Posts Tagged ‘PR’


Reviewing the FCO Communication Capability Review

January 30, 2014

Over the last couple of years British government departments have been subject to Communication Capability Reviews conducted by the Government Communication Network.  These involve a group composed of other government communicators plus outsiders wandering around the Ministry interviewing people and looking at your paperwork – if you’ve worked in the UK public sector or related organizations you will have doubtless experienced something similar.  Anyway I’ve just spotted the Review for the FCO conducted in June 2013.  It’s eight pages so if you want to get a sense of where communications at the FCO is it’s a useful snapshot.

The external reviewers are PR people from a hotel chain,  a corporate PR consultancy and the BBC and the result is what you would expect if you asked corporate PRs to look at an MFA.

They start off by commenting that the FCO is different from other government departments because among other reasons;  communications is a core business, the audience is primarily overseas and the communications capability is distributed across 270 missions.

The FCO communications review of 2011 basically tried to do more with less by reallocating resources away from the centre to directorates and as far as our reviewers are concerned this was bad because this means that the ‘FCO lacks strategic communications resource’.  Here’s an extract from the “areas of challenge”

Status of communications – Communications as a discipline is not widely understood within the FCO. It has not been invested in. While Press Department is widely respected – and used as the main route into the Engagement and Communications Directorate (ECD) – other parts of the communications function are significantly less visible. There is little understanding of the services offered by Engagement and Communications Directorate. There is a lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the various staff who deliver communications activity (Engagement and Communications Directorate, embedded communicators, Senior Regional Communicators and communicators in post, for example). Recruitment is problematic.

Strategic planning – There is no strategic planning process or capability, no overarching communications strategy and no clear narrative targeted on overseas audiences. As a result, policy and communications are not fully integrated: communications is not an integral part of the business planning process. The majority of communications activity therefore is tactical and focused on short-term issues. Posts are unclear whether to amplify messages developed in London or tailor them, taking local issues and concerns into account.

Capacity – The reviewers do not believe that FCO communications resources are used as efficiently as they should be. In particular, the current structure provides insufficient ‘surge capacity’ to support priority policy areas, Foreign Secretary-led initiatives and in-year crises. The large number of locally-engaged staff with little knowledge of UK priorities exacerbates this. The current research resource is under marketed and underutilised. Some internal communications activity is duplicated by embedded staff. Overall, however, the reviewers do not believe that the FCO should increase the amount of resource dedicated to communication.

Capability – FCO staff are intelligent, articulate and committed. However, the current mix of diplomatic staff and communications specialists is sub optimal. Many important issues are dealt with by generalists with insufficient experience of communications and insufficient knowledge of where to go within the FCO for professional communications guidance and support. There is difficulty in ensuring the right level of skills development for diplomatic staff working in communications roles.

Delivery – The lack of strategic planning and lack of clarity over communications roles and responsibilities has led to inconsistent performance in areas including digital, campaign management and delivery, and evaluation.

So what do they want:

A clear vision for communications, an integrated communications plan, a centralized planning and delivery resource, a framework to clarify roles, etc.

There may be something to this but I have a distinct feeling that after starting off by acknowledging how the FCO is different the review then goes on to ignore the fact.  The more I study the history of public diplomacy the more you see that whole area is marked by a number of recurring tensions.  This report manages to hit on several of these tensions but rather than recognizing them simply asserts answers.   Five tensions stand out:

  1. The big question.  What does communication mean in an MFA?  To what extent should communication be a separate function at all? (Remember that in 1953 it was Eisenhower’s psychological warfare advisers like CD Jackson who opposed creating the USIA because everything we do has a psychological effect).  The extent to which comms should be a separate function really depends on your diplomatic concept.  Diplomacy and PD are becoming more linked.
  2. Global strategy vs local adaption?  Absence of global strategy is not necessarily a bad thing if it allows more effective local communications.  I’m up to my eyeballs in the early Cold War at the moment so for an example look at the very rapid disillusionment with Truman’s  Campaign of Truth what looked good in Washington didn’t work in the field.
  3. Centralization vs decentralization.  Same as above but where do you put the resource and control? There are arguments for both.
  4. Specialist communicators vs diplomats.  The FCO has generally leaned towards giving generalists communications experience (see Drogheda Report of 1953)
  5. Locally engaged staff versus home personnel.  Of course the former have local knowledge, language etc but less understanding of the national priorities.

I guess that if you get senior corporate PRs as reviewers they just recommend the things that they think give them status.  Diplomatic communication isn’t PR so next time the government communication networks wants to do one of these reviews maybe they should get at least one reviewer from another MFA.


