2009 is the year to rebuild trust

Next year will be a defining year for Britain. The downturn means public services will be at the centre of the battle to mitigate recession and provide services to those in need.

We've seen a litany of service and leadership failures in recent weeks. The BBC has been shamed; local government forced to confront the shortcomings of the Baby P tragedy and the Metropolitan Police Service divided by dispute and controversy. Central government has seen its stock rise and fall and all public services are being scrutinised for value for money.

Communicators speak loudly about wishing to sit at the 'top table' without sometimes considering what they bring to the feast. Now, as we face the grim prospect of a public becoming increasingly sceptical about public services, it's time for the leaders of communication functions to demonstrate that they understand and can craft communications that empathise with the public mood.

Rebuilding public reputation starts with communicators taking an iron grip on what an organisation does. We'll see a spate of 'council bans Christmas' stories over the next few weeks. PROs need to tell those who deliver that they need to change their approach to cope with a changed public mood.

Communications teams themselves need to have an absolute focus on outcome, not process. The parlour game they should play this Christmas is how to rebuild trust over 2009. They need to focus on actions that build advocates and increase public satisfaction rather than dabbling in tactical communications.

Many communication teams will face cutbacks over the next year. Communication plans need to be aligned to resource, perhaps doing less but doing it better.

Finally, we must 'speak truth unto power'. Senior managers and politicians who cannot see that the public is pessimistic, sceptical and wants results need to be firmly told to take on a public leadership role.

The next year will sort out PR leaders from followers of communication fashion. Those who prosper will be able to shape our profession for years to come.

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