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Comment: Twofour Knowledge md Charles Mills on the way ahead for corporate producers in a new era of government cuts

“I’d be delighted to be proved wrong…” Every time I hear that prefix to yet another sombre forecast I feel a surge of defiant optimism. Which is how I feel now – writing soon after the spending review.

Those of us who have enjoyed government business over the years (by all accounts the majority of agencies in our sector), it’s a bit gloomy...and yet…and yet…

We have now had five months to get used to a freeze on government communications budgets which officially extends to April next year. Our hope was that the spending review might give us some sense of where our future might lie.

Has it helped? Without any detail, we can guess where our services broadly might be required: tackling the welfare budget by getting people into work, developing online health services, somehow delivering “more for less” for schools.

But the only communication-related certainties are the removal of commissioning channels that we have come to rely on, such as a good chunk of the COI, and the fact that public servants will have a queue of other priorities, not least their own jobs, before they consider communications. So not much to go on.

My own optimism is based more on the character of our corporate comms industry. We’ve been adapting to new technologies and markets since before the war. Let’s adapt again.

Big, mass market government campaigns are off the agenda. We need to sell what we’re good at – helping organisations develop focused, sustained, two-way relationships with their audiences.

Let’s stop hoping that tenders will start flowing again and actively propose solutions based on understanding of policy priorities.

Most importantly we need to recognise that “communications” are probably seen as soft and dispensible.

Government will want proof that our stuff actually works (the IVCA’s push for more measurement could not be more timely) and we need to demonstrate that the combination of persuasive content and cost-effective distribution via digital platforms is capable of real heavy lifting – from reducing the cost of transactions with citizens to improving the quality of public services.

Charles Mills is md of Twofour Knowledge

Posted 05 November 2010 by Charles Mills
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