UK Govts Head of Communications Doesn’t Like Press Releases or Strategic Communication

September 24, 2013

Since the beginning of this year Alex Aiken has been Executive Director for UK  Government Communications and has been pushing hard for change and savings – he certainly doesn’t seem to be short of opinions, there was some excitement on Twitter this morning when PR Week reported a speech he’d given last week announced the death of the press release

As far as he’s concerned too much PR is about SOS – sending out stuff  when it needs a much more OASIS – objectives, audience, strategy, implementation and scoring.

He notes that during the recent excitement over the culling of badgers in the UK the responsible department sent out one press release and 350 tweets.

His line seems to be that government spends too much money on old media and thinks in terms of ‘strategic communications’ which in his mind seems to imply old media based marketing campaigns.  His solution is that government communicators need to embrace a PR based campaign management approach.  Of course some people would argue that  OASIS is nothing but strategic communication 101 – I think his concern is to shake up the routines of government communications offices.

Another of his signature views is the importance of evaluation for government communicators and he argues that this is a skillset that everyone should have.  Can’t disagree with that but I can see a pathology here:  use social media because it gives us some nice easy to use metrics.  But…those easy to use metrics aren’t actually measuring policy outcomes.  But from the point of view of view of the professional communicator they are vital:

“If you’ve got ten people at a board meeting, ten of them will consider themselves communications experts,” he says. “As a head of communications, having the numbers helps to prove that you’re the expert.

There’s an interesting profile from his period in his previous job here.


Learning from Public Relations

May 18, 2010

One of issues that bubbles below the surface of Public Diplomacy Studies is the relationship with Public Relations as a practice and as a field of study. Partly this is a matter of PD scholars and practitioners trying to distance themselves from a communication activity with a poor public reputation. If we move beyond this I think that there are things that Pd can learn from the development of PR as a field.

Over the weekend I’ve been following up some of the references that Kathy Fitzpatrick cites in her 2007 Hague Journal of Diplomacy piece and Rhonda Zaharna uses in Battles to Bridges. I will have more to say about the substantive differences and similarities later but I though that it’s worth flagging up some of the things that PD studies can learn from PR studies. Some of the debates that are currently going on in PD seem to echo earlier developments in PR.

A major element of this is the turn to relationships as the central focus of PR. Over the past 20 years there has been an effort to refocus PR from a concern with communications and image to substantive relationships. The consequence of this is that an organization’s PR should be seen not as communications but as a general management function that uses strategic communication as one tool. In part this goes back to the lament of communication professionals in business and government that products or policies are developed without their involvement and they are then expected to sell them. There is also a deeper point that relationships are central to success of an organization so that maintaining those relationships is not an afterthought that can be addressed by some advertising or a TV interview. This has a couple of consequences. Firstly, communications professionals have to be prepared and able to play roles in the management of the organization as a whole. Communications specialists in organizations always lament that their specialized skills are not appreciated and they are not represented in senior management but the logic of the ‘relational turn’ is that specialized skills are not enough more general strategic management skills are also required so that they can actually participate in the overall running of the organization. Secondly, it is no longer enough to assess the impact of PR activities in communications terms either on inputs (how many press conferences have we held) or outputs (do more people recognize our name) PR evaluation has to look at the state of relationships with relevant publics.

This question of measurement and evaluation is bubbling up in the ISA PD group at the moment and it’s worth pointing to a programme of work that was commissioned by the International Association of Business Communicators in the 1980s (there’s a summary in the Grunig, Grunig and Dozier chapter listed below). One of the conclusions was that it wasn’t possible to directly measure the impact of PR at a programme level because pay offs were long term and contextual. This is an argument that PD practitioners have frequently made but it definitely seems like PR has a body of research that can contribute to supporting the argument.

Here’s are the references that this post draws on. More on this later as I dig further in the literature

Fitzpatrick, K. (2007) ‘Advancing the New Public Diplomacy: A Public Relations Perspective’, Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 2: 187-211.

Grunig, J.E. (1993) ‘Image and Substance: From Symbolic to Behavioral Relationships’, Public Relations Review, 19: 121-39.

Grunig, J.E., L.A. Grunig, and D.M. Dozier (2006) ‘The Excellence Theory’, pp. 21-62 in C.H. Botan and V. Hazleton (eds) Public Relations Theory II, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Ledingham, J. (2003) ‘Explicating Relationship Management as a General Theory of Public Relations’, Journal of Public Relations Research, 15: 181-198.

Ledingham, J.A., and S.D. Bruning (1998) ‘Relationship Management in Public Relations: Dimensions of an Organization-Public Relations’, Public Relations Review, 14: 55-65.

Zaharna, R. (2010) Battles to Bridges: US Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy after 9/11. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.