#CommsCon18: Sir Craig Oliver

The 24 hour news cycle, fake news and social media has changed the face of communication for PR folk, businesses and the government, as Sir Craig Oliver discussed during his keynote speech at #CommsCon2018.

As the former director of communications at Number 10 under David Cameron, Sir Craig saw the shift from analogue to digital communications. In his speech and following Q&A he provided the conference with a entertaining, enthralling and at times chastening insight into the inner workings of government, and the lessons that communications professionals can learn.

Adapting for digital

The decline of traditional media outlets and rise of online news has seen stories reduced to their most basic form (often under a certain number of characters) and key arguments simmered down to a single core message, ultimately destroying precious thinking time of the media. As a result, Sir Craig said, the government was ill-equipped to deal with the new, unprecedented news cycle and needed an effective comms strategy that was fit for the digital age.

“Clearly digital communications needs to be the number one point of call for communicators, but so many businesses still aren’t doing it. Your reputation, and how you are seen are so important – if you don’t deal with that you will pay a price and you’ll never get the chance to sell your stall.”

The issue with that, explained Sir Craig, is that many businesses are reluctant to communicate on social media and digital platforms as they’re traditionally seen as tools for marketing and sales – not messaging. However any business or PR professional choosing to ignore the internet is “like an orchestra playing a symphony without a string section.”


(Image credit: Cision)

Out with the old

Reflecting on his time working with David Cameron, Sir Craig noted that there was a significant shift away from the ‘old rules’ which have been seen in politics and the news across the globe – particularly during the EU referendum, which Sir Craig played a part in as the Prime Minster’s right hand man. Businesses and polsters now struggle to keep with with the relentless news cycle… and it’s the role of communications professionals to help businesses navigate the ‘new rules’.

“Communications professionals can be tempted to stay in a crouching position, thinking we’re not that important… but actually understanding how things have changed and moved online and having strategies to deal with this is absolutely vital.”

Sir Craig signed off with some insightful thoughts on the role of the communications champion. PR professionals can bring clarity to business messaging to enable them to connect with audiences in a clear and transparent way, giving brands and businesses their own coherent voice in the incoherent media swamp.

“It’s time for comms to find the voice it has ironically and tragically lost.”

As he rightly concluded, being silent isn’t the answer. Tell your own story… or have it told for you.