Communicators must follow Alex Aiken's lead

The recent announcements by the Government's top comms chief, Alex Aiken, about the future of communications have been impressive and welcome.

John Shewell: There must a 'lazer-like' focus on metrics
John Shewell: There must a 'lazer-like' focus on metrics

The standout announcements were that comms people need to up their game to be taken seriously, and this boils down to developing a laser-like focus on metrics to drive performance. The standard should be on excellence.

In a recent PRWeek, Aiken is quoted as saying: ‘We can build respect, but it has to
be built on solid foundations. One thing I have found in government comms is that it doesn’t pay enough attention to metrics.’

The second big announcement was co-producing campaigns with partners.

Aiken’s big plan for more effective and efficient communications is to ‘move from an era of broadcasting messages to one of co-creation of content with our partners.’ Hallelujah!

This is the start of a radical shift in Government comms, which could influence the whole public sector and it is desperately needed for the benefit of the whole sector.

The pressures facing the public sector are immense and comms team need to radically rethink the way they work for there is an invisible but seismic shift already underway.

The genuine and imminent threat to public sector comms teams is relevance.

Aiken hit the nail on the head when he acknowledged that public sector comms team just don’t fully grasp policy and its role in delivering sustained behaviour change.

The next generation of communications people will need to be policy makers, economists, sociologists, technologists and innovators all rolled into one.

Brighton-based consultancy, NixonMcInnes, is one of a handful of pioneers changing the game.
Their recent work with ambitious national housing association, Orbit, is nothing short of spectacular.

They’re redefining the role of consultancy period. NixonMcInnes worked in partnership with Orbit  to help them define how they can transform into a social business – a whole organisation culture change.

By collaborating with Orbit – with staff from all levels and key partners - NM were able to assist the organisation define its future and prepare the path towards it.

This is a radically different model of communications. This is about shaping the strategy of an organisation with the very people working for it.

I cite NM in this case because they also approach work from a socially conscious perspective – in the very same way as most public sector organisations.

The difference? NM is staffed with people who understand the implications of policy, what motivates people, the rapidly evolving nature of technology and its impact on businesses and society, and are classic innovators for social good.

The people at NixonMcInnes could just as easily slot into any public sector organisation and these are the skills that are desperately needed in a sector that is under tremendous pressure to deliver efficient and effective public services.

As one of our clients recently commented to me (an international government institution) when talking about the future communications for their organisation: ‘We need new skills – these skills do not exist in our organisation and we need to be delivering a 21st century agenda.’

To use the words of Martha Lane-Fox in the title of her ‘digital by default’ report– ‘Revolution not Evolution.’


John Shewell is founder of CoLab and former head of comms for Brighton & Hove City Council.

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