Honesty, communication and the police

I had the opportunity in recent days to read through the Filkin report that was produced for the Metropolitan Police. It reviews the Met Police’s approach to the media and wider communication in light of the recent revelations involving senior staff. You may have seen recent media coverage of the report which focused on advice within the report that police officers should be wary of journalists that offer to take them for a drink or who may flirt.

While obviously that small element of advice in the report became an interesting angle for the reporters it fails to grasp the fundamental points in the document. At the heart of the report is a recognition that the media no longer are the only game in town. There are so many opportunities to have direct communication with people using social networks, as well as to invest in your staff with strong internal communication.

It also includes a thread throughout which is about the importance of honesty within communication and the role of leadership in disseminating that message throughout the organisation. Honesty does not mean that there is no role for the communication professional, but it does mean that role is changing and is about helping to open up the organisation. The report does recognise that organisations have to accept that there will be negative headlines, and when they have done wrong they need to apologise and show how they are moving on.

Much of the report may seem to be about simple elements of communication, such as maximising the opportunities of social media or investing in internal communication, recognising the impact national media can have, and developing relationships with local media. However, many working in police communication have lost sight of the purpose of what they do and why they do it. They have been sidetracked by the pressure from senior staff to prevent any negative headlines for fearing an impact on public confidence, and the concern about legal issues they face in communicating about ongoing investigations.

Sometimes we can all benefit from going back to basics, reconnecting with what is at the heart of good communication and the purpose communication has within our organisation or business. It is about looking again at the foundations upon which we build our communication strategies and plan. Are they strong enough? Are they made of the right materials for 2012? Are we using the best process to build and test our foundations?

The Filkin report may have been written for the Metropolitan Police but it has some key messages for everyone working in police communication, but also for all PR and communication professionals. Remember the importance of the basics, and of course honesty.

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