"The press release is dead," declares the Government's comms chief Alex Aiken

The executive director of government comms Alex Aiken said the press release was dead during a speech at the PRCA's National Conference on Friday.

"The press release is dead," said Alex Aiken. Picture by Julian Dodd.
"The press release is dead," said Alex Aiken. Picture by Julian Dodd.

He said the "cosy" process of writing a press release and sending it out to journalists was "just telesales". 

Instead, he argued press officers should be content producers: "You should not start with three pages of A4, but a tweet, an infographic or a video. If you are writing more than 200 words on any subject, you’re probably in the wrong place."

He used an example of Defra’s work during the badger cull, when it tweeted 350 times and only distributed one press release.

"I hope this is an example of future government comms – we should go where the audience are rather than use the old mode of broadcast," he said. 

Aiken added: "This is the end of the big budget advertising and marketing campaigns. We will have to dip into the tool box and broadcast now and again, but it is no longer ‘SOS’ (Send Out Stuff)."

Instead, he stated, it is about 'OASIS' - press officers thinking about objective, audience, strategy, implementation and scoring.

Aiken used his speech to highlight the changes in government comms, which included every member of staff having evaluation capabilities written into their job descriptions: "You can no longer use the excuse that you don’t have the time or budget to evaluate your work. Unless you can prove your worth, you’re simply not doing your job."

He will also reintroduce a junior assistant level of staff to get "more bright young people" into government comms and encourage people from underrepresented backgrounds.

"Government comms is ageing," he added. 

Aiken also called for senior comms volunteers from the private or third sector to take part in reviews of the large quangos, which will commence in 2014.

These may include NHS Blood and Transplant, DVLA, the Met Office and Public Health England.

This comes after November’s conclusion of comms departments reviews, which saw Leeds Metropolitan University professor of PR Anne Gregory and Cicada Communications MD Di Burton reviewing the DCMS, and PRCA’s CEO Francis Ingham reviewing the Department of Health. 

Aiken said the previous emphasis on commissioning external agencies to run campaigns had led to a "hollowing out of skills internally".

To fix this, he has implemented new training courses that include how to evaluate work, improve digital skills, execute campaigns and how to procure smartly. 

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