James Meredith 23 June 2015

Our Chairman, Will Whitehorn recently gave an engaging talk to the Bristol office on a number of topics, including his thoughts on what the PR industry looks like today.

It prompted me to take a step back and think about PR as a discipline. The CIPR describe it as ‘the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’.

It’s the final part of this – ‘an organisation and its publics’ – that led me to think specifically about the public sector.

Today, amid an era of unprecedented budget cuts and spending squeezes, the need for efficient and professional comms (both internal and external) at government and public sector level is arguably more crucial than ever before.

Local authorities and government departments have to carefully manage the expectations of the public at a time when they are being tasked with delivering more but with increasingly less resource.

This is where PR and communications can play a vital role – helping to shape the public’s view of the success of local and national schemes as well as the services being delivered.

In January last year, the launch of the Government Communication Service (GCS) was a significant milestone.

As the professional body for employees working in comms roles across government, the aim of the GCS is to deliver exceptional communications that support Ministers’ priorities, enhance people’s lives and facilitate the effective operation of public services.

The coalition government followed up on this by outlining plans to increase spend on communications to just over £289m (or £4.50 per person in the UK as PR Week calculated) in its Government Communications Plan for 2014/15.

On 8 July we will get a clearer indication of whether this will increase or be reduced when the Chancellor delivers his emergency Budget.

However, the newly formed Conservative majority government has already made clear its intention to make even more efficiency savings during its term of office.

This, along with David Cameron’s pledge to deliver a referendum on whether or not to remain a member of the European Union by the end of 2017 and the potential for a second Scottish referendum, mean the need for government communicators to engage with the public and other powerful influencers will likely remain an immediate priority.

Increased partnership with the private sector has the potential to play an increasingly vital role in helping government communicators achieve this. Working in collaboration, external agencies can help government communicators put digital first and integrate their comms across overall marketing strategies.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on campaigns that have included promoting the UK’s healthcare expertise to the world and informing the national debate on manufacturing.

Something a former colleague who is now working in public sector comms said to me recently also struck a particular chord – ‘the very best campaigns can quite literally save lives’ (Fire Kills, THINK!, Be Clear on Cancer).

My hope is that the appetite for external comms in the public sector remains, despite the ongoing pressure on government budgets.