Comms still hounded by the ills of PR

It’s 13-years since I last spent any time in an ‘in-house’ communications department and I was always intrigued as to what might have changed.

The Intranet concept was still largely a pipe dream when I said goodbye to Sheffield City Council’s communications department and websites were still finding their feet in terms of purpose and usability.
When I was last an office such as this it was still being referred to as the Public Relations department. These days its normally ‘communications’, or ‘comms’ for short.
Public Relations (or PR) was already falling out of favour 13 years ago thanks to New Labour and their association with ‘spin’, BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous and other high profile home goals for the industry.
I was always surprised that PR – an industry that is meant to look after an individual or company’s image – was so hopeless at keeping its own house in order.
If anything, my visit to in-house communications brought home the impact social media can now regularly have on an organisation – however large.
It’s about time there were some serious time and motion studies on the amount of staff time that is used on social media and weigh that up on the returns. There’s likely to be some surprising results!
A few negative Tweets or Facebook posts – especially if they touch a nerve – can cause chaos as comms staff scramble for an answer.
The last time I was the member of an in-house team I’d got little more to worry about than negative media headlines, these days it’s a totally different animal.
The communications channels never take a break anymore and it regularly shows on the faces of overworked staff.
I think some of these people deserve a break from time to time!
Public relations work, even in my local government tenure, always seem to be thought of as a bit of a woolly add on by many senior staff. Things don’t seem to have changed that much for comms staff – they definitely work far harder.
And then there’s the FOIs (Freedom of Information requests) that didn’t exist 13 years ago.
Journalists really have no need to hack phones when you’ve got that tool to operate with – FOI requests come flowing in to public sector organisations on a daily basis with few week turnaround set in a tablet of stone.