Danny Rogers: Best practitioners will have GCC in sight

The Government's massive shake up of its comms machine, announced last week, could work to the PR industry's advantage.

On Friday, the Cabinet Office released a review by Matt Tee, the permanent secretary for government comms, which said the 65-year-old COI should be replaced by a new - and more focused - Government Comms Centre (see page 11).

Before we look at the potential upside, let's remind ourselves of the downside of this ongoing review by the coalition Government.

As recently as 2009, the COI was the single biggest advertiser in Britain and put millions of pounds into PR agencies. Since then, thanks to public debt reduction and ideological opposition to a 'nanny state', it has been ripped apart. On last recording, the COI had sunk to sixth largest advertiser, while COI PR spend was virtually frozen from last summer.

Tee's recommendations mean the loss of about 1,000 comms jobs in government and tens of millions of pounds in further cost savings.

However, history tells us that any government must invest in effective comms in order to shift society in its preferred direction. Experienced observers believe the spend will gradually come back.

And, interestingly, a new comms approach is likely to emerge.

Cabinet Office Secretary Francis Maude and the Prime Minister's marketing guru Steve Hilton both favour 'nudge theory', which means shifting public behaviour in more subtle ways than big advertising campaigns.

It could be argued that PR professionals are more in tune with such thinking - and there are already indications that large and specialist campaigns will go through PR agencies.

Underlying this, the GCC (quite rightly) will have a sharper focus on digital comms, high return on investment and tangibly shifting and evaluating public behaviour.

These are all areas in which PR practitioners theoretically have the edge over their advertising counterparts.

But this is far from a given. Just as PR professionals are fighting to own social media campaigns in the private sector, they will have to do at least the same for public sector work.

It is all very well claiming that PR has a higher ROI than advertising, but this will have to be proven rigorously, and often, to whoever runs the GCC.

The next two years will prove pivotal for the Government's ambitions, its comms machine and those in PR who wish to get involved.

It will require the best practitioners and the very best thinking to seize this fascinating and lucrative prize.

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