hoyle down, which led to his book – ‘2010: Living in the Future’being reprinted (with the year in the title changed to 2011).

I find the whole thing fascinating and I’m not alone. Futurology is big business. It even has its own twitter handle @the_future – and hashtag #futurology.

The thing that seems to excite all futurologists, more than anything else, is the changing nature of communication – with many predictions, which seemed outlandish when first made, becoming commonplace years later.

David Brin’s 1989 novel – ‘Earth’ – for example, predicted citizen reporters, personalised web interfaces and the decline of privacy. We’re not laughing now.

I do wonder whether we consider this sort of thing enough when trying to future proof our organisations. If I look back just 6 years ago, to the shape, skills and project work of my team – compared with now – it’s almost unrecognisable. What will it be like in another 6 years?

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that if my team is to work brilliantly in 2020, I need to be gearing up for it now and doing a bit of my own futurology.

‘Workforce planning’ is such a yawn phrase. But, whether we like it or not, it’s an absolutely crucial aspect of comms management and it happens to be something I’m focusing on at the moment.

There are 5 key principles I’m working to:

  • Link to strategy

No workforce plan is worth the paper it’s written on if it doesn’t link to your organisation’s corporate strategy, your own comms strategy and your departmental action plans. What are you trying to achieve over the next few years? Is your team equipped to deliver? If not, how will you address it? You need evidence to back up your proposals.

  • Scan the changing landscape

You need to get attuned to the latest comms trends and be aware of what’s on the horizon. Having a focus on the long term, and then planning for it, is a darn sight better than reacting to short term requirements all the time. The future of the PR industry project, run by the PRCA, explores topics such as globalisation, social changes, and new comms platforms and channels and is worth a look as there are some useful online videos available.

  • Plug the gaps

Once you’re clear on your strategy, the future direction of comms and how your organisation should respond, you need to identify any gaps you have that could hamper delivery. Do you and your team need to learn new skills? Is a new post required? Are there comms activities which aren’t needed anymore? Can staff be freed up from old tasks to pursue new priorities? All of these, and more, need to be considered and built into your workforce plan.

  • Consult your team

It should never be done in isolation. Workforce planning needs collective input and your team are best placed to provide feedback, ideas and offer up solutions. They know their department better than anyone.

  • Evaluate as you go along

Regularly review your plan and amend and adjust as you go along. It should be a living document, not shelved away to gather dust for the next 6 years.


My future-proofing priorities are all about developing a team of hybrid professionals, multi-skilled communicators, with a greater emphasis on digital skills.

It’s about banishing outmoded and unnecessary activities, freeing up time to pursue more dynamic techniques. And, it’s also about building greater comms skills amongst the wider organisation and securing greater contribution from grassroots staff.

What does your comms crystal ball reveal for the future?

And, do you have a workforce plan to deliver?

Photo credits:

Crystal Ball by Mark Skipper (creative commons)

Fancy a comms cocktail? I’m a trained mixologist don’t you know!

Reproduced under creative commons license

Fluorescent cocktail by Gabriel Millos (creative commons)

When I started out in the brave new world of communications I didn’t realise that cocktail making would be one of the necessary skills I’d need to acquire. But it is – really, it is.

These days, you need to shake, mix, and muddle a whole load of new comms elements if you want your message to compete in a crowded market and get through to people.

A simple Gin and Tonic just won’t cut it anymore – what you really need to be able to do these days is to produce the PR equivalent of the Woo Woo or, dare I say it, Sex on the Beach?!

But while it might sound daunting, actually the secret to any good cocktail rests with some basic key ingredients. And, if you can master these, it’s really easy to mix up something special for your organisation.

Creating Useable content event workbook

Creating Useable Content event workbook by @cooperaj

That’s why the great people behind the 1000 lives campaign hosted the ‘Creating Useable Content’ event this week.

Run by Public Health Wales, it was designed to help public sector communicators learn some of the new skills needed to become great ‘content producers’.

This excellent conference focused on the 5 key elements that all PR professionals need to get to grips with in order to succeed.


I’ll share them with you now, in suitable cocktail style:

1) The Blog Bomb:
The influential Dan Slee from comms2point0 encouraged everyone to start blogging – for themselves and their organisations. He talked us through the benefits, explained how to bust the barriers and introduced us to the technology out there to make blogging easy.

2) Video Fizz:
Steve Davies, creative Director of filmcafe, demonstrated how to create videos using the technology we already have – smartphones and tablets. He ran through the essentials for making video content ‘useable’– framing, exposure and sound.

3) Totally Tropical Infographics:
Data expert, Caroline Beavon, showed us how to create infographics. They’re an effective way of sharing complex reports and ideas and she highlighted some excellent design tools (Piktochart, and Raw) where you can produce them yourselves without needing to know about techy stuff like coding. Caroline showed us the various stages you need to go through, including how to order your data.

4) The Photo Royale:
Photographer and artist, Pete Ashton, taught us how to take great photos that get widely shared – explaining composition tricks, such as the rule of two thirds and sight lines.

5) The Social Media Smoothie:
And, social media consultant, Miranda Bishop, gave some excellent advice on planning your social media activity, what content you should post, how often, the scheduling tools out there such as Hootsuite and Buffer and how to make them work for you.


Photo of the visual minutes from the day

photo from @fran_ohara

The conference team said they’d consider the event a success if each delegate came away with 5 ideas they can implement.

