Would it pass the acid test of your partner?

“The consumer is not a moron; she is your wife.”  David Ogilvy

…Public Sector bodies have two products; services (the doing of good), and information (talking about it) for multiple stakeholder audiences; staff, consumers, customers, co-deliverers, intermediaries and influencers. When it comes to the production of information we would do well to remember David Ogilvys words…the consumers of the information the Public Sector produces are very often our wives, husbands, partners, family and friends.


My wife is an intelligent pragmatic person, a proud Cumbrian and a good sounding board. I often test concepts with her, regularly asking her if what I hear when I am in Public Sector land means anything to her. I remember asking how she felt about the local County Councils mission statement “Building Pride in Cumbria”. She looked puzzled, she said she didn’t need her local council to make her proud of where she lived, she’d prefer them to spend the advertising money fixing potholes in the road on her way to work; I said she was pragmatic. My plans to put a sign up on my office door which said “Building Pride at Number 6” instead of actually cutting the grass or fixing the shed roof were now destined to fail. When I showed her a set of Public Sector accounts (its exciting in our house) that had a pie-chart with £150 million listed in a category nonchalantly entitled “other”, she said she’d like to see me try and explain away 20% of my wages as being spent on “other”; point taken.

If the role of communications is to persuade outsiders to buy and insiders to believe, then the planning and executing of communication should be a well informed process based on an understanding of the needs and wants of all stakeholders. The old paradigm of Public Sector communications to:

  1. keep the press off your back
  2. get good stories out there when you can and
  3. minimize the damage when it happens…

…is no longer a suitable paradigm for sustainability; the target audience has moved.  If what we say is not supported by the reality of what we do and what we do is not informed by the needs of our customers, then the effort and expenditure in communicating becomes net negative; it is simply perceived as disingenuous…public perception is of course formed by what we are saying by our doing, not what we might keep saying we are doing.

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