Purdah: an agency view

The pause for a general election allows us to take stock and review the impact of our work.

Phew, purdah! (Or should I say the period immediately before an election when there are restrictions on the activity of civil servants and of course the agencies that support them?)

Parliament has now been dissolved and the general election is approaching rapidly. The PM has said his thank-yous and for the civil service it’s business as usual. Nothing must be done that could call into question political impartiality. For agencies, this means that most campaigns have stopped or scaled back significantly.

So you might be forgiven for thinking it’s time to kick back and take a breather; lunch, perhaps – ah, I remember those days fondly. For most, the lead-up has been an exceptionally busy period. It certainly was for us. We were running programmes for the Skills Funding Agency, Fit for Work, Home Office and the National College of Teaching and Leadership. 

Clearly little or no PR or social media outreach can now take place – for that is not allowed. So will you find us twiddling our thumbs? I think not. 

With the increased sophistication of government clients, purdah provides critical time to pause, take stock and review the impact of our labours. To reflect upon innovations we have and should make: how we can plan more effectively for the future and support the new administration, should that be required. 

It’s time to check our dashboards – for that is what we all talk about these days. Centralised monitoring of public sector campaigns means, quite rightly, robust evaluation metrics and long-term research tracking, which is supporting greater efficacy and evidence-based campaigns. We track daily for social media – click-throughs, conversation trends etc – all of which enables clients to determine in real time the cut-through of our messages and activities. This is the start, of course, feeding in to overall impacts and return on investment for the public purse.

It is, nonetheless, a worrying time for agencies with a high percentage of public sector income – will we be working in a couple of months’ time, will we be seeing the landslide in income we saw in 2010? I do hope not.

Who knows what the general election will bring, what government, what policies and priorities? It is unknown if/where they will spend money and who/how/when budgets will be approved in the new administration.

The Crown Commercial Service suppliers are in a good position to pick up any work that comes through, with their experience on working on campaigns over the past few years.

Everything I have learned from previous elections is that it usually takes longer than you expect to get back up and running; that it’s best to expect low or no income for the coming months and be pleasantly surprised if/when the opportunities return. 

Whatever, we’re planning on being ready and fully prepared to hit the ground running.

Julie Flexen is managing director of Munro & Forster Communications 

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