The Chartered Institute of Public Relations published a very thought provoking report on public sector communications last week. Titled Influence for Impact it examines the many challenges faced by those of us who work in communications for local authorities, the NHS and blue light services.
In particular it looks at how public sector PRs are forced to adapt and improvise in the face of savage budget cuts alongside increased expectations. Two phrases seem to crop up quite a lot in the report, “influencing” and “personal resilience”.
The CIPR report singles out influencing as a key skill for PR professionals. It makes the case for us using our influence across the whole organisation to empower staff at all levels. This will often involve us having to work outside of the traditional job descriptions.
In terms of personal resilience, the pressure to do more with less mean that we have to be adaptable and, to use a dreadful cliché, “think outside of the box”. It seems to me that we also need to develop thick skins.
The increasing importance of digital media is also highlighted in the document, as is the difficulty of putting meaningful evaluation systems in place without the necessary funding.
So, what does the future hold? Many local authorities are already sharing back office functions such as HR and finance with neighbouring councils or with other public sector bodies. The move towards Devo Manc style arrangements seems certain to accelerate this process. Is there any reason why this communications should be exempt from this?
During my time in local government PR I’ve often worked successfully with local Police and NHS bodies on campaigns around issues such as crime reduction and health promotion. Given that the general public often find it difficult to differentiate between the various public sector bodies in their area, I think that it would make sense to have more closely integrated communications functions.
Pooling our resources and putting petty rivalries to one side might just enable us to provide a bit more with a lot less.