Grenfell shows that public sector communicators must speak truth to power

In the wake of Kensington and Chelsea Council's response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the need for straight-talking communications in the public sector has never been greater.

Public sector communicators must speak truth to power in order to be effective
Public sector communicators must speak truth to power in order to be effective
Senior council leaders have admitted the communications department was underprepared to deal with the scale of attention. 

Elevating the importance of communications in the public sector is imperative, but will only be achieved by practitioners willing to speak truth to power. 

Influence for impact – a CIPR Local Public Services 2015 research report – spotlighted the need for public sector communicators to speak candidly to their paymasters. 

The study found that chief executives expect honesty from communications staff. 

Public sector practitioners need to be prepared to have difficult conversations with all levels of staff within organisations. 

It’s not our job to be popular; rather, it’s our responsibility to safeguard reputation by encouraging truthful and transparent communication. 

The ability to speak up and talk honestly has become a precious commodity for the modern communicator. 

The financial constraints placed us on us make it more important than ever to fulfil this duty. It doesn’t cost us a penny. 

Resilience has become a key trait of the modern public sector communicator and so too must be the ability to speak candidly.

Mandy Pearse, chair of CIPR Local Public Services and head of PR at Plymouth City Council
In the public sector we have grown accustomed to successive years of funding cuts. 

The financial constraints placed on us have conditioned us to streamline our services and find new ways of working. 

Resilience has become a key trait of the modern public sector communicator and so too must be the ability to speak candidly.

Such practice helps organisations to establish trusted channels of communication.

Where organisations have built trust and have robust channels of communication with their publics, they are much better equipped to deal with a crisis.

People have confidence in the information they are given and know where to go to get that information.

Where organisations have elected representatives, they need to ensure that those people are equipped and supported to communicate effectively - whether that is preparing them for media interviews, managing debates or helping them engage with their constituents.

Building and managing an organisation’s reputation is not delivered by a few high-profile campaigns alone.

PR needs a strategic, systematic approach to engaging citizens and service users, which is bought into by the whole organisation.

A communicating council requires clear leadership from the top.

It needs corporate management to involve senior communicators in decisions and listen to the professional advice given.

It also needs PR professionals who have the confidence, training and experience to challenge culture, raise ethical issues, and take the long view for the good of the organisation.

We should all reflect on how our organisations communicate and how we’d respond to challenges similar to those faced by Kensington and Chelsea.

We need our organisations to put faith in communicators, but we need to justify that faith with a bold commitment to speaking truth.

Mandy Pearse is Chair of CIPR Local Public Services and head of PR at Plymouth City Council

 


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