Why your comms team deserves a ‘thank you’

Confusing. Evasive. Flat-footed. Vague! Communicators often come in for criticism during moments of crisis.

Several high-profile examples hit the headlines since our last newsletter. They always stir up debate in our office, and amongst our PR friends.  

First up is the BBC’s response to Gary Lineker’s tweet criticising the government’s small boats policy. I’ve included it below, without passing comment on it, to be clear on what was (and wasn’t) said.

The BBC’s late statement, its tone and inconsistent application of its social media policies stoked a culture war and damaged relations with government and staff. Former BBC news editor and Number 10 Director of Comms Craig Oliver (£) sets out a level-headed assessment of the situation which seemed absent at the height of the crisis. His points: make time to prioritise decisions. Move quickly and decisively. Accept there is no perfect solution that will please everyone.

Commentators also mentioned comms’ role – or lack of – in former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s evasive and tetchy performance at the privileges committee of MPs’ investigation into the Partygate scandal. In fairness, and as I’ve mentioned before, we’re well past the stage of blaming a culture of ministerial evasion on comms people. This has happened for years and needs changing.

And this report from the Housing Ombudsman into Catalyst Housing’s complaints handling and aftercare makes important points around poor communication, sharing information, tone and language. It points to a sector under pressure, created steadily in the absence of effective regulation over the last decade. Many comms people have warned of these risks. Sector leaders must own them now.

Perceptions of comms

On one hand, these stories highlight how vital communication is in ensuring that the public understands and trusts organisations. It also shows how multi-faceted and misunderstood the profession is.

The issues I’ve listed are different. They require patience, credibility and a host of skills to manage effectively, and at pace. At different times, we are advisors, negotiators, counsellors, media spokespeople and customer service contacts.

We’re often an ear for the public and a voice for them in conversations with colleagues. Is it any wonder that our role isn’t well understood?

While these high-profile stories about PR disasters will happen, good comms people do great things every day without fanfare. They support organisations during times of change. They are your organisation’s public face, voice and ears. They advocate the right thing, rather than the thing that looks right.

Sometimes mistakes happen, but the many and frequent successes are often unheralded. 

So, if you’re working with comms teams on a project or campaign, please take a moment to thank them for their efforts.

They are often in the firing line when people aren’t happy. This has got worse in recent years.

But they’re also the ones who help to keep things on track. It’s important to support them as part of our teams and celebrate their successes when they happen.

A version of this post first appeared in The Distinctive Dispatch newsletter on 6 April. Sign up if you’re interested in future posts like this.

Photo by Kevin Butz on Unsplash.