One of the Government’s most contentious initiatives since June, the creation of the Strategic Communications Unit is a smart move and long overdue, writes PRII President Cian Connaughton MPRII. This is an abridge version of the article published in this month’s IMJ.
The Government’s recently formed Strategic Communications Unit will ensure that Government communications are integrated, more effective and better understood – a move that should strengthen democracy. The new unit will perform several functions, the first of which will be streamlining communications for citizens.
The unit’s second task will be to run major cross-Government campaigns. Some of the work that it will undertake will be communicating about some of the Government’s biggest upcoming initiatives - the Ten Year Capital Plan and the National Children’s Hospital. These are both projects that involve Billions of state investment across a number of Government departments. If ever there was a reason for maximising the integration of communications, these crucial projects are it.
Finally, the new unit will improve communications across all parts of Government and raise the level of integration between people in communications roles within the public service.
Overall, the unit has huge potential to further improve the quality of Government communication campaigns and increase public understanding of major spending programmes – clearly a good thing. A unified approach to Government communications has been a great success in the UK where Alex Aiken is the Executive Director of Government Communications, who you will remember spoke to members here back in April 2016. He oversaw over 90 Government communications campaigns on a diverse range of topics including modern day slavery, tourism and switching energy providers. Crucially, he makes sure the work of the 7,000 communications professionals in the UK public service is as co-ordinated as possible.
This unified approach is common to many other EU and OECD countries, including the US and the Netherlands. It’s worth remembering also that previous Irish Governments were heavily criticised for not paying enough attention to the importance of communicating with citizens, particularly when crisis situations started to emerge.
The bottom line is that good communications, particularly from Government, is not a luxury nor is it a choice. The Irish people deserve good quality effective communication and that requires professionals, structures and a planned approach.
While communications professionals have plenty of work to do showing the value of our work, the establishment of the Strategic Communications Unit is to be welcomed. It is also proof that the power of communications is recognised by far more people than you’d think.
Cian Connaughton MPRII is President of the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, and a senior client director with MKC Communications. A longer version of this article appears in the November issue of IMJ
“There is a clear case for taking a more integrated and hopefully productive approach to communicating about what the Government is doing.”