I was recently trying to explain to someone what I did and where I felt I could offer most value in communications. I explained that I actually like the challenge of making the ‘boring stuff’ – by which I mean things like reports, strategies and policies – not just interesting but more likely to have a real impact. I enjoy both writing and editing this sort of potentially dry, information-heavy material. But frustratingly I’m often brought in simply to proofread final versions, to check that they’re accurate, error-free and set out correctly, and that they make sense.
The frustration comes from knowing that at this stage there is little opportunity to ask questions that could make the content much more meaningful and effective. Who is it for? What response do you hope to achieve? Is this new or existing information? Do you know how similar materials were received by the target audience previously?
Annual reports in particular can be seen as a necessary but unwanted burden on resources, tick-box exercises that are not given enough consideration. The process of producing content is often farmed out as an information-gathering job to staff outside the communications team who may lack understanding in areas such as tone of voice and appropriate writing style. Duplicating the design and layout of previous reports can seem the simplest and most cost-effective option, although this may mean the same faults, such as a lack of clear signposting to key messages, occur again and again.
What it boils down to is that you could be missing out on the full potential of a valuable piece of communication if you don’t approach it in the same way as you would a ‘sexier’ project like a health promotion campaign or new service launch. You may be obliged, by statute or government directive, to produce certain materials but that doesn’t mean they can’t add considerable value to your overall communication and engagement strategy. Don’t do them because you have to, do them because they can make a difference to people.
Be honest, how many people do you think actually read your published annual report or quality account, other than those who have a responsibility to do so or a particular vested interest or agenda? Do the public and your patients have more appreciation for and understanding of what you do as a result? Do your own staff find strategies and policies meaningful enough to feel actively involved in implementing and following them?
If certain information is not written and presented in a well thought out way, the majority may disengage from it, or even distrust it. That seems an awful waste of time and effort, as well as a missed chance to build relationships with a wide variety of audiences. I remember speaking to a GP who was very dismissive of the information – including quality accounts – he received from NHS trusts (and, at the time, PCTs) in his area because they didn’t help him support patients in making decisions about treatment and services.
So please don’t ignore the boring stuff; it can have tremendous untapped potential to support things that really matter to people, like choice, involvement and personalisation.