So, here are my top takeaways and, in the interests of mixology, I’m going to stick with the cocktail theme – and notice below, my very first ever DIY Infographic to illustrate:


The Commsbird Cocktail

The CommsBird Cocktail recipe infographic

My DIY Infographic


  • 2 oz/ 56 ml of Smartphone filming: A smartphone is all you need. Forget the expensive equipment, just use your mobile, a cheap ‘Smartlav’ plug-in microphone and you’re good to go. It’s more spontaneous than large camera kits and easy to use once you get going. Just shoot it, cut it and share it. Simples!


  • 1 oz / 28 ml of DIY infographics: You can create them yourself with some fab free tools. Don’t use too many colours though and keep the design clutter free. And remember, creating Infographics is not the job of the design team. It’s a content editor’s responsibility to do the thinking, then brief the designers. Don’t throw them a 200 page report and ask them to create one from scratch.


  • 2 ox / 56 ml of YouTube: YouTube is the second biggest search engine. I didn’t realise that. It’s really important to have a presence on this platform if you are to increase your audience reach.


  • 1 tbsp of tweeting: Make sure you tweet about your blog or campaign at least 5 times. The average life of a tweet is just 18 minutes, so you need to repeat your messages. Don’t worry about annoying your followers with too many tweets – they made an investment in you when they decided to click the follow button.


  • A dash of creative juice: Confidence is key and experimentation is the pathway to success. Keep trying new things to stay ahead of the game and practice, practice, practice.

And, finally, to decorate your cocktail add some fab visual minutes from Fran O’Hara, with a sprinkle of some #content14.

Photo of visual minutes from the event

Visual minutes

I have to say, as a delegate, I really enjoyed the day. It was great to meet new people, learn new tips and tricks and build on the knowledge I’ve already gained.

Do you have some cool ingredients in your cocktail shaker?

(If you’re interested in finding out more about the event – there’s a great Storify of the day).


This blog post first appeared on the brilliant comms2point0 website. A big thankyou to @danslee for including it and I hope it puts me in touch with even more fab comms people as a result.

The Mamma returns: A survivor’s guide to PR management after baby break

Our Shinkansen to Hakone by Su-May

I sometimes think that working in PR is a bit like driving a bullet train – speeding at 200 mph, needing your wits about you, a bit risky – and one heck of a ride.

But with new routes being added to the train map recently (think social media and other digital tools), and more destinations appearing all the time, what happens when you need to jump off this high speed train for a bit – or a lot in my case?

I’m back in full time work now after having three gorgeous boys in quick succession. In the space of five years, I spent a whopping 2 and-a-half years out of the workplace (not all in one go, but almost) – while that bullet train continued to hurtle along on its journey.

Each time I jumped back onto the PR train I found the pace of change shockingly noticeable.

For the most part, it’s exciting – dare I say exhilarating – to witness the explosion of different ways to communicate with people and getting to grips with the opportunities and benefits they bring to an organisation.

But when you’re the one managing a PR/marketing team and you’ve been out of the game a long time, it can also feel unsettling sometimes – having to learn your Vine from your Vimeo, your Buffer from your bit-ly.

So, how do you play catch up and get your mojo back, when the world seems to have moved on without you?

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful along the way:

  • Be ruthlessly focused in your up-skilling

Get up to speed in the areas you’re unfamiliar with – and fast – particularly if you’re planning on going off on maternity leave again in the future. I’ve made a point of focusing my CPD activities on new tactical areas – such as social media, online video, and how to evaluate these new networks.

The CIPR CPD scheme is excellent, with loads of resources to access for members. The Government Communications Service has also been an invaluable resource to me and they have recently made a lot of their material publically available to all.

  • Use Twitter as a resource tool

Make sure you’re following some key twitter influencers – particularly in fields you need to know more about. Some great people are @helreynolds and @muddywall for social media expertise; @allthingsIC and @theICrowd for internal communications and @comms2point0 and @danslee for general communications enlightenment.

  • Get a mentor

I was gutted to have missed the deadline to apply for the PRweekmentoring scheme for women, which looks excellent (they may well do one next year, if this year is a success). But, there are other avenues you can pursue.

AcademiWales has an excellent bank of mentors available if you live in Wales and work in the public sector. If not, the Government Communications Service also has a mentoring scheme.

But it doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You could just find someone more experienced than you, from your own network, to offer a listening ear and advice along the way.

  • Delegate and learn from your team

You can’t do it all and are not expected to – you’re leading a team remember – and your team has stayed on that train while you disembarked, so you can learn loads from them.

  •  Find inspiration and draw strength from others

Loads of brilliant career mammas in PR/marketing/media are successfully managing the merge – a great phrase coined by magazine editor Lorraine Candy – @lorraineELLE.

Weber Shandwick MD – @marywhenman – gives good advice to working mums like herself.  Visa Europe’s Amanda Kamin – @Kaminamanda – is another working PR mamma with top tips on ways to thrive and juggle.

I also love to read inspirational quotes to gear me up each day and follow @valaAfshar and @richardbranson for my daily doses.

  • Relax and enjoy the changes

Finally, never forget that while some of the tactics may have changed, the fundamental principles of PR and marketing still apply – and that is something you are very familiar with. Success is all about having clear objectives and strategy, some great activities in place to implement those plans and then evaluating your outcomes. You’re great at that – you just have more weapons in your armoury now.


Photos (creative commons)

1) Our Shinkansen to Hakone by Su-May

2) Tea towel for ma by My SuperTuesday