Some thoughts on Communications

Article text
With Chris Cubitt in charge 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' passes Gilberdyke Jct in April 2012
Communications

For many years it has been recognised that communications between members (both working and armchair) and the ‘Management’ of the Railway has left something to be desired. By using the term ‘Management’ I’m not singling out the paid management team but am thinking of the whole chain of command from the Trust Board, through the Plc Board and the Management Team to individual supervisors.

There appear to be few channels through which news can be disseminated effectively and accurately. Yes there is Moorsline magazine but as a quarterly journal it can hardly be effective as a means of quickly telling members what is going on. There used to be Moors Express but that seems to have ‘died a death’ after its originator and main organiser became the current Chairman of the Trust. There is the NYMR website which does indeed contain a great deal of information but keeping this up to date does not seem to be a priority for many. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are useful tools and can be very immediate. They have the added advantage of sending emails to subscribers when information has been posted that is relevant to the individuals area of interest.

The difficulty with all internet based media is that it requires the member to log on and actively seek the latest news. The result is that there is something of an information ‘vacuum’ and this results in mis-information and rumour beginning to circulate. We have only to look back at the winters of 2012 and 2013 when, if the rumours were to be believed, the Railway was about go bust, all the monies raised for the overhaul of 80135 had been used to pay the wage bill in February and so on. We’ve all heard them before, those in the know ignored them, those less fortunate worried about them.

To try and deal with this problem I was able to persuade the Board in August 2013 that there should be regular (quarterly was suggested) open fora at both ends of the line where members could come face to face with the Trust Chairman and the Managing Director to receive information and give feedback. This has been quite successful and a number of these meetings have been held in the intervening time.

In order to make some small contribution of my own I started this weekly (well nearly!) Blog in November 2013, mostly to disseminate information more widely, that came my way and was already in the public domain. The regular readership grew and it became apparent that what I was doing was fulfilling a need. This led me to meet with John Bailey, Andy Mead and Philip Benham in March this year and as a result of this meeting the official weekly e-news was born. Issue number 1 came out on 27th May this year and the latest issue, number 18, arrived on 1st December, not quite weekly but a pretty good record none the less.

Recognising that there is still much work to do the Trust Board established the Communications Committee in October and I was asked to be the Chair. It soon became apparent that there are a number of immediate issues to be dealt with. These include the focus of Moorsline, too inward looking, too much detail in certain areas, duplication of information, escalating cost, poor sales and advertising revenue and continued lateness of publication.

The main NYMR website has also come partly into our area of responsibility. Essentially the website is a marketing tool and what it does it does well. Where it falls down is in the information that it gives about the Railway, much of it is out of date. A trawl through last month revealed 15 areas that needed updating. A quick consultation with Danielle Ramsey (a member of the committee and the NYMR Marketing Manager) resulted in 11 of these being updated quickly but the remaining items are proving more stubborn to correct because they require input from others. We are still working on this aspect!

Taking a wider view we could do much worse than look at what other Charitable organisations do. Heritage railways like the Bluebell have a very close co-ordination between the register of members, the magazine mailing list, the website and the magazine content to ensure that messages can be got across in a meaningful and consistent way. I understand that this is what organisations like the National Trust and the RNLI do. If we are to follow this lead then it will be essential to have a much more ‘joined up’ approach between the NYMR’s fundraising, Moorsline, website and membership departments than we have had in the past. I hope that the committee can bring this about.

So what of the future? Well, we will continue to work to improve Moorsline. We are planning a market testing exercise, we are considering a change of format to A4, we hope to include a questionnaire with the winter issue (Due at the end of January) to seek to better understand what the membership wants from their magazine, we are considering the possibility of producing an on-line version and we are determined to produce the magazine on time. We are also considering how we can resource and produce a monthly news digest, probably on-line with an e-mail reminder to members, along the lines of Railway Herald.

I’ll try and keep my readers updated as matters develop.

Trust Board Meeting 5th December

This proved, as always, to be a quite lengthy meeting and came to an end after four hours without completing all of the agenda. The meeting will resume at 17.00hrs next Friday 12th December.

Matters discussed included the Trust Business Plan, the Financial position (all good), a policy for Trackside and Station Memorials, Whitby P2 update, Bequests update, Risk Register and reports from the Volunteer, Locomotive and Wagon Committees. Held over until next Friday are reports from the Carriage, Communications, Fundraising and Events Committees and the membership report.

Of these outstanding items the most significant must be the very comprehensive report from the Carriage Committee which sets out where we are falling down at the moment and what we should be doing about it.

‘Steaming On’ to be reviewed

The NYMR strategic planning document ‘Steaming On’ is to be reviewed and updated in the light of recent achievements. Both the Trust Board and Plc Boards will be meeting jointly next Friday to carry out this review.

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Bernards' Blog - A regular digest of things happening on the North York Moors Railway