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Communications: detonate comms team, publish yourself

People working in government communications know the world has changed.

They know advertising is expensive and increasingly ineffective.

They know the media are not interested in their “low value” media releases.

They know the advice they provide in talking points and briefs is often ignored.

They know the speeches they craft are either heavily edited or re-written.

They know the people they need to reach are out there “on the grid”, but there are heavy restrictions in trying to engage them.

I say it’s time for government communicators around the world to stand up, go to the window, do your very best impression of Peter Finch in the movie Network and scream “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”.

Today is the day to start the change. Today is the day to take the first steps to be a publisher.

Technology has changed the way the world communicates. The media remains an important channel but their influence is diminishing.

Political offices overstate the influence of the media “opinion leaders”. They remain an important, respected stakeholder. But in our digitally enabled world, they are one voice not the voice.

Technology has gifted everyone the ability to publish, distribute and measure content.

The worlds of publishing, broadcasting, telecommunications and computing have conspired to smash the media’s monopoly on information distribution. Audiences are increasingly fragmented and advertising and public relations don’t work as they once did.

In his recent book Rules of Engagement, Kim Williams, the distinguished businessman and arts administrator, makes the following observation:

“Too much of the fabric of our political parties and parliaments derives from an era that has been superseded by new agile forms of commercial and social development, which require different means of engagement and supervision.

“It is a huge subject and one for which our nation needs urgent answers and new directions as Australia is vulnerable to the dynamic forces that are forging new power alliances in commercial and governmental life geopolitically. These eschew the notion of traditional national boundaries and past allegiances and are driven by a demanding performance criteria and global settings, in an environment where capital, ideas and talent move freely and often impatiently.

“The political and parliamentary system is not keeping pace nor maintaining standards. Apparatchiks on all sides of politics increasingly rule the roost — bad for policy, terrible for society and futures.”

In terms of communication, there is a solution.

Government can now exercise the extensive potential reach of their communication platform and its associated channels to go direct to the citizens. They can publish content on a regular basis to engage citizens and build trust. They can create content that will solve the problems and meet the needs of various constituent groups.

Government communication teams are not fit for this new purpose.

While there are a number of outstanding examples of government communication teams who have used innovative approaches to build engaged audiences, it’s fair to say that most don’t have the culture, skills nor support of ministerial offices to make the most of this considerable opportunity.

Ministerial offices need to understand that this “content marketing” approach to storytelling can help build a strong foundation for the government’s narrative.

The key point is this: you will never stop the circumstantial winds that blow through politics on a daily basis. They are inevitable, unavoidable and present the greatest challenge to any government. But an ordered, consistent and strategic approach to storytelling can provide an anchor.

[pullquote] “Think of content marketing as the safe port in the storm for the government story.” [/pullquote]

Implemented by the various communication teams in the departments and agencies, this approach is the insurance against “bad weather”. Think of content marketing as the safe port in the storm for the government story.

The challenge for government is to resist the temptation to be blown about in the wind and to apply their scarce communication human resources to create useful, valuable shareable content that will reach and engage citizens.

The challenge is to not ask those human resources to book ads that won’t work, write media releases that will never see the light of day or write speeches that will be ignored.

The challenge for government is to make the story about how their policies are addressing the needs of citizens. If you fill your platform with self-interested puff, no one will pay attention and you will be ignored.

But if you speak clearly and directly and in a way that meets the needs of the citizen, they will read and, over time, understand. They might not always agree but they will read and importantly return to see what you have to say next.

This depth of engagement can’t be achieved through the media or advertising.

Content marketing is a strategic, accountable, measurable process that allows you to take control of your story.

It insists on an intense focus on the needs of the identified audience and combines all the elements of rigorous strategic communication planning with the power of offline engagement and online publishing. Importantly, the strategic process of content marketing places a high value on measurement and evaluation, which is critically important given taxpayers money is involved.

I understand that making this transition won’t be easy and there are cultural, skills and process roadblocks ahead. But I can make one very strong and bold prediction: this approach to storytelling will become the future of government communication around the world.

It’s an approach that will assist government to make the most out of their considerable investment in communication and, importantly, deliver greater value for the citizens that government serve.

This article was first published on the contentgroup website

Author Bio

David Pembroke

David Pembroke is founder and CEO of contentgroup, Australia's oldest public sector content marketing agency. He is a former ABC Radio current affairs journalist and communication director of the Wallabies.