Wednesday, 8 May 2013

We Need To Lead Change

Today I’m publishing a discussion paper on the future of corporate communications in the English Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). I’m saying we need to achieve more with less. I’m saying that we need to find a more efficient model than the historic structure of over 40 press offices at individual FRS level. I’m saying that, as communicators, we need to prove our worth to the FRS beyond doubt. I’m saying that we, and the Service need to clearly set out what we should be aiming to achieve, and how that should be evaluated.

This is a discussion paper I couldn't publish when I was FirePRO chair, when I spoke for us all. Today, I make it clear I’m speaking for myself. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. But I hope to provoke a debate in which we can all have our say, because I passionately believe that effective communication is needed more than ever by a changing fire service. The FRS needs to fully engage with its staff and the public about why change is needed, and how it will affect them. Without that two-way dialogue, the change that has to happen will be more costly, and take longer to achieve. And, as money gets tighter, the need for smarter, much more cost-effective community safety will grow. We need to show that the way to reduce demand in that elusive hardest to reach audience, at minimal cost, is through highly-targeted marketing and communication.

As well as saying what is wrong, my discussion paper also suggests a new communication structure for the Service. One that costs less but achieves more. It would reduce the duplication of technical aspects of communication, which are currently replicated 40 times over in the English FRS. It opens the door to new, strategic communication specialisms which are largely lacking in our Service, but so desperately needed, now more than ever. It requires us to be brave, to recognise that we need to get serious about shared services. We need a clear vision about what communication in the FRS is here to achieve. And we need to champion clear performance measures which demonstrate to Authority members and senior officers exactly what they get for every pound spent on communication.

We can do it; we must do it. Send me your feedback. Talk about the issues with your counterparts in FRS comms, and with your senior officers. Disagree with me if you like – and if you can put an alternative vision forward. But I don’t believe that in five years’ time we will still have over 40 in-house corporate communication teams in the English FRS. So let’s now lead the debate about what we should have instead.

Over the coming week, I’ll be publishing a few more “Thought Leader” articles. I’ll set out my thoughts on:

· The role of communication in the Fire and Rescue Service

· How it should be measured and evaluated, and

· Innovations in cost-effective community safety

Let’s not sit back and wait to see what post-austerity FRS communication looks like. Let’s use the challenge of declining resources as a catalyst to lead the debate about what we’re here for, and how we’re going to achieve it.

We’re communicators – let’s get talking.

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