The end of the filming permit?


Earlier this week Ed Campbell, a BBC journalist, blogged about how footage he shot on a smartphone at Heathrow Airport was used for the lead story on the News at Ten. His post outlined how training and a proprietary app had helped him easily film and upload his video. 

From one perspective, the story was interesting because it shows just how far smartphone video and uploading technology has come. What interested me as well though, is the issue of filming permits. Heathrow Airport media centre has a section for applying for a ‘breaking news’ among other filming permits, and the airport states that anyone found filming without a permit will be asked to leave. 

In his post, Campbell states: “What we were clearly lacking was stuff from inside the terminal … The desk had asked permission to film and been knocked back. Fortunately two of us were kitted out with iPhones fitted with PNG [the BBC’s filming app]

“Once or twice I sensed I was being clocked by the terminal staff and moved on. But the sheer ubiquity of iPhones meant that for all they knew I was just another frazzled would-be passenger updating his Facebook status.”

“I’d covered the basics, and grabbed and sent a few more ‘nice to haves’ before heading back to joining my colleagues. One of them had brought an ENG camera to Terminal 2 and gathered more material that way, but was quickly spotted and thrown out by the terminal staff.”

“When you are filming on a phone as opposed to a camcorder or DSLR, you can just blend in and melt away, as easy as that. No-one bothers you, or asks what you’re up to, because, well, everyone has a smartphone, right?”

He’s absolutely right. How can you police filming when so many people have their own camera in their pocket? In the comments section of the blog, Campbell points out that members of the public were taking pictures and uploading them to media. 

The ubiquity of smartphones, and the emergence of live streaming apps like Meerkat and Periscope, mean that film permits for breaking news are a throwback to the days when the press office was an all-powerful gatekeeper. And however much it may be railed against, technology continues to open those gates wider and wider.


Presentation only goes so far

Possibly the best presented pop tart I’ve ever seen, and one of a selection of junk food presented in haute cuisine style by the not-so-subtly named “Chef Jacques Le Merde” on his Instagram feed.

Chef Jaques’ creations may carry tongue-in-cheek fancy descriptions like “Doritos soil” and “coleslaw ash” but as they never pretend to be something they’re not, we appreciate them for what they are.

From a PR perspective, this is what we’re often asked to do as practitioners; present an idea, information or product in as positive a way as possible while still being truthful – the McCann advertising mantra of “Truth Well Told”.

As the Chartered Institute of Public Relations states: “Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.” If what you say doesn’t tally with what you do, what others say about you will not be favourable and your reputation will suffer accordingly.

The danger comes when we’re asked to “spin” and present a junk food idea, product or decision as haute cuisine. It might look the part, but one bite and people will immediately spot the pop tart. Presentation is nothing without substance.

#LocalGovNovels Revisited 

Once upon a dark January evening, many moons ago, a man from a city that is everywhere released a hashtag that travelled far and wide. It sparked imaginations wherever it unfurled, sending people rushing to bookshelves for inspiration. The hashtag? #LocalGovNovels

To see just how the #LocalGovNovels story progressed, read on via Storify

Envelope announcements

Advertising and branding on envelopes, a great idea that plenty of organisations do successfully. Sometimes though, it can go awry, like it seems to have done for Transport for London recently.

Taking to parenting website Mumsnet, a pregnant Londoner recounted how she had sent off for a Transport for London ‘Baby on Board’ badge – which acts as a visual cue when asking for a seat on crowded trains. She requested it be sent to her work address. Rather than arriving in a plain brown envelope as one had in a previous pregnancy, the badge turned up in a ‘Mind the bump’  emblazoned envelope complete with a picture of the badge – in front of colleagues that she hadn’t mentioned her pregnancy to yet. Not good.

The branding is due to a commercial partnership between TfL and online retailer Not On The High Street. Commercialisation is the name of the game in the public sector at the moment. Ever decreasing funding means that as well as cutting costs and becoming more efficient, projects that bring in extra income are a big focus. 

Partnering with a big and well-regarded online retailer seems a good match for TfL, and the branding is nicely done. Unfortunately, with the envelope, they seem to have missed the fact that many women apply for a badge in their first trimester, a time when they may not look visibly pregnant yet could feel absolutely awful, but are not ready to tell everyone they know about their pregnancy.

With pregnancy discrimination a real issue for some women, this branded envelope could have caused a real problem. As it is, there seem to have been no repercussions in this case, apart from a complaint to TfL apparently resulting in the folllowing paragraph being added to their online badge request page:

Baby on Board badges come in branded envelopes. Please make sure you order your badge to a suitable address if you have not yet announced your pregnancy.

I wonder how many envelopes they’ve already had printed. There’s a lesson there for us all.

Small details

Last week, I heard an interview that refused to stop popping up in my head. It illustrated how a small detail can make a huge difference to how people feel.

The interview was on BBC Radio Four with a mother of one of the girls who was abused by the Oxford grooming gang. It was broadcast the day after a Serious Case Review was published which slammed various agencies including both the Police and County Council, finding that over 300 children had been abused by the gang over 15 years.

Of the police, the mother said: “almost all of the police that we dealt with responded to us as human beings. They were concerned, they were empathetic, they were completely out of their depth in being able to realise what was going on, but they did try.” She also recounted how after  the criminal trial in 2013, where seven men were convicted of abusing six girls including her daughter, the Chief Constable visited the house to personally apologise.

When speaking about social services, her tone was far less forgiving. You could hear her anger as she spoke about her contact with them, both as she tried to keep her daughter away from the gang, and after the trial. 

