A more civil service

Too often, 'comms strategy' can feel like an oxymoron, with brands and marketing teams seemingly stuck in a perpetual planning cycle that prevents anything other than purely reactive comms.

Agencies could learn from the new Government Communications Plan, says James Ralph
Agencies could learn from the new Government Communications Plan, says James Ralph

Those identifying with this sentiment should take heart from the recent release of the Government Communication Plan for the coming year.

In setting down a coherent comms approach for Britain’s most geographically dispersed, most wide -ranging and biggest employer, Alex Aiken has achieved what many of us fail to do with far smaller companies.

The plan, which I would urge you to read, offers many useful lessons for corporate communicators. It sets out clear priorities, explains professional processes, urges collaboration, and sets out a clear evaluation framework. Crucially, it is succinct, coming in a third shorter than the 2012 edition.

As corporate communicators, we work hard to simplify and clarify the efforts of our clients. Few of us, though, face such a stiff challenge as boiling down the work of 19 ministerial departments and 300 agencies and public bodies into three priority themes.

Aiken shows it is possible, with three key messages: providing economic security, protecting national security and extending opportunity.

The approach taken by the GCS to deliver such a concise set of priorities is no secret formula; it is a four-box model of context, challenge, solution and benefit that will be familiar to most of us.

Likewise, the professional processes set out in the Modern Communications Operating Model and GCS standards will offer few surprises to those abiding by any of the professional codes in our industry.

But how many of us truly set aside time for continuous professional development, and are quite so open about sharing best practice with others in our industry?

Again, the GCS points the way by encouraging marketers to attend and participate in their own internal training sessions. Having done so myself, I can attest to their quality, and it’s a route we have adapted and adopted ourselves, sharing our training sessions from external speakers with our clients.

Sharing is woven throughout the Government Communication Plan – from reverse mentoring to shared priorities. While stakeholder mapping and engagement has long been a core discipline for corporate communicators, it is worth appreciating how keen government departments and public bodies are to work alongside us and our clients, going far beyond the traditional shaking-hands visits.

Finally, GCS provides an acrostic I can actually remember – OASIS: objectives, audience, strategy, implementation and scoring.

That final point has long been a weak point for PR in general, and corporate comms in particular.

While I can’t say that every campaign we deliver abides to the full GCS standardised evaluation framework, the principle of going beyond outputs to determine outcomes is something I would always advocate.

In short, the Government Communications Plan is one of those rare beasts: a genuinely useful and freely available resource for those interested in furthering their professional development.

While you may not agree with all of the government’s policies and priorities, in terms of comms practice it is a must-read for everyone involved in corporate PR.

James Ralph is senior associate director at Good Relations

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