OPINION: Do not lose out to the bigger picture

Public sector PR must be on the side of the angels – or so said a mentor of mine when I started in this business. Sometimes though, it just isn’t that straightforward.

Last week, the domestic media agenda was once again taken over by rows over rubbish. Whether it is the so-called ‘U-turn’ in a government decision over ‘save-as-you-throw’ or the Local Government Association survey into excess packaging that found supermarkets produce too much packaging, trash is never far from the headlines.

Dealing with the deluge of calls in the office, there was one question that kept arising from our survey: ‘Why have councils put out a report on packaging when it has nothing to do with them?’

Trying to explain to some hacks that tackling the problem of rubbish before it is produced is beneficial to councils and the taxpayer was not easy – the idea seemed to escape them.

This is the perennial dilemma for any public sector PR outfit. The problem that we all face is that issues affecting our sector are wrapped up in a bigger picture of what happens in the country.

To name but two examples – tackling obesity (or dealing with its implications) and raising standards in education.

On both these issues the public sector is expected to raise its game, but in both these areas it is external influences – greater proliferation of junk food and the breakdown of family life – that play a major part in the causes that are outside the traditional remit of the public sector.

This is why the public sector has to think in a wider and broader way than it often does as to what sort of stories raise the reputation of the sector.

Sometimes the public sector has to be a critical friend in PR terms to the private sector.

Sometimes that will be popular with the punter and at other times it will mean us being portrayed as the bad guys.

All of us in the public sector do the job because we know that we can make a genuine difference in improving people’s lives. In some instances that means being on the side of the angels in the long term can be seen as being the devil in the short term.

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