She explained how both she and her daughter had both received a letter of apology only a few days earlier: “That might have given us some comfort or satisfaction if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so close to the Review coming out and the letter was a photocopy. Even the signature was a photocopy. They couldn’t even spend the time to personally sign their letters of apology. And that basically says it all about the County Council and how we’ve been treated all the way along.” 

That small detail, that it was a photocopy, undid any possible good and reinforced an already bad opinion. Yet her opinion of the police was far more objective, even though the review criticised their actions as much as those of social services. For this mother, the photocopy wasn’t a small detail, it was a massive issue. And it shows that even in – perhaps especially in – awful situations like this, the small details really do matter.

With thanks to @katebentham for her advice on this post

BBC News report on the Serious Case Review:

Photo credit: I’ve got mail – concrete and nail envelopes by Sharon Pazner via Flickr

Cake, Glorious Cake


CommsCamp14 had the most fabulously-groaning cake-table I’ve seen outside of my local WI Christmas fete.

As a way to break the ice, bring people together to chat and to generally go “ooohhh” over baking brilliance, it was a triumph.

There are thought-provoking and useful blogs appearing from CommsCamp, but I reckon there’s also space to appreciate the cake again, so I’ve pulled Tweets and pics together in a new Storify timeline. All hail the cake table.

Photo: by Ann Kempster from her CommsCamp14 Flickr album

CommsCamp14 – views on video

Class of 2012

Yesterday’s CommsCamp14 was all about things beginning with C: communications, cake, channels, collaboration, content, communities and chests (getting stuff off them). The C this post is about is (video) cameras.

When people were asked ahead of time to bat some session ideas around, I suggested a video topic as a way to share and learn from others. Thankfully, digital storyteller John Popham was on hand to guide it – he also filmed this session and others. This was particularly handy as I missed the start, so have been able to catch up on what I missed. Here are the  key points I took away:

  • content is more important than quality
  • don’t forget that not everyone can, or wants to, access video. You need to consider if you want/need to reach these people in another way through another channel/s
  • hearing people’s stories in their own words is powerful
  • be brave and cover the ‘we could do better’ as well as ‘we’re great at this’. Ask stakeholders for their honest opinions to share with colleagues at all levels
  • colleagues outside of comms teams have video skills, use them to tell their customers’ and services’ stories
  • if you have a smartphone you can shoot video. iPhones and iMovie are easy to use and you can cut out background noise to a certain extent, try to shoot in as quiet a place as possible if you can in the first place though
  • John cited a BBC person saying that they can’t tell the difference between footage taken on a high-end smartphone and that from a BBC camera. You don’t need expensive or separate equipment. Adding a microphone can make a difference though, and a tripod can be handy too
  • video and streaming Council meetings – fewer members of the public attending. First attempt by one council had 450 viewers. Pop a microphone by one of the speakers for the audio system and stream live if possible. Ask the Chairman to announce that filming will be taking place to remind people. Worried about bad behaviour? Anecdotally, video has improved it at some meetings
  • consider making videos available on a creative commons open licence so they can be used by other people, bloggers, groups and websites like Wikipedia. If your footage is used out of context, you still have the full version that can be used to give the correct position
  • local bloggers are already videoing and tweeting live from some Council meetings. If they can do it, why can’t you?
  • try not to just have talking heads, get a bit more creative and think about what you want to show
  • enthusiasm for video shouldn’t mean it becomes a default medium, challenge why people want to use it, be clear about what it’s for and if it fits the needs of the target audience and objectives. Ask what you want people watching to think, feel and do
  • how will it be promoted and shown? If you directing people to further information like a webpage or form, is it fit for purpose or does it need any work done on it? A rousing call to action that leads people to awful information is an own goal
  • using video for internal comms? Check that people will be able to watch or hear it on their desk PCs, and put something in place for colleagues who don’t have one – shared tablets for bin crews were mentioned
  • Videoscribe from Sparkol was mentioned as a good tool to create animated videos and bring information presentation to life
  • if you shoot a video and it doesn’t look great, or people don’t want to appear on camera, try putting the audiotrack to pictures, sketches or animation that illustrates what’s being spoken about
  • consider using screen shots of online content/forms to walk people through where to find or fill in information
  • subtitles for videos can be useful if people are deaf or can’t watch with sound. If you can’t subtitle or caption, consider adding a trackable link alongside the video that provides the same information in written format
  • link to what other people have done, it may even be possible that you could use the bulk of another organisation’s video for council services like elections, food safety or similar. Why reinvent the wheel when you could top and tail content that is already available? Residents tend to only look for/see information from their own council anyway
  • tailor the length of your video to the channel you’re posting on – shorter often better on social media as people more likely to be watching on mobile device in shorter chunks. Thirty seconds to a minute was suggested as a good length. Vine videos are only six seconds long, so ideal for bite-sized info. Here’s one I shot on my iPhone and uploaded via 3G at a recent event:

and another from the CommsCamp14 lunch session:

  • how are you going to measure and evaluate the impact of your video? Are you looking for people to sign-up to a service, click through to information or come to an event for example? Trackable links are useful as are follow-up surveys or building in ‘how did you hear about this’ into sign-up information
  • short and sharp often feels more authentic than scripted, glossily produced video. Asking people quickfire questions for short replies in their own words can be much more engaging than a scripted, pre-approved line. Authenticity rules
  • C is for content. It’s more important than quality.

Photo used under creative commons licence: Class of 2012 by Dave Lawler on Flickr