Public Sector: More to PR than press releases

By Christmas, the UK's leading audit agencies want to answer the question of how to evaluate government PR.

The bodies responsible for auditing public authorities in the UK, including the Audit Commission and National Audit Office, are seeking to identify a series of benchmarks for assessing government and council comms. So far they have developed a dozen 'primary' and 'secondary' indicators. If implemented this could set public service comms back 20 years.

One of the main indicators the audit agencies have identified is the number of press releases issued. There is a stunning naivety in attempting to judge comms by this yardstick and it illustrates the failing of many of the proposed indicators. They would tell us little about the effectiveness of comms, failing to address the fact that comms functions perform different roles for government departments and local authorities.

It is easy to criticise the approach taken by the national audit agencies when the 12 indicators focus almost exclusively on static measures, such as the number of media enquiries, comms staff employed as a percentage of the workforce and website costs. Only a couple seek to test 'user satisfaction.'

But this drive to audit PR does highlight the need for local and central government communicators to agree some robust outcome measures for comms performance in the future.

This is easier for local than central government PR. Locally, you can start by using the resident informed rating as the most important benchmark. The staff informed rating also serves as a performance measure. In addition, the number of campaigns run and their impact could also improve everyone's understanding about how to provide value for money local comms.

The Audit Commission has worked hard to listen to concerns over the forthcoming Comprehensive Area Assessment inspection reports, producing the 'One Place' website and toolkit. Let us hope that the agencies similarly think again about the ill-formed plans to judge every council and government PR team by the ability to churn out press releases.

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