We're modelling Henry Ford in Scottish public sector comms from now on

It was Henry Ford who said "coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success".

It's time to cede a bit of control to serve a greater good in Scottish public sector comms, argues John Booth
It's time to cede a bit of control to serve a greater good in Scottish public sector comms, argues John Booth
A century later, his words provided the inspiration for around 50 Scottish public sector comms leaders who gathered last week to discuss ways to strengthen partnership working.

We met in the Scottish Government’s headquarters in Edinburgh, determined to do more to pool our resources and communicate with greater impact. 

Stronger public sector collaboration is a no-brainer: it’s more efficient because it avoids duplication and overlap; it’s more effective because we combine our collective reach; and it’s more creative because we can tap into the depth of talent that exists in comms teams across 150 organisations.

So why doesn’t it happen more often? 

Yes, we come together when we absolutely must, as demonstrated by the way comms teams from government, police, transport, health and local authorities worked so well together to keep the public informed and safe when the ‘Beast from the East’ hit. 

But, beyond these examples, I can count on one hand, perhaps two, where I’ve seen public bodies genuinely come together to deliver joint campaigns. 

And I think that’s simply because it requires hard work and perseverance, and a commitment to put territorial boundaries aside. 

We are all busy, under pressure and juggling tight resources, and it’s therefore far easier for us to work within the comfort of our respective organisations’ remits, rather than break out of them, work with people we don’t know, cede some responsibility and control, and try some new ideas. 

However, if public sector comms wants to make a genuine contribution to delivering some the priorities and challenges laid out in the Programme for Government then trying new things and new ways of working is what we must do together.

It is possible. 

The quote from Henry Ford was used at our gathering by Charlie Smith, director of digital and marketing at VisitScotland, who gave a presentation on an exciting new project that he and Jane Martin, from Scottish Enterprise, have been working on, with me, to jointly promote Scotland overseas. 

For years our organisations have separately marketed Scotland abroad. The results have been good but we know that we can achieve so much more by pooling insight, budgets, people and by promoting ‘Brand Scotland’ with one voice.

It hasn’t been easy. 

We’ve disagreed. We’ve had to find ways to overcome bureaucracy. We’ve had to deal with multiple reporting lines. 

But the new international campaign that we will jointly launch soon will be all the better for it.

Charlie’s presentation galvanised the room and by the end of our two hours together we had ideas developing for joint comms to support young people into education or training, to grow the economy and to tackle gender inequality, to name just a few topics.

So we have come together. We have committed to staying together. Now we need to work together to deliver success. 

I’m confident we can do it.

John Booth is head of comms for the Scottish Government

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