Miranda Waugh, Director at AskAuk.com
Not only are the GiGL team civic-minded, hard-working and incredibly talented. Not only do they run one of the most functional, well-managed organisations it has been my privilege to work with. Not only do they do something that is vitally important to all Londoners, even those who don’t actually know of their existence. But they are also incredibly open to new ideas, responsive to opportunities, and always keen to work hard to make things even better. These qualities are fundamental to GiGL’s success, applying as they do not only to business management, but also to their interactions and work with clients, partners and supporting advisors.
GiGL’s communications have evolved over time, rather than being guided by a bigger plan or ambition. Great things do and have come out of this approach, but by the team’s own admission, their communications lacked some underlying structure. Over twenty years, the GiGL partnership has grown to a level where communication needs to be more structured and targeted. A growing awareness amongst the team of the need to promote the GiGL name was coupled with a growing confidence to do just that. The team needed help to ensure consistency and to prioritise who they should be targeting with which messages, and so build the partnership even further.
As the GiGL team were in the process of developing a full strategic plan, the time was right to concurrently develop a specific communications strategy.
When communicators introduce the idea of a logical, step-by-step approach to communications planning, the common response is: “But communications is too messy for that kind of approach.” But this inherent messiness is exactly why it needs a linear, systematic method; to bring science to the art of communications. Fortunately, scientific rigour comes naturally to the GiGL team and, with their usual positive enthusiasm, they quickly embraced the process.
Like any successful project, a communication strategy comes in four phases: prepare, plan, implement and evaluate. In pursuit of the first two phases, we followed a rigorous programme of research and consultation, then defined key audiences and communications objectives for each audience that were tied to GiGL’s strategic aims. We set out a clear set of activities designed to achieve these objectives, and an approach for evaluation. The strategy will be delivered by the GiGL team, with support from Rodger Seaman, GiGL’s business advisor, and from myself.
The extensive consultation process drew on the expertise and ideas of many of GiGL’s supporters, service users, and even a few critics. After a benchmarking process to assess where GiGL stands in relation to similar organisations and competitors, we ran two internal workshops with the GiGL team, looking at internal and external communication, strengths and points of anxiety, potential big issues, and what support the team needed.
Interviews were carried out with SLA holders from planning and from biodiversity departments of London boroughs, from national agencies, and from public companies; former SLA holders; national umbrella organisations; non-funding partners; volunteers; recorders; “critical friends”; international staff; and members of the GiGL Board and GiGL Advisory Panel. Many interviewees identified with more than one of these groups. Interviews were conducted one-on-one, on phone or Skype, using a previously agreed standard interview guide. (See box below.) I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to be interviewed.
While the interviews were remarkably positive, we are aware that this may be in part a function of the fact that people are more likely to agree to give time for an interview if their experience of an organisation has been positive. One of the planned actions from the communications strategy, that also helps to deliver priorities from the main organisational strategy, will be a users survey which will cover a much greater number of service users and be less demanding on their time.
A few areas were identified as priorities for action. Most of these centre on one core issue; explaining exactly what GiGL does. The apparent simplicity of GiGL’s work, collating, managing and disseminating data, belies the complexity of what they can do with those data. During consultation, this emerged consistently as the biggest challenge for the GiGL team; how to explain the incredible things they do, without losing people in detail.
Complexity is the enemy of a compelling communication. Many organisations try to put everything into their communication messages. Then, when messaging is circulated for review, more content, more complications, are invariably thrown in. This is the death knell of successful messaging. To say everything is to say nothing.
Clearly and simply defining the “GiGL offer” will be the first crucial task for the team and will inform every aspect of GiGL’s future communications. Other priority areas will hang on the success of this, including; a redesign of the GiGL website that brings products and services up front and unifies GiGL’s different online spaces; a simple brand refresh that is a bit more “shouty”, confident and which is applied to all outward-facing products; a review of messages and language used; and providing tools and clarity to GiGL ambassadors, to help them promote GiGL products and services amongst their colleagues.
Another challenge for GiGL will be giving the staff team the tools and confidence they need, not only to deliver specific activities, but also to say no to some of the tempting additional opportunities that threaten to divert them from core objectives. Hopefully, it will help the team to know that the priorities defined in both GiGL’s main strategy and in the communications strategy have been carefully considered and developed after thorough consultation and consideration.
The process of developing the strategy was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Of course, like any organisation there are issues and areas for improvement. But throughout the development of the communications strategy, one thing came up over and again as GiGL’s greatest asset – the staff team. Their dedication, hard work, friendliness, adaptability and expertise were commented on with unrelenting regularity. I have no doubt that GiGL has the best crew in place to steer the business to new heights.
Key Informant Interviews
The interviews asked for input on:
• what is working well and what could be improved in a number of areas, including internal and external communications and the GiGL website;
• opportunities and strengths;
• awareness of GiGL products and services;
• awareness of GiGL communication channels;
• what GiGL data or other GiGL-provided information people use and their experience of accessing that information;
• preferred methods of communication;
• other, non-GiGL, examples of effective communications;
• priorities for change;
• any disappointments in their dealings with GiGL.