One man who works in insight and who has left the public sector looks back and says ‘thank you’ to comms people he worked with.
by Adam Pearson
For nearly a decade I’ve been sat alongside comms and PR colleagues at various councils. We’ve enjoyed each other’s company. We’ve had a laugh, we’ve had our disagreements. Generally we’ve left each other to get on with our jobs.
But it’s only after leaving this bubble that I’ve realised just what you bring to the table each and every day. Maybe I was too busy being busy, but I don’t think I ever truly said thanks. And a hurried ‘thanks for your help’ email doesn’t count in my book.
My background and passion is research. I think I’m ok at it. I take great satisfaction in a well-crafted survey. I love to find the stories in data.
But a survey without responses is pretty useless. Insightful analysis is a waste without an audience and purpose. I think you comms folk get that more than any other department. You’re the reality check when everyone else is getting bogged down in detail and can’t see the wood for the trees.
I didn’t intend for this to be a near nauseating homage to the comms and pr profession. If I’m honest I started writing a general piece about the importance of communication in the research and consultation process. Before I knew it I’d come up with 5 critical elements which were all about you.
1. You get us organised with a clear comms plan and strategy
Someone once said it’s not the plan that’s important, it’s the planning. I know what they’re saying, but no. The plan is important. There’s so much to consider. Timescales, content, audience, promotion, media. The plan holds everyone to account. It provides the focus we all need.
Invariably without a plan we just hobble along. The survey or consultation may be live. But it’s not kicking.
2. You can make boring but important surveys and consultations more engaging and relevant
“We want to consult on public space protection orders proposals to prohibit the use of wheeled conveyances”
What does that even mean? You’re like a translator. I have to do that a bit too. But you take it to the next level. It’s more than being the plain English enforcers. It comes back to the comms strategy, knowing your audience and making sure the messaging and content means something to them.
At the end of the day a survey or consultation is about reaching an audience so you can capture their views. And I don’t think we could reach them without you.
3. You resist the temptation to shout at us (most of the time) when we don’t involve you early enough
“We’ve got this survey, it needs to go live tomorrow?”
Sound familiar? This has definitely happened. Genuinely, I’m sorry. No matter how disorganised or last minute those around you are, I can’t remember a time when you didn’t make it happen.
4. You manage the invariable $h!tstorm when we push that controversial consultation out
Whether it’s pulling a million out of the parks budget, reducing the frequency of bin collections or closing children’s centres, difficult decisions and contentious consultations are common place these days.
I can hide behind a survey, at worst I’ll have to field questions at a consultation event.
But you guys are marshalling the frontline. And it’s constant. I’ve seen it in the office. Managing the emotion and backlash on social. Fielding requests from hungry journalists. Advising worried senior officials and politicians. You do it with such tact and composure. Hats off to you.
5. You remind us that sharing is a two-way street
The survey is live. We want you to shout about it at every opportunity. We’re often demanding.
The survey closes. Tumbleweed. There can be different reasons for this. Someone might not like what the results are saying. We might be getting bogged down trying to analyse the data within an inch of its life.
We also have a habit of re-engineering the feedback process. Run survey. Analyse and mull internally. Nothing happens. Time to go out again. Oh crap, what did we do? Quickly identify key findings and see if we inadvertently did anything which could be interpreted as ‘you said, we did’.
You rightly hold us to account and champion meaningful communication and feedback. Often it’s built into the comms plan. How are you going to communicate the findings, what do they mean to our communities and what are we going to do as a result?
I came up with 5 but the list could go on.
So, if you’re having one of those days where you feel like the work of comms isn’t valued and you’re taken for granted by those around you, I’m here as an outsider to say: it is and you’re not.
This is my long overdue thank you.
Adam Pearson used to work in the public sector and left to set-up Pearson Insight.