When Dan Slee published his 2014 predictions for local government digital comms some agreed and some didn't and he was accused of navel gazing. With Brian Cox’s live space series about to return to our TV screens, Steve Chu argues public sector communicators should instead be aiming for the stars.
by Steve Chu
One of the problems we’ve faced in our profession is that the majority of us are more excited by content, creativity and now digital than where we sit strategically in our organisation.
I think this is what Paul Masterman wasalluding to when he made his “navel gazing” assessment, and I kind of agreed – although Dan did hit the nail on the head in his last prediction for 2014, when he wrote: “Teams that overlook internal communications – and in particular telling their own story internally – will suffer.”
The high-level public sector cuts narrative is of protecting the front line by cutting the back office. We all know that communicators are firmly regarded in the latter; it’s something we’ve collectively meekly accepted, without even trying to make the frontline case for ourselves. But, if we are to have any hope of protecting communications resources which we know can be vital, we can, and we must, make the case for communications to be at the centre of our organisations’ thinking.
So, with that in mind, here are five New Year’s resolutions we should all try to make for 2014:
- Assess where we currently sit in our organisation and try to improve it. Too often, communicators complain about being on the sidelines when we need to be the heartbeat and conscience of policy decision-making. Who holds the power to involve you long before you’re trying to put lipstick on a pig? Try to get yourself one or two steps closer to that person in 2014.
- Show how you contribute to your organisation’s key objectives or mission statement? Don’t rely on the vain hope that influential people will simply believe communicating effectively is “a good thing.” Try to align everything you do in communications to one of those key objectives, and communicate that internally at every opportunity. And if you’re doing something that you can’t relate to a core objective, ask yourself why you’re doing it, before somebody else does.
- Show that communication can be a frontline resource, either by reducing the costs of service provision, improving frontline efficiency, or targeting declining resources more effectively. This is where Alex Aiken’s “evaluation” mantra is so important. Prove that your £20,000 campaign has saved your organisation £1 million and your worth will be understood far better than any “trust” or “reputation” campaign.
- Following on from (3) be extremely wary about any new “trust” campaign. Showing how you’ve saved money or improved productivity is the bottom line. I feel the LGA, SOLACE and LGcomms have got this one wrong. The “Building Trust” campaign seems to me to be the comms equivalent of a football manager who knows his average tenure is one year deciding to focus on youth development. He’ll be out of a job long before any of his commendable long-term work comes to fruition. To repeat, we need to show how our campaigns save our organisations money or reduce demand on services. Reputation is important but can’t be seen as our primary function while our organisations cut back on social workers, police officers, nurses and firefighters.
- Job titles are important, and I’m coming to the view that the sneering done by non-communicators at anyone who has “communication” in their job title is becoming a critical issue for our profession. So much so that I’ve managed to get the word out of mine (I’ve been lucky enough to be given other responsibilities in addition to comms). Seriously, think about whether your job title adequately describes the role you perform, and what other people might think about it, especially those looking down a list of the posts an organisation can (or can’t) afford to keep. If it doesn’t, is there anything you can do about it?
A few random thoughts maybe. But the common theme is that they look not downwards at the things we do, but upwards, at what our managers think of us, how we contribute to organisational strategy and success, and how we can prove our worth.
Steve Chu is Head of Strategy and Engagement at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. In December they were named Outstanding In-House Team at the 2013 CIPR PRide (Yorkshire and Lincolnshire) awards, and last May were the first Fire Service ever to win an LGComms award.