ITL #236 PR in public administration: greater recognition is overdue4 years ago
Communications practitioners in government and other public bodies are confronted by many complicated demands. Yet all too often their work is undervalued. By Gordana Bekčić Pješčić.
Public relations as a term and as a business is changing rapidly, due both to the impact of IT innovations and the diversification of businesses and services in the global market. The essence of PR as we knew it a few decades ago has been transformed into something we can, in the broadest sense, call communication.
The fact of the matter is, we are working within a conglomeration of communication practices, from media relations to digital marketing and augmentative reality. Luckily for us, everybody understands communication as the most precious tool in the process of doing business.
The geopolitical and economic framework of the 21st century has caused
Public administration is financed from public resources (tax, state enterprises etc.). Therefore it’s non-profit oriented. Markets and profits are not activity drivers for PR professionals in this field.
Privileged and relaxed
That, in a sense,
Yet the truth is that PR jobs in the public sector can be inspirational, challenging and demanding. Not only are these roles often tough and complex, there can also be drawbacks relating to pay and career development.
PR issues in the public sector revolve around the following fact: PR is among the main duties and obligations of every public institution. As Mordecai1 points out, for business managers, cooperating with the news media and engaging in external communications is a choice. For public
The necessity of informing citizens transparently and proactively on a daily basis emerges as a job with numerous activities; from daily news on the official websites and social networks, through conducting PR and communication duties in the line
The PR expert is only one of numerous communicators within his or her institution. All public officials and servants have that role embedded in their specific scope of work.
The core business of public administration, its products and commodities are pieces of legislation, rules and procedures, implementation of these acts throughout the system and judicial protection of human rights and interests of the citizens, altogether with the protection and preservation of a legal system within society. The exercise of these powers is
Policy making uses communication as a tool and a goal in the same time. When we observe the public sector from this communicational perspective, it is easy to realize that every single piece of work in public administration is communication (internal, external, cross institutional).
PR experts are only one piece of a puzzle but with the complex audience network – internal audience, other governmental institutions, other branches of power, citizens, media, civil society, corporate sector, international stakeholders etc. – PR experts are or should also be advisers or mentors of their colleagues (public servants and officials) in the development of their communication skills.
One of the biggest demands is having to do business on double tracks. One track covers activities related to the institution itself and its mandate, activities and scope of work. A quite different issue is personal PR related to the personality of the head/decision maker of that institution (director, PM, minister, deputy PM, speaker of the assembly, mayor etc.).
This position requires fine tuning: taking care of public interest on one side and the potential risks of careless
Working in PR is demanding, whatever the sector. However, when we look at the following preconditions that characterize public sector PR, we have to ask ourselves how to cope with those challenges:
- Limited resources
- Public funding requires transparent justification for each
- Advanced budgetary planning for following year
- Lack of ad hoc resources for advertising, mini campaigns, additional expenses on social networks, investment in up-to-date tools and knowledge
- Limited wages of public servants (no resources for bonus, percentage etc.)
- Lack of mechanisms for promotion of the PR personnel
- High mobility of PR professionals and their short stay in the institution due to
- Low position of PR professionals in the
- Lack of institutional memory (small number of PR personnel stay in one institution for a significant period of time).
Overcoming these obstacles could secure further development of the PR profession in public administration, an important niche for the profession in our highly politicized world. Crisis management has become one of the crucial activities in the international community and global political framework.
We live in a state of alert, 24/7. Global issues such as nuclear proliferation, sustainable development, environmental protection, the migrant crisis, conflict in the Middle East, superpower relations, rising new global economies, taken together with regional
Therefore, the mechanisms, tools, rules and procedures of PR in the sector have to be in some way standardized, regulated and institutionalized, with a clear strategic perspective for its further advancement. All of this should follow international trends in
PR in PA is in the process of reshaping and, as much as possible, adjusting to the newest PR trends and practices. The catch-22 is that it’s quite impossible to implement all new gadgets, techniques, tools and practices. Some are incompatible with the public administration, others cost money beyond what is available in public sector budgets. Some possible solutions for enhancing PR public sector expertise could be the following:
- investment in life-long learning (essential for communication management but also as a tool for overcoming the lack of financial resources or ranking acknowledgements for a job well done)
- Repositioning of PR (members of
- Institutional memory capacity (fostering professional communicators and keeping them for a certain number of years).
Being in PR
Without personal commitment and a sense of duty, it would be difficult to find
We as citizens want to have responsible governments. Those who plan, create and conduct communication about the activities and duties of that government have to be among the best. They deserve to receive credit and recognition for their work.
1Lee, Mordecai, “The Return of Public Relations to the Public Administration Curriculum?” Journal of Public Affairs Education, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Fall 2009), pp. 515-533
- Brown, J., Gaudin, P.; Moran, W. (2013), PR and Communication in Local Government and Public Services. CIPR, Kogan Page, London.
- Le, Mordecai, The Return of Public Relations to the Public Administration Curriculum? Journal of Public Affairs Education, Journal of Public Affairs Education, JPAE 15(4): 515–533
Gordana Bekčić Pješčić is an independent consultant at GBP Consulting and Member of the Managing Board of Serbian Public Relations Society (DSOJ). From 2012-16, she was independent advisor for communication planning and promotional activities at the Office for Cooperation with Civil Society of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.mail the author
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