Public sector comms: what to expect in 2023

Value for money is a familiar mantra in the public sector, and increasingly so in the current climate. Public sector comms experts have told PRWeek what to expect in the year ahead.

Clockwise, from top left: Steph Hood; Simon Baugh; Ranjeet Kaile; Zander Mills; Nicola Growcott; Aileen Thompson; Nan Williams; Nick Price-Thompson; Glenn Sebright; Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel

The need for public sector comms teams to show their worth has never been more important, with the UK in the grip of a cost of living crisis that shows no signs of ending any time soon.

In political terms, it’s a lot easier to cut comms budgets than frontline workers, and this is one of the reasons why teams will be under pressure to perform like never before in 2023.

Here’s what public sector comms experts are predicting for the coming year…

Aileen Thompson, director, comms and stakeholder management, HS2

“The slowing economy and [rising] cost of living is the prism through which public sector communications must pass in 2023. Public bodies will need to show empathy for the challenges people face at home, in their communities and at work to ensure access to core services is protected while giving confidence these issues are being managed responsibly and effectively, giving hope to a brighter future.”

Ranjeet Kaile, director of comms, stakeholder engagement and public affairs, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

“As we begin to move into the post-pandemic era, where COVID-19 is something we now live with, and the country is facing the worst cost-of-living crisis since World War Two, the role of communications is going to be even more important – against a tide of increased demand and the looming backdrop of organisational cost-saving programmes.”

Simon Baugh, chief executive, Government Communication Service

“Building on learnings during COVID-19, and legislation like the British Sign Language Act, there will be a push to make communication more inclusive and accessible. We cannot communicate effectively with people across the UK unless we take this seriously. In 2023 our updated D&I Strategy will focus on improving diversity within GCS as well as making our communication more accessible.”

Zander Mills, corporate comms manager, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“TikTok will continue to have a major impact on how brands communicate – whether they are on the platform or not – as digital channels lean more and more towards dopamine-laced, bite-sized, entertaining content. In the public sector, many more organisations will understand TikTok’s unparalleled ability to reach different audiences and share old messages in new ways.”

Nan Williams, chief executive, Four Communications

“Hyper-localisation and behavioural targeting across everything… Spending wisely. No immediate signs that budgets are being cut, but I think we’ll see more conversations around making budgets go further. Recruitment is going to continue to be a huge focus across the public sector and PR is a proven route to inspiring people to choose roles in all forms of public life. We expect to see a range of recruitment briefs.”

Glenn Sebright, head of comms, City of London Police

“Public sector comms will be more data-focused, defining audiences that are hard to define… Trust and – where required – rebuilding it will remain a priority, if not the new normal for public sector comms. Many public services are improving trust through good stakeholder engagement, but that has to include good internal stakeholder engagement, too.”

Priya Brahmbhatt-Patel, director of comms, Ofgem

“Macro issues are facing society like never before, and colliding. This means public sector comms will be more data-focused, defining audiences that are hard to define, and collaborative, so that behaviour-change campaigns are preparing people for the disruption of many well-known sectors.”

Steph Hood, managing director, Hood & Woolf

“As the economic crisis continues to bite, public sector communicators must help maintain confidence in services and explain how to access them. Use communications as part of the solution – leading genuine dialogue with key audiences to help shape future realities in service design, not just perceptions. There will be an even greater need to evaluate what we do and demonstrate return on investment.”

Nicola Growcott, head of comms, National Police Chiefs’ Council

“In the policing and criminal justice sector, I predict a continued focus on building public confidence, particularly where it is lowest. This necessitates finding ways of distinguishing and evaluating the impact of communication compared to other drivers of confidence, which is not easy but is critical for us in 2023.”

Nick Price-Thompson, head of comms, Kensington and Chelsea Council

“We’ll see public sector teams slow down their pace of work and focus on becoming more precise, more considered, and, as a result, have greater impact. This means fewer campaigns, fewer messages, and a mantra of ‘less is far, far more’… [Also] 2023 could see major organisations and companies moving away from Twitter completely for the first time.”

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