Public Sector: Research finds that PROs lack crisis-handling skills

Public sector PROs are suffering from a lack of confidence in dealing with crises, and a general skills deficit, according to a survey revealed exclusively to PRWeek.

Of the 102 public sector PROs interviewed as part of the survey by KRC Research, an arm of Weber Shandwick, just 32 per cent said they felt ‘very well prepared’ to handle a crisis. In contrast, 42 per cent of private sector communicators gave the same answer in a WS survey last year.

Furthermore, this latest survey has revealed that 38 per cent still have no formal warning system in place for tackling a crisis and there is a significant lack of confidence in basic PR skills across the board.

Less than half of those surveyed said their key spokespeople were ‘very well prepared’ to deal with either live broadcast interviews, press conferences or select committee meetings.

But when it comes to other public affairs areas, and dealing with print media, public sector PRO confidence rises - 63 per cent are ‘very well prepared’ to handle newspaper interviews, for example.

WS joint CEO Colin Byrne said: ‘It’s no longer good enough for public sector PROs to be ill-prepared in a crisis. The public expects the same of them as they do a company.’

The survey suggests that the reasons for this skills deficiency and lack of crisis-readiness are budget restrictions and internal processes, highlighted as the two most important issues in meeting communication challenges.

Pascoe Sawyers, principal communications consultant with the Improvement Development Agency, a body which aids local authorities, said the survey adds weight to calls for having a corporate strategy in place and ‘top level commitment’ for communication.

He added that the Institute of Public Relations’ local government group has already attempted to address the issue of crisis communications by setting up a network of skills-sharing among members.

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