Polly Cziok: Public service PR needs to attract the most talented

Next month the CIPR is publishing a brand new book dedicated to the art of public sector communications, entitled PR and Communications in Local Government and Public Services.

Polly Cziok: fundamental PR skills are innate and can't be taught
Polly Cziok: fundamental PR skills are innate and can't be taught

Written by industry old hands Pat Gaudin and John Brown, with MMU academic and former local government PR Wendy Moran, the book is something of a definitive guide, which will be invaluable to managers recruiting talent in from other sectors.

At a time when resources are diminishing, it's even more important that we can attract the very best and most talented people to work in public sector PR, and that we have a range of low cost tools at our disposal to develop their knowledge base, so this book is a welcome development.

However, as a sector, we need to do more to attract those people in the first place.

We need to tell the story of why public service PR is still a fantastic career option, despite deep cuts to almost every comms department in the country. And it is. Though the challenges are huge, the opportunities are also significant.

Yes, we are all expected to do more with less, but not only does that present an exciting creative challenge, it also allows ambitious and talented comms professionals to expand their portfolios and make their mark quickly. The public sector may be shrinking but there will always be a need in local government and other public services for people who want to use good communications to make a real difference to the communities that they serve.

After a decade or more of media hysteria about 'spin doctors' and a continued assault from local central government on the freedoms of councils to communicate, it really is time for public sector practitioners to stand up and be counted, albeit in our diminishing numbers. Because what we do does make a difference to people, to neighbourhoods and to

communities.  And in personal fulfilment terms, working for an organisation that exists solely to serve the public and that reflects one's own values is an enormous motivating factor.

As we move into ever more challenging times, we need the best people more than ever; people who are prepared to roll their sleeves up and use their skills for the public good.

This may prove to be a controversial point, but I have always firmly believed that fundamental PR skills are innate and can't be taught.  You can develop staff, and formal qualifications have an important role to play in that, but you can't teach people to how write well, you can't teach political nous, flair, sound judgement or news instinct.

However, should we manage to tempt some of the talent and creativity from the corporate sector into the world of public services, at least there is now a book that will give them the background knowledge they need to make a flying start.

As for the rest of it, the fulfilment, the creativity, the variety and the challenge... well you just have to be here to find out.

Polly Cziok is head of comms and consultation for the London Borough of Hackney

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