Danny Rogers: Maude's comms plan may be too austere

This week, further details emerged of the Government's new approach to its comms campaigns after the demise of the COI in March.

Danny Rogers: Maude's comms plan may be too austere
Danny Rogers: Maude's comms plan may be too austere

Those in charge of this - including Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and executive director of government comms Jenny Grey - have been caught between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand Downing Street is determined to slash costs on such comms, having slammed 'wasteful spend' under the previous Labour government. On the other, like any administration, the coalition is seeking significant public behaviour change in many areas of society. And, finding itself in a mid-term slump, urgently needs to be seen to be doing some useful stuff.

Maude admitted this week that 'governments need to communicate effectively with citizens' and that he was committed to 'make these channels of communication ever stronger'.

At the same time, he and Grey brag about saving £400m that was 'splurged' by the COI.

On Monday, dozens of PR agencies - many of which previously enjoyed lucrative contracts with the COI - were told campaign budgets would be spent in a more strategic and co-ordinated way. In other words, the tap would be turned back on, slightly and tentatively.

What followed was a complex set of charts describing new comms 'hubs', 'best practice' principles and initiatives that 'cross-cut' different departments (read more on this here).

Maude then challenged the industry to put forward its best talent and most innovative ideas at 'keen prices'.

This new 'agile' approach to government comms is to be lauded if it enables the Government to tap into smaller agency and social media nous. And Grey has done a good job in addressing the industry directly, but the new framework has yet to be properly tested.

There is no doubt that a crowded and competitive UK agency community will be chomping at the bit to win these new revenue streams. But such are the budgetary restrictions - and media pressure on government initiatives (last weekend's Sunday Times ran a story on 'expensive spin doctors' working for the HS2 rail link) - that one wonders whether the levels of creativity in the resultant campaigns can match the former COI.

One hopes they can, because most of these campaigns have the potential to make life in Britain more efficient, safer and more enjoyable.

It is just a pity that this cannot be the central message and motivation rather than one of austerity, albeit clothed in the latest marketing speak.

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