Let me tell you a story

It’s National Tell a Story day and though that may feel like an artificial construct does that really matter? Isn’t every day a great day to tell or hear a story? Stories are the magical fairy dust in our lives, they’re a mystical golden chain that threads through who we are, everything we’ve done and the adventures that we’ve been on. They capture our imagination and our hearts and that’s why they’re so powerful.

Storytelling is a fundamental human activity. We create and share stories with each other every day. We carry our own story inside us and can reach in and share an excerpt at any time. The story we carry with us shapes the decisions we make, or don’t make and the path that we choose.

Stories provide a shared narrative for us too, as a community, whatever that community might be. The common folklore that describes and defines our culture and identity.

The art of a good story is that it reaches us emotionally, it makes us think and then take action. The measure is that it’s one that people want to be part of, even if that’s only to share it. The art of oral history might not be as formalised or revered as it once was but our natural human instinct to share will always prevail. We’re all creators. And increasingly we’re all curators. Whether deliberately or instinctively, we read, watch, see and absorb content and we pass it on. We retweet, we share, we copy links into email and text messages. We find things that will touch the hearts of our friends, we see photos that will make our family smile, we see photos that remind us of the people we love and we hit send.

Many times I’ve heard people bemoan social media as being the death of communication, toxic to conversation, a dark, deadly negative place. It doesn’t have to be. It can be a place for our stories to spread their wings and fly.

Values versus value…

cu-core-values

When I decided that I wanted to dedicate my freelance career to working with charities, credit unions and co-operatives it was primarily because these organisations had an absolute fit with my own personal values and would inspire me to do more, do better, be better. What is a greater motivation to get up in the morning and be the best that you can be?

Yes, I absolutely understood that in the current climate there was a need within the sector, particularly given the cuts in funding and the struggle with the onset of austerity that has damaged so many organisations to the bone. I knew too that, as in the corporate world, the first roles to go (and quite rightly) would be in ‘non-essential’ areas.

I was sure that there was a way for me to offer my help, my support and experience.

I knew that there was a need and I wanted to step into that gap and offer a professional service that was collaborative, inclusive and a professional offer at a price that was fair to all.

I know that many people thought I was naive and probably in need of a dose of reality. Perhaps some still do.

What I have learned though is that communications activity, that can add significant value to organisations, is being given to people who already have a full time job. Perhaps they have shown some enthusiasm or commitment for it but they are often struggling to fit it in alongside the day job. I’ve seen people carrying out these ‘side of desk’ roles who are terrified, lost, stressed and even downright resentful. None of these are good for the individual or the organisation.

I now know I can help more than I thought and it’s why I’m proud of the choice I made and the pricing structure I have in place. I refuse to charge overly expensive day rates or project rates for third sector organisations. My view is that you can be fair, honest and offer a quality, efficient and bespoke service at a reasonable rate.

Challenge me on that if you like but I stand by it wholeheartedly.

The resolution will not be televised…

187567568

At the end of a year and the beginning of a new one we’re culturally encouraged, almost expected, to make a set of resolutions, promises to ourselves – and more often others – that we will try harder, strive to be better, give over old habits. Many expect us to declare them from the rooftops, hold them out for approval and judgement, only to then have to turn our blushes and apologetic eyes to the world if we fall short of our grand ambitions.

Surely this is why many see their resolutions out till the end of January (mid-February for those with great will-power) and then abandon them as a lost cause for another year. That doesn’t seem the best model for improvement does it?

I’ve outlined a set of objectives and ambitions for Wochi for 2015, and beyond but – call me pedantic – I’m refusing to call them new year resolutions, that terminology just doesn’t sit comfortably. I believe that in order to succeed we need to be flexible, responsive and agile to change. That’s something that is difficult to achieve when you set out a rigid goal at the beginning of the year without knowing what the year holds.

I’ll share these objectives with you in the coming weeks but as a principle I agree with this quote from Henry Moore;

“I think in terms of the day’s resolutions, not the years”.

That is not to say that the objective and ambition will bend with direction of the wind, it’s the activity required to make the ambition a reality that will have to flex as circumstances change and develop. That’s incredibly exciting and inspiring.

The thing that will always remain steadfast is the bedrock of Wochi; the values that it stands for and the purpose for which it was created. Future blogs will continue to explore these values and how they work in action and I’d love your feedback and views on them and how we can continue to develop further through new opportunities.

For now though I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful and incredibly successful 2015.

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

#LikeAGirl

 

Watching the explosion of the #alsicebucketchallenge (which I’ll come back to in a blog post soon)  has made me ponder on recent social media campaigns. By far the most thought provoking for me has been #LikeAGirl which was launched by Always.

Though not a charity or technically seen as a ‘campaigning’ activity because it was launched by a feminine products brand, it is relevant, powerful and hits a incredibly raw emotional nerve.  

#likeagirl

After contrasting post-puberty females’ and males’ stereotypes associated with the phrase “Like a girl”, with younger girls’ more positive interpretations, the video dissects the socialisation of women to feel weak as a norm. Frightening and illuminating stuff.

