‘But everyone is looking at us more closely!’ you shout. ‘We are being scrutinised daily from all sources - that’s great fun. FOI requests about how we promote campaigns are drawing eyes we don’t need to our bottom line.’
A former colleague in the private sector told me last week that he wouldn’t work in the public sector at the moment for all the tea in China.
What’s he afraid of? Apart from paying for his own tea.
Sportsmen and women welcome challenges. They push themselves towards their goals. If someone swims faster or jumps higher they don’t give up. They try and swim faster or jump higher the next time.
That is how I see a public sector communicator today. Is it being challenged? Being pushed? Being put under undue pressure? Being asked to do too much?
That could be interpreted differently. Be a leader. Develop the strategies that develop change. Raise the reputation of the authority.
This is not a time for communicators to be on the margins. We should be bringing leadership and poise, strategic advice and assuredness. The real leaders in the communications field are at the table helping to shape policies and forge a future, not railing against how unfair it all is.
The top teams are not lying low and going through the motions of sending out press releases and keeping their heads down. They are engaging with communities. Leading on saving the council cash and improving outcomes through finding foster carers or driving up recycling rates , focusing on improving the area’s economy by campaigning for better, faster broadband, or helping the authority grasp the localism agenda through improved routes and customer insight.
This is not just making a difference, it is creating a difference.
Budgets are tighter but that just sets us a challenge to be more creative. The work by South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and their Hangover from Hell campaign that led to a 60% reduction of fires in student accommodation in the first month of college emphasised that.
Our reputations are being knocked but the work by Stockport Metropolitan District Council on the Active Stockport Strides Ahead project to tackle the rising cost of obesity in Stockport shows that we can help people and show our value to them.
In Norfolk, we lobbied hard to bring the Tour of Britain to the county for the first time in 2010 and raised its appeal so much that a record 135,000 watched it bring over £2.5 million new money into the county. This year, our are budgets reduced, so we are sharing a leg with Suffolk and have worked hard to get corporate sponsors on board and do it together. Come along to Sandringham on 17 September and you’ll see that it worked.
Most of us went into communications for excitement, challenge and to change. Right now in the public sector this is exactly what we are getting, and for those of us who embrace it, there’s never been a better time to prove our worth.
James Dunne is senior marketing officer at Norfolk County Council and committee member of the CIPR Local Public Services Group.