Danny Rogers: A shaft of light for public sector comms

The Comprehensive Spending Review will impact on every single comms professional in the public sector, and way beyond.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

As Alastair Campbell pointed out last Friday at the CIPR Local Public Services Conference, public sector comms departments are 'an easy target' for Osborne's axe.

The right-wing media have long campaigned against the 'wastefulness' of the 'legions of public service spin doctors' created under 13 years of New Labour. Talk to any member of the coalition's team - I invited a few to the PRWeek Awards last week, to see some of the great work by the industry - and they remain convinced Labour wilfully created billions of pounds' worth of unnecessary jobs.

When it comes to cutting out so-called bureaucracy, comms professionals are always going to be seen as a soft target compared with so-called frontline workers.

But, as Campbell also stressed, comms is an increasingly essential part of the delivery of public services. If you are going to change public behaviour for the better, information and persuasion are the important tools.

Some public sector PR campaigns are already incredibly effective, proving outstanding value for money, but this must now become the rule rather than the exception.

Indeed, the only defence of great work in this sector is to prove strong return on investment (ROI) evidence. And this means proactively measuring outcomes - what these campaigns achieved in behavioural terms - rather than outputs - coverage achieved or number of people reached.

Any government needs to be seen to have changed society for the better. And it needs to prove real results to the electorate. So if comms departments can deliver such evidence, they will win over Whitehall.

But today's public sector comms workers must also prove themselves as broad-based communicators, integrating new digital and social media techniques alongside traditional skills. They must at least match their private sector peers in this respect.

The good news is that both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have worked as professional communicators and are surrounded by influential advisers who also understand PR.

So, with cutting-edge work and the optimum use of their persuasion skills, much maligned professionals in this sector can still glimpse light at the end of this long tunnel.

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