GUIDE TO CAREERS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS: In-house public - The public sector offers challenging work that has a real impact on people's everyday lives, and the satisfaction it provides PROs can go far beyond a job well done


There can be few private sector organisations where PROs are involved in

shaping campaigns that affect people's daily lives. Working for a

Government Information and Communication Service (GICS) is as exciting

as it is satisfying when practitioners are meeting with government

ministers most days of the week. As Matthew Lumby, Department for

Education and Employment senior press officer, says: 'You get to see the

results of your work every day.'

The sheer scope of work covered by the public sector can take many by

surprise. It also has some surprises up its sleeve. Glamour, for

example, is not a word often associated with the public sector. But at

trade union Equity, PROs work with household names to publicise

campaigns. And across the country, many local government PR officers

find themselves organising music festivals and other events for council


Most would agree a key difference between public and private sector PR

is the nature of the product being promoted. In the public sector, the

product is almost always a service. Trade unions are committed to

promoting and representing the interests of their members, while

councils are responsible for providing education, affordable housing and

other services to residents.

The two sectors also differ in accountability. While private sector

organisations are financially accountable to their shareholders, public

sector organisations are not only financially accountable to

stakeholders such as the general public, but also have a moral

obligation to them.

When a public sector organisation is spending public money, the

activities of everyone associated with that organisation must be wholly


The press office plays a pivotal role in demonstrating that this is the

case, as well as proving that public money has been well spent. Steve

Farrance, press officer London Borough of Camden, says he feels a strong

sense of accountability. 'Councils are spending public money and we have

a duty to tell people what we are doing with their money.'

There is no doubt that in-house public sector PROs derive a satisfaction

from their everyday activities that goes beyond a job well done.

Individuals may be small cogs in the machinery of an organisation, but

there is a sense that every one of them is serving the greater good.

While there is still room for idealism in public sector PR, there is no

room for mediocrity. In today's economic climate, many public sector

organisations are taking onboard many of the practices of the private

sector. The Improvement Development Agency, for example, works like a

commercial agency, selling its services to local government. As press

and public affairs manager Paul Bailey says: 'Gone are the days when

government departments existed just because they always had. Nowadays

they need to justify their existence.'

Likewise, charities involved in corporate partnerships with the private

sector have found it necessary to establish a level playing field of

business practices. Gill Ohlson, Help the Aged PR manager, says that the

charity operates just like any business.

Public sector PR tends to offer lower salaries and fewer fringe benefits

than the private sector, but practitioners maintain that, as the issues

they deal with are at the heart of people's lives, it can be very


Farrance explains that his audiences can get quite emotionally involved

because the issues he is dealing with, like the roadworks on their

street, or their children's education, are an integral part of their

daily lives.

Lumby organised the launch of Skills for Life, a pounds 1.5bn adult

literacy initiative, at Downing St, and in his previous role at the

Health and Safety Executive helped to manage the media after the

Paddington rail crash. 'It's challanging, but exciting. I am working at

the very heart of the government,' he says. 'You are constantly in the

spotlight and the media demands never stop.'

Clearly, public sector PR defies categorisation. It is not only varied

in scope and business-like in approach, but is also rewarding.


Few would associate the word glamorous with a trade union, but when you

are representing the interests of Britain's actors and actresses, a

little reflected glory is inevitable.

Martin Brown, Equity campaigns, press and PR officer, worked for several

campaign organisations, including the National Aids Campaign, before

joining Equity. The Equity press team consists of two - Brown's role and

the position of research and parliamentary officer.

Brown duties include launching press campaigns and responding to media

queries. He also writes and edits the quarterly members' journal, as

well as the Review of the Year and Equity's Annual Report. Last year,

Brown spearheaded a campaign to increase investment in regional

theatres. This involved a sustained lobbying campaign, which was

kick-started by an Equity conference to which politicians and the major

funding bodies were invited.

Brown was able to call on the support of many of Britain's heavyweight

actors, including Alan Rickman and Judy Dench, who met with MPs to

promote the cause. While Brown admits this is a 'useful muscle', he says

it cannot be turned on and off at will. 'You have to use the resource

very wisely,' he says.

Brown says he never forgets that he is representing the interests of

members and is accountable to them. 'I work within guidelines. Trade

unions are democratic organisations, what they can do is determined by

the people elected by members to establish policy,' he says.


The Improvement Development Agency (IDeA) works like a commercial

consultancy. The agency supports local councils in a number of ways.

These include promoting good practice; implementing performance

management systems; offering guidance, workshops and training, and

providing information through websites, helpdesks and databases.

IDeA is two years old and has a communications team of 12. Press and

public affairs manager Paul Bailey explains the team will publicise the

findings of IDeA Review Team reports following a council inspection.

As part of the drive towards best practice, the IDeA team is to launch

IDeA Marketplace - a web-based system which will allow procurement

officers at council-run services to shop around for the best deals. In

addition, the team will help will launch IDeA Knowledge, a database of

good management practice for all councils.

Bailey says: 'We are selling a service to our client, which is local

government. In this, we are no different to any other company. PROs need

to be very self-motivated and professional because they are working on

projects of national significance.'

Bailey says that government departments are increasingly commercial in

their outlook. 'Gone are the days when government departments existed

just because they always had. Nowadays they need to justify their



The communications function at Help the Aged is split between a press

team of three and a six-strong public relations team. The press team

works closely with the charity's policy unit, responding to media

enquires when they arise.

The public relations team concentrates on long-term PR programmes. PR

manager Gill Ohlson has worked in both financial and charity PR. She

joined Help the Aged after working for Raleigh International in South


Her job involves promoting Help the Aged's portfolio of consumer

products and services, and implementing various fund-raising activities

and campaigns.

The charity participates in 12 events every year, including the Chelsea

Flower Show and the London Marathon. One of Ohlson's key roles is to

manage the corporate partnerships Help the Aged has established with

several blue chip organisations, including British Gas.

She is keen to distance Help The Aged from the homespun image of old,

saying that most large charities now operate like any other


'My job involves working with blue chip companies. Even though you work

for a charity, you have to be on a level playing field with the private


Help the Aged is accountable to its donors, both corporate and


Ohlson says this is another reason why the charity must be seen to

operate like a business. 'It is vitally important to show our donors

that we have good financial controls in place and we are spending their

money wisely,' she says.

Having worked in the private sector, Ohlson says that charity PR can be

very creative because of the range of projects PROs are involved in.

'It is also very fulfilling because, at the end of the day, everything

we do is to help improve the lives of older people.'


Fife Council is in Glenrothes and serves a mixture of rural and urban

communities, including St Andrews, famed for its university and golf

courses. It has a press team of four and forms part of a larger

communications unit, covering such areas as external publications and

promotional campaigns.

Susie Cairney, press and information officer, is a graduate in English

and Politics from Glasgow University. Her work spans sectors including

economic development, trading standards and housing. Cairney is also

involved in awareness campaigns and promoting community events and

festivals, such as Celebrating Fife.

The press team responds to media enquiries and manages any negative

issues that may have an impact on the council. For example, the team is

dealing with the case of a childminder, registered with the council, who

has been accused of molesting a child in his care.

Cairney was attracted to local government because of the range of issues

within the council's remit. She says the demands of her job make her

working environment busy and exciting. 'I am on call 24 hours a day,

seven days a week,' she says. 'Press enquiries never stop.'

Any inconvenience from being on call is more than offset by the sense of

team spirit which runs through the press team.

'I feel that I'm doing something really worthwhile,' she says. 'The

information we are giving out really does enhance people's lives. I

worked in the private sector for a year and I missed that element of the


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