Monday, 19 May 2014

Can "Outstanding" Comms Be Bad PR?

This month, my fire service had its external peer review. One of the recommendations for improvement was that we should "celebrate success" more. It was felt people across our organisation do a lot of great work that the sector, and even our own colleagues, don't know about.

It was an interesting observation that led me to reflect on our organisation, culture, and how success is viewed, particularly away from the "front line". It took me back to last year, when my comms team won an LGcomms Reputation award and was named our regional CIPR's Outstanding In-House Team.

We were amazed, delighted, and...weren't really sure how the awards would be received in our organisation. On one level, there is always that faint embarrassment about PRing your own achievements. But my thoughts were on a different level.

We'd had a bit of stick when we were lucky enough to win a previous award, along the lines: "I don't care what the comms team does, they're not going to keep people safe."

Now, at a time of support staff cuts, I was wondering if it was wise even to let people know we are "outstanding" - maybe, I thought, in these austere times, our organisation would be content with "good enough" and view our award as proof we are over-performing.

More generally, whilst our awards have shown beyond doubt that we are frontline, in that we directly contribute to the core business of reducing fire deaths and injuries, that's still harder for people to understand than burly men in a red fire engine. Would people accept an organisation winning a PR award whilst cutting services more widely understood as "frontline"?

I'm lucky in that the people I work for clearly understand the value of our contribution. But, even in light of external feedback that we should celebrate success more, I'm still uneasy about making more of my comms team's achievements.

It just feels like promoting "outstanding"comms could be bad PR.

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