Anthony Hilton: Government needs more proactive PR

The Government’s decision to hire a PR firm to promote to the public the benefits of Britain’s EU membership (PRWeek, 21 January) has raised a predictable amount of fuss.

It is, after all, a heavily politicised topic. But while the complaints are understandable in a political context, they should not be allowed to obscure what is surely a sound business decision. Indeed, one wonders whether it is not something that could become more widespread in Whitehall.

Government PR has got a bad name because it has become too heavily politicised, but the famous ‘spin’ is concerned more with ministerial ambition, the presentation of policies and the pursuit of intrigues, than with the day-to-day work of the departments that ministers are, nominally, in charge of.

These, be they the Treasury, health, transport, or Department of Trade & Industry, have within them large media departments, which field vast numbers of queries on a daily basis and try against the odds to be even -handed and objective.

They also remain reactive rather than proactive and this is where things could change. There is surely a case for more government departments to use PR to explain to the public what they do and what benefits their work brings to them. But this work would be better done by objective external consultants, hired for the task, rather than by the in-house machines, which always seem too inwardly focused.

The DTI, in particular, needs such a programme. It is the department most frequently targeted for abolition by opposition parties looking for savings.

But, whatever its faults, it remains the only ministry focused on creating wealth and fostering business. It tries to help businesses make money rather than help other public officials to spend it.

That seems to be a message worth repeating but, without PR, it is a message the business community and the public are unlikely ever to hear.

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