IN-HOUSE PUBLIC SECTOR.
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
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.
TRADE UNION: EQUITY
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.
GOVERNMENT AGENCY: IDeA
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
CHARITY: HELP THE AGED
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
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.'
LOCAL AUTHORITY: FIFE COUNCIL
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
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