This afternoon the UK Government’s GCS Communications Plan for 2021 / 2022 was launched from the Cabinet Office. As a member of the GCS Strategy and Evaluation Council (https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/guidance/strategic-communication/evaluation/gcs-strategy-and-evaluation-council/), I jumped at the opportunity to hear first-hand what it contained and how much importance government communicators place on having a documented and credible communications plan.
The need for communications and PR professionals to have a clear strategic plan against which to deliver is one of the top issues that holds too many organisations back from performing their best. It is also one of the biggest challenges to a more widespread understanding of how to measure effectiveness in a meaningful and relevant manner. After all, if you don’t know where you are, and where you want to go, how can you ever know whether you’re on the right track?
The Government Communications Service has been in existence for just over 100 years in its various iterations. Yet in that time, it has only operated against a clearly defined and documented plan on just 8 occasions. Each of these, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been the last 8 years. That’s because the urgent need for a plan and professionalisation of the service was rammed home during the era of the last coalition government. When incoming ministers asked about the effectiveness of government communications, they were unable to receive a meaningful answer with demonstrable, tangible results. This resulted in swinging job cuts, and over 3,000 communications professionals lost their jobs. There was no financial headroom for busy people just to do ‘stuff’, implementing tactics and activity. Clearly demonstrated value against stated Government objectives was what was required. It was a wake up call to the sector and it is one that Alex Aiken has championed ever since.
In the ensuing years, the plan has evolved to have three key themes. The plans
- Promise what the Government Communications Service will achieve
- Sets standards of professionalism
- Track and report on the progress made
Today’s launch made clear the importance that UK Government communications sets on defined outcomes measured against objectives. Across government, these outcomes are incredibly diverse, and can include such things as helping the armed forces and emergency services with recruitment requirements, supporting the nation’s mental health, enabling businesses to start-up, invest and grow, promoting trade with the world, tackling the obesity crisis, taking an entire nation carbon neutral.
For the coming year, there are two clear umbrella goals under which all activity must fit – ‘Defeat Covid’ and ‘Build Back Better’. All campaigns must ‘ladder up’ to these – whether it’s building back fairer, backing the NHS, building back safer, greener or delivering for the UK.
It’s an optimistic plan, with laser focus as you might expect when there are so many competing priorities. One thing that is clear is the need to run fewer, but better campaigns. In the past, key audience and stakeholder groups – like small business owners – may have found themselves targeted by multiple campaigns from different departments and ALBs (Arm’s Length Bodies). Now work will be co-ordinated and focussed on delivering the outcomes that matter.
Each page of the report contains key tips, and there is a particularly compelling section on ‘Harnessing the Power of Behavioural Science.’ Running across the plan is the advice to Be Bold, Be Skilled and Be Innovative, critical advice in this era of disruption to so many aspects of our lives. Professional communicators can learn much from the plan, including its focus on ‘digital innovation’, being ‘driven by data’ and GCS’s excellent Modern Communications Operating Model. (MCOM)
The UK Government Communications Plan 2021 / 2022 is a great piece of work and well worth a read. When you do, it will become very apparent why many international organisations look up to the GCS for advice and best practice.