Most organisations’ staff look to their press offices with comfortable acceptance that they are expert in what are clearly communication skills and techniques – how to turn out a finely crafted phrase, how to come up with campaign ideas which will become talked-about stories, how to sell in a press release, how to navigate social media.
Those are a ‘given’ when it comes to doing any good, basic communications job, not just in the public sector. But communications staff have a role which goes beyond these basics and, in many ways, is more important – and certainly more challenging – to get right, especially in the public sector.
This is their role as a model for corporate behaviour, the added extra which on top of a good basic composite of skills turns your standard communications employee into a true team player, manager or leader.
And this model of behaviour is not just one thing – it is a subtle combination of a lot of different things, all adding up to more than the sum of the parts. I suppose it’s a bit like ‘zero tolerance’ policing, or ‘nudge’ theory – it’s all about the smaller things having a larger impact.
So it is about the way you talk, present yourself, contribute to meetings, write emails, the way you conduct yourself around the office, your phone manner, even the way you dress.
Why is this so important in the public sector? Because corporate behaviour, collectively, adds up to corporate culture and, so often in the public sector, it is the culture of the organisation which seems to be the most difficult bit to get right.
In the private sector for example it is blindingly obvious that if one works for, say, Apple, one should embody as far as possible the corporate style, brand and values of that organisation. Not necessarily by wearing a black polo neck, but you know what I mean. It is an inextricable part of the success of the Apple corporation.
In the public sector, even for the biggest names in the book, the same clarity of corporate style, values or brand too often simply do not exist. Short of wearing blue clinical scrubs, for example, what would you say was the corporate style or brand of someone working in the NHS, or in NHS communications? How do we expect communications officers in local authorities to look, or behave?
As a result, public sector staff in general are, rightly, highly receptive when dealing with a communications professional – whether a press officer or director of department – to someone who knows how to behave and generally conduct themselves as corporately as possible.
They are looking beyond basic communication skills for guidance about what their own behaviour and style should be. They expect to be dealing with someone who represents as closely as possible the corporate culture to which their organisation aspires. After all, if communications staff in an organisation don’t do this, who on earth will?
I am not saying the public sector should always emulate the private sector. But it is incontrovertibly true that corporate behaviour and corporate culture should always have the same high priority, no matter where you work.
Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency