In the past few days a lot has been written about the potential impact of public sector cuts on the future of PR and communications working in those areas. It is clear that some form of communication support is going to be required but not how it look. In the past six months there has been a dramatic shift in the focus of communication activity. Moving from the large-scale advertising led campaigns such as those surrounding the Policing Pledge that were seen in the dying moments of the Labour government. The impact of these campaigns was incredibly difficult to quantify and therefore it was a challenge to identify best practice and value for money.
I have written before about this development in communication linked to the emergence of the Big Society. However, all this was done before the details of the public sector spending cuts were outlined in the Comprehensive Spending Review. So, if we are going to look to support the Big Society, do more with less and yet continue to operate in an open and transparent way – how can we do it?
Throughout the period of change as the cuts are implemented, public sector communication needs to keep sight of what it exists for. Demonstrating what value it brings and the benefits that exist in having the right people with the right skills in the specialist communication posts. Central to everything will be showing how communication can support the organisation. How do we do that?
- Keep a focus on what matters to the people you serve or who are your customers. If it doesn’t matter to them, then why should it matter to you?
- Know what works for your communication and why it works. Evaluate and be able to demonstrate the impact that your activity has, and how it is cost-effective.
- Be clear about the service that people can expect and show how communication can help to manage expectations.
- Have a clear communication strategy and plan that takes all the above into account, gives clear direction and provides a framework for your communication style and substance.
The future will be more than PR and advertising. It will mean using web and social media becoming mainstream to our communication effort. It will also see us working with third parties and allowing access through open data. Many theorise that this is a massive shift in what communication stands for. I don’t think it is. It is just about taking the communication basics that exist and putting them into a modern, new context. It does however, require PR and communication professionals to have new skills and to understand the digital age in a way they have come to understand the world of advertising.
Fundamental to the future is relinquishing the total control that communication departments have sought over many years. It is the hyperlocal sites and working with Big Society volunteers that will be key to the coming years. Agencies will need to provide information and accept that people will use it as they want to – the future of the digital reporter.
The way communication professionals will survive into the future is by being flexible and able to transfer and adapt their skills to make the most from the changing environment and new technology. It is the innovation and creativity of staff that will be more valued than media management. They will need to train and educate people in their organisation about this new communication. Explaining that just because something is communicated through social networks does not mean it is more risk than a member of staff being interviewed by the media or talking to the public.
In the future those that can be more dynamic, adaptable and creative will prosper and those who can’t – well we know the cuts will require the maximum from all staff so enough said.