Surely it makes you ask, is this how your sisters, daughters, nieces feel?

I think what I found most shocking about this is not only has this messaging, this misogyny, been accepted into the lexicon of society but into the thinking of women and perhaps most frighteningly, girls.

I found myself reflecting on my own use of language and though I consider myself a feminist I know that I too am guilty, occasionally of using such phrases as “You big girl!” as a teasing but undoubtedly derogatory term. I tried to comfort myself that the phrase is short hand for ‘You big girl’s blouse!’ but it is cold comfort…

I have subsequently promised myself and women everywhere never to use any such term as derogatory. I know that as a woman I have a responsibility to support, protect and champion women whenever I can. (Men too, I’m not sexist, but watch the video.) I believe that we all do.

I’m delighted that the empowering message of this video propelled it the number one most viral video the first week it was released. And that between June 26 and July 7 #LikeAGirl garnered 101,679 posts/shares. Now that’s how to do social media #LikeAGirl

I’m also delighted that it struck such an emotional chord; that many girls, women and men mention crying when they watched it. But is that enough? 

Can we all challenge ourselves to make sure we use the phrase ‘like a girl’ in an empowering, positive, encouraging and inspirational manner?

 

Don’t look at me in that tone of voice…

photo

When you work in communications, I believe that one of the key challenges is to understand the brand you represent so well that the tone of voice becomes not only something that you can convey confidently, but it becomes natural. It’s not always that easy to do when the tone is defined, at great length and in minute detail, usually by a large and expensive marketing agency. They also like to describe it in obtuse terms and build in long, complicated sign off processes. It’s all fine, you get used to it, you find a way of working with it but what ends up happening is that the beautifully crafted copy you produce that connected emotionally to your organisation’s values becomes a cold, transactional, ‘does what it says on the tin’ missive that you’d rather not put your name to.

It’s not the most fulfilling of experiences.

The joy of setting up on your own is that the voice is your own. It becomes really easy to talk about your business because it’s you. Your values can shine through. The brand represents your personality, it’s not faceless or anonymous. That is an absolute joy.

I hope that this translates directly to my customers and potential customers.

If you asked me to describe my brand tone of voice I think it’s; personal, simple, common sense and  values based.

I don’t think that’s obtuse or complicated but I’d be interested to hear if you agree or what words you would use to describe it.

 

The kindness of…

kind

 

The popular construct of ‘the kindness of strangers’ was probably made most famous and brought most sharply into relief for us by the damaged, and frankly quite terrified and terrifying character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. (A rather odd juxtaposition is that Kate Adie also used this as a title for one of her autobiographies too…)

However what strikes me as a little odd is that very little is said in popular discourse about the kindness of friends or family.

I’d like to take a moment to redress this.

When I decided to take the momentous- some would say brave, others would say risky- step to set up independently the one thing that overwhelmingly surprised and delighted me was the support and encouragement that was offered to me so generously by my friends. From giving me advice on how to register with Companies House, to helping me decide on a name (more of that to come), to mentoring me on how to approach the strategy of my business, incredible advice on marketing, putting me in touch with potential customers and developing incredible design for my visual identity… Right through to listening to me debate and work answers  out for myself. The list goes on and on. I really want to name names but I’m not sure that my wonderful friends will be comfortable with that.

If I can ask for one thing from you it would be to believe; believe in yourselves, believe in your friends, it is truly priceless and deeply humbling.

Thank you all. You are incredible. I would never be so confident, comfortable or happy taking on this adventure without you. Thanks for your practical help, your support, your belief and your love.

 

The Wochi story : The dream…

image

 

 

I absolutely believe in the co-operative values and principles, as anyone who knows me will tell you. For me, the (acknowledged) heritage of the co-operative movement, the story of the Rochdale Pioneers is the most perfect story that could ever have been written about a business model. Those of us that believe passionately in it have a duty to keep the principles alive in everything we do.

I am proud therefore to have worked for The Co-operative for over 16 years. I am also proud to have served as an elected member of the Group. I’m even more proud to have worked with incredible people to campaign for and promote the inspirational work that the Group has done, not least the ground-breaking Ethical Plan.

People have said that makes me a Co-op Geek, but I’m happy to wear that badge.

As a lover of language too, a flag-bearer, a pedant, a champion of the power of words and what some would consider a weaver of the spell of communication; I have been privileged to combine two loves in one for a long time.

For some time I have been dreaming of stepping out of the corporate world, following a dream and setting up independently. My dream has two pillars.

  • To set up independently to primarily offer communication support to charities, co-ops, credit unions and other values driven organisations
  • To become a co-operative to support the principle of co-operation among co-operatives

I’ve taken the leap to the first and I’m really embracing the challenge. My first two weeks have been exciting and incredibly rewarding. I will be striving to ensure it continues in that vein. The second will no doubt take longer but it’s the logical path so I will continue towards it.

your support and good wishes are so gratefully received and incredibly valued.

Thanks

Mary

Follow me on Twitter and share your views @Wochicomms