Shout, Laugh, and Breathe

Shouting and laughing at the same time is difficult, but not impossible.

There’s been a lot of noise over the past few days about the nature and number of communications roles in local government. Newspapers, journals, politicians, trade associations, consumer groups (I use the term very loosely) and bloggers have all had their say. Some of it sensible and accurate, some of it not. But how much should we let it bother us?

In his excellent summary of these articles Dan Slee of @comms2point0 has urged communications professionals to shout more about what they do to make sure that the right people know the value of their work. And he’s right.

Understandably, and rightly, communications is being looked at in the current world of decreasing budgets, so it would be an unfortunate irony if teams were depleted because nobody made the case for them.

There are still communications teams that are too big, and it is right that this is being challenged. However, many councils have already made savings and reduced the size of teams, and others will need to follow. And it can be done in a way that still preserves the key focus and activities required.

The Press Gazette’s article on the number of communications professionals working in local government was both simplistic and predictable. The numbers used were for people rather than the more accurate figure for full-time roles, and even though they explained this in the article they still went with the bigger numbers in the headlines. An interesting paradox especially as the article makes a reference to spin.

The reference to spin and spin doctors gets up some people’s noses, as it once did mine. Nowadays it just makes me laugh. It’s an outdated, lazy, and inaccurate way of describing the role of communications teams. The element I assume they are referring to is the media relations function, which is often a small part of a multi-functional communications team, and the journalists know this. Some of them just choose to ignore it.

The Press Gazette’s attempt to contrast the number of people in public sector communications with the dwindling numbers working in local newspapers was not a surprise, bearing in mind the paper’s audience. But this is like comparing apples with oranges, they’re just not related.

Local and regional newspapers are having to cut back because the public aren’t buying them.  They’re not buying some of them because the product they are offering, either in a printed or online format, is no longer meeting their reader’s needs. So they go elsewhere, it’s just market forces in action.

The West Midland’s Express and Star article is irritating and amusing in equal measure. To see politicians falling over themselves to class all communications teams as spin doctors is both inaccurate and annoying. But at the same time it’s less than three weeks until an election so what should we expect?

Sometimes the best course of action is just to laugh. In the grand scheme of things these articles are likely to have little or no impact, so perhaps we should let it go.

As for the Taxpayers Alliance, who never fail to chip in, I don’t understand why the media or anyone gives them airtime. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that they have a political agenda, so why anyone presents them as an objective observer working on behalf of the public is beyond me. It’s just lazy journalism.

They preach about openness, value for money, and transparency. And yet if you ask them to be open about where they get their money from, they quietly put their soapbox away. And as for transparency, you don’t have to probe too deeply before you can see right through them.

So although there’s a serious side to the articles that have appeared of late, we should read a lot of it with a smile on our faces. And then relax and breathe.

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