UK government’s new GCS spinners can’t tell the difference between strategy and operations

The UK coalition government, which has managed to get its communications knickers in a fine old twist, is having a belated go at sorting things out with the formation of a new ‘centralised’ Government Communications Service.

This, presumably, takes on some of the duties of the widely reviled Government Procurement Service whose antics drove even the normally quiescent IPA into a paroxysm of something like rage recently, resulting in an open letter to government spinners telling them to stop behaving like prats by running reverse price auctions and the like.

Unknown-8The new GCS is headed by Alex Aiken (left), a former local government PR and Tory apparatchik who seems to have little or no experience dealing with ad agencies, unlike his predecessor Mark Lund (now at the Now agency) who headed the COI.

Aiken says:”We have learnt that government communications is operationally excellent, but strategically challenged. We need to do more on the strategy side and put everyone in a room, to find out what works best.”

And: “The evaluation just wasn’t there. People were doing something because they believed it had impact, but they didn’t do the critical thing and ask what worked. They didn’t think through objective strategy, implementation and evaluation.”

And: “I want to develop a much closer relationship [with agencies]. We will meet with them and discuss how things are working for them, technical issues about how we procure, and to ask whether we are creating good work professionally and if campaigns are working.”

And, just in case you’re not confused enough already, his sidekick Sam Lister, Department of Health director of communications, adds: “In parts of government there has traditionally been too much of a silo mentality. We all need to be aware of the cross-government context within which we work. No government department is an island unto itself.”

Er, quite so Sam.

It’s more than debatable that government communications are operationally excellent, as Aiken claims, although we won’t dispute that they’re strategically challenged (although solving this might take more than chucking some people in a room). But the things agencies are complaining about, like unfair selection procedures and pricing issues, are operational not strategic.

If Aiken can’t tell the difference, there’s not much chance of the super-dooper Government Communication Service being any better than its dismal predecessor.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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