John Shewell: Reputation management should be the most important function

The reputation of the public sector is in poor shape. In the past 12 months, the public sector has been ravaged by reports about social services (Baby P and recently the Edlington case), MPs expenses, chief executives' salaries, and pension payouts.

John Shewell: Focus on reputation
John Shewell: Focus on reputation

Trust is not where it should be. And faced with budget cuts over the next decade, public sector communications must demonstrate their value.

Communications heads must step up to the plate and challenge their senior management to focus efforts on those areas that have the biggest impact to their reputation. Start developing reputation management strategies not just communications strategies.? ?Reputation management should be seen as the single most important function in any organisation – but especially so in the public sector. The public depend on our services and they pay taxes to get good services that they can rely on. So communication teams play a vital role – to build understanding and trust with the public.

Communications heads need to move beyond the traditional roles of communications (such as press releases and flyers – the old ‘spray and pray’ model) to focus on cultivating reputation within the organisation, across stakeholders, and extending out to the public. They need to stop thinking ‘ad hoc’ style campaigns and carefully plan reputation management activities using research. And they need to stop thinking about channels and focus on the bigger picture.

Communications heads should think and work beyond their organisations too. They need to start thinking about unifying communications activities across other public service providers – councils, police, fire health and voluntary services.

By unifying communications, local public services can focus on issues of common concern, shout with one voice, and deliver a more efficient and effective model for communications that ultimately benefits the local taxpayers.

This poses significant challenges not least in terms of who leads but also who brands. These questions need to be answered. But for now, when the sector’s reputation is suffering, local public service communications must step up to the challenge, be proactive about managing reputation, and think big.

John Shewell is head of communications at Brighton and Hove City Council.


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