The unit will be in place by the spring, according to permanent secretary for government comms Howell James, who outlined the plans to senior practitioners at a breakfast meeting last month.
It will operate centrally, feeding into all Whitehall departments, the COI and their agencies. James said the structure and size of the marcoms function is the subject of a ‘scoping study’ being undertaken by COI chief executive Alan Bishop and Juliet Soskice, business development director at advertising agency St Lukes.
‘Comms has traditionally been seen as the end of the process,’ James said. ‘We need engagement of communications at an earlier stage so that we move away from a culture of announcement to a culture of dialogue and debate.
‘Marketing intelligence needs to be brought together earlier in the cycle to help inform policy’.
While the make-up of the marcoms unit has yet to be decided, James said there would be ‘opportunities to share best practice from the private sector’.
He denied the plans amounted to ‘government by focus group’ but claimed they were about ‘understanding the citizen’. He pledged to ‘capture [certain] groups of citizens’ by making ‘more effective use of direct mail and web comms’.
James took up the permanent secretary post last July.