Richard Stokoe: Don't sit and wait to be pilloried

Let's not mince words - this year is going to be tough.

Tough for people, tough for business and tough for the public sector. In terms of PR, the toughest area will be the public sector and those at the top need urgently to put a magnifying glass on their work and that of the institution.

Why now, you ask? Recessions always accelerate the pace of change. History tells us that when recession hits decisions are made quicker and implementation is carried out in days rather than months. One only needs to look at the changes in the banking sector to see that it is unrecognisable from a year ago.

Scrutiny of the public sector will come ever more to the fore over the coming months as the economic downturn bites into people's pockets. Whether it is from political parties, journalists or pressure groups such as the TaxPayers' Alliance, there will be ever greater pressure to cut costs and justify spending.

And quite rightly too. If, as a sector, we cannot justify what we are producing and why we are producing it, then why are we doing it? We cannot blindly justify certain expenditure because 'that is how we have always done it'.

A colleague recently said to me that PR people should always be one step ahead of the game, but never two. The job of PR people is not to add fluff or to firefight. We should be there working out what will affect the organisation in the coming months and explaining this to the heads of our organisations so they have the facts to be able to make the decisions to prevent any crises happening in the first place.

We should also be there to lead the charge. If after reading this you can honestly say that what your organisation does is justified, then why wait until you are hit with a story that says the opposite? Why not take the sword in hand rather than a shield and promote your clients' work rather than wait to be pilloried? All too often people moan after the event that a story 'isn't fair'. Unless public sector PR changes quickly to become more proactive in justifying what its organisation does and spends then life will become an awful lot more unfair this year.

- Richard Stokoe is head of news at Local Government Association

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