Exclusive: End of an era as Greater Manchester Police comms chief departs to start agency

Amanda Coleman, the long-serving director of corporate comms at Greater Manchester Police (GMP), has resigned from the force and is setting up her own comms agency specialising in crisis management, PRWeek can reveal.

Amanda Coleman has left Greater Manchester Police to set up her own crisis comms agency
Amanda Coleman has left Greater Manchester Police to set up her own crisis comms agency

Coleman, former chair of both the PRCA Council and the Association of Police Communicators, is one of the best-known women in public sector PR and has worked in police comms for more than 20 years.

She faced major challenges during her time at GMP, not least dealing with the comms around the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing in which 22 people died and hundreds were injured.

Other crises she has had to deal with include the murder of two police officers in Manchester in 2012, rioting in the city in 2011, and the death of GMP’s chief constable, Michael Todd, in 2008.

A difficult year

The past year has been one of the most challenging of her career in personal terms.

Coleman was placed on ‘restricted duties’ last year, subject to an investigation by the force’s professional standards branch.

The investigation finally concluded earlier this month, and Coleman recently resigned from her £72,000-a-year job with the force after being given a written warning.

Speaking to PRWeek, Coleman said that the stress had taken its toll on her mental health and that she had been off sick “for a considerable period of time”.

She declined to discuss the details of what she has gone through over the past year, but commented: “It’s just like a bad divorce,” adding: “It’s been a very difficult 12 months.”

In a statement, a GMP spokesperson said: “I can confirm a misconduct meeting took place in relation to concerns raised regarding a member of police staff. A sanction was given and the matter is finished.”

New start

Coleman is ready to move on from the difficulties of the past year and said: “I feel like a massive weight has been lifted.”

Her focus now is on starting up Amanda Coleman Communications Limited.

The timing could not have been much more difficult. As Coleman, who is a fellow of the CIPR and the PRCA, put it: “It’s just like the world went mad at the same time.”

She said: “At the minute I’m trying to establish the business, but I’m also trying to work with the CIPR and the PRCA on the task force stuff that they are trying to do.”

Crisis comms will be the focus of Coleman's new agency.

Her aim is to help “people prepare and train and be ready” for dealing with a crisis, as well as assisting “when people are in the middle of something where they need some advice”.

Coleman said another issue facing organisations is what happens if they are faced with a crisis on top of having to cope with the coronavirus, which led the Government to put the country into lockdown last week.

She is hopeful that greater recognition of the value of business continuity and risk-planning, an area that has “been downgraded” amid pressures on time and budgets in recent years, will be one result of the current public-health crisis.

Mixed messages

Commenting on the Government’s coronavirus comms approach, Coleman said it had suffered from a lack of focus.

"I thought Alastair Campbell put a lot of useful stuff in his piece [about] Boris," she said. "One of the issues for me has been lack of clarity – it’s that sort of vaguely mixed message."

Another issue is the absence of a national system for communicating messages during a crisis, according to Coleman.

“We aren't structured, nationally, to get messages from the top all the way down that work through; it just doesn't work like that. In cases like this, there isn't even a fall-back structure of how to be able to do that.”

She added: “There's going to be so much learning out of this in terms of how we need to develop. Business continuity plans are really important and not just a tick-box exercise.”

New book

Coleman is also set to fulfil a long-standing ambition to become a published author, having written a book, ‘Crisis Communication Strategies: How to Prepare in Advance, Respond Effectively and Recover in Full’, which will be published by Kogan Page in May.

Most books on crisis comms tend to focus on process and planning, “whereas this is more trying to get people to think about things in a slightly different way – stop focusing on the reputation of the business and start doing the right thing,” she said.

Her book looks at the role of leadership in a crisis and developing a crisis communication response that has people at the heart of it.

It includes case studies and examples from responses to events such as the 2011 Norway terror attacks, the 2018 British Airways data breach, the 2017 Pepsi ad, and Hurricane Katrina's hit on New Orleans, and subsequent floods, in 2005.

Career to date

A philosophy graduate from the University of Bolton, Coleman started out as a journalist. She worked as a reporter for Bolton Metro News for three years, before moving to the Stockport Express and South Manchester Express in 1996 as a senior reporter.

In 1998 she switched careers, taking a job as PR assistant for the Environment Agency’s north-west region, before moving to Merseyside Police in July 1999 and becoming the head of press at the force.

In 2001 Coleman joined GMP, where she rose to the position of director of corporate comms.

She was also regularly included in PRWeek's annual Power Book Top 10 of the most senior people in public sector comms.

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