Plenty of folks have switched sectors in their careers, and many more follow. In this fascinating post we learn all about the differences, and similarities, in communications in local government and the NHS from one of the best comms pros around.
By GUEST EDITOR Ross Wigham
Hello and welcome from your friend in the North.
I’ve been a long time reader and occasional contributor to comms2point0 so it’s a real treat to be guest editing and a genuine honour to be asked.
Having moved to work in a hospital, after spending the last seven years at various councils the thing I’m most commonly asked is what’s the biggest difference? Clearly, that’s about as boring as asking how many times Newcastle United will concede more than four goals this season, but I do see some interesting parallels between the NHS as a whole and the average public sector comms team.
As an industry we’re essentially facing the same existential challenge as the NHS. Fundamentally we’re both grappling with two things - demand and expectations.
Joining the NHS as a complete layman has certainly been an education, especially working in an area where you’re expected to know a little bit about a lot of what is happening. A recent report showed that the NHS in England dealt with 100 million outpatient appointments last year alone. It seems to me that as we all get older, live longer, survive things that previously would have killed us and manage more long term conditions that this demand will only increase.
Then there’s the expectations. As someone new to health there’s an unnerving dichotomy around the expectations placed on the NHS – from older people who should perhaps be shouting louder about their care, to others who expect to be seen instantly for something that our grandparents wouldn’t have batted an eyelid about. It’s this demand (and how we cope with it) that will probably shape the NHS of the future.
But like the NHS, all comms teams up and down the country are also feeling the pressure of increased demand, sometimes because of the voracious, modern media landscape but often because of reduced resources, merged teams and the endless vortex of restructures that threaten to collapse in on themselves. Like the NHS your PR team is a much loved service that everybody is secretly a bit wary about until they need them (often in times of crisis) and then publically swears by them forever!
So, how can we cope with these terrible twins of demand and expectation as comms professionals? I don’t claim to have all (or any) of the answers but here are a few thoughts which will hopefully strike a chord with you.
Vision, leadership, resilience
As hardened comms pros I’m sure your bulls**t detectors will be tingling at those awful buzzwords but hear me out. I’m not sure any team can survive without all three of those things and I believe it’s important to think about them even as an individual in your own working life. It’s vital that you are able to plot how you will work and exactly where you are adding value to your organisation. Increasingly that means deciding exactly what the comms priorities are for the year and then sticking to them (The CIPR presidents report & the GCS communications plan are great examples of this).
This might mean having difficult discussions about what you can and can’t physically do or using the power of No. But I find that if you can do the important strategic communications well people quickly forget about the stuff you no longer have time for.
I’d recommend that everyone working in the public sector takes some sort of resilience training particularly communicators. I say this with love but people in our work often have the thinnest skin imaginable.
Value for money
There’s a scene in Mad Men when an exhausted Peggy berates her boss Don Draper for never saying Thank You. “That’s what the money is for” he replies. Sadly, in these straightened times we’re all to an extent boiled down to pounds and pence.
This means that rigorous, detailed analytics should be used to measure everything that you do. Detailed comms dashboards and real time analysis should be demonstrating just how valuable you are. When comms has done a good job do the right people know about it within your organisation? I still don’t hear about enough of this.
Investing in yourself
I was really disappointed to see the results of the recent comms2point0 survey on taking work away on holiday. This is a red line for me now. Remember it’s a job not a religion.
Also remember the power of your networks and continuous development.
I couldn’t leave this out of the list and I’ve blogged here plenty of times about how much the world has changed in the relatively short time that I’ve worked in the sector. Still, when we think about demand and efficiency we now have to start being more targeted about the channels we use. There was a time when we all used every new social channel that came along (and that’s good for future proofing our organisations skills) but like the pizza cone perhaps we need to focus our efforts on what we know will get the best results.
Ross Wigham is Head of Communications and Marketing at QE Gateshead