Telegraph Voices: PR is at the heart of promoting city’s message on a global stage

Alexis Krachai
Alexis Krachai

Good communication helps build relationships with people.

ALEXIS KRACHAI, MANAGING DIRECTOR, COUNTER CONTEXT

Martin Ross from HR Media

Martin Ross from HR Media

Public Relations is important. It is after all, about building relationships with the public through good communication. 

Money should be spent on keeping us all updated about what is going on in our town hall.

Money should be spent celebrating and promoting our city.

We need more PR to attract investment and visitors to Sheffield.

Polly Rippon, Night Editor

Polly Rippon, Night Editor

Unfortunately, the role of PR has become devalued. It is seen as a waste of money or a luxury.

It is too often associated with flashy events, pointless press releases and publicity stunts. 

The true value of effective PR is in explaining decisions and the background. 

Many would argue we need more of this, not less.  

Carmel OToole

Carmel OToole

The challenge is in building trust and understanding in what our council does on our behalf.

This is what effective PR should do.

There is a lack of trust in politicians and councils, and in the businesses they work with to deliver public services.

Effective PR should explain decisions openly and transparently and should be ongoing. Effective PR explains when mistakes have been made and how problems will be fixed.

We need to attract investment into our city.

That involves promoting all that is great about Sheffield:

The Outdoor City, our world-class advanced manufacturing, our independent shops, our music.

Promoting all of this to a global audience requires effective and highly skilled PR professionals, and this involves financial investment.

It is right that newspapers question money spent on PR.

We need a discussion about what type of PR should be delivered.

PR is important, about building relationships with the public through good communication. 

Bad PR is simply issuing press releases and defending council bosses when something goes wrong.

Good PR is about being open and transparent, building understanding and trust and working hard to promote our city globally.

We often get it right in Sheffield but we can be better. I am sure we will.

Public relations more important than ever - Martin Ross, Managing Director, HR Media Ltd Public relations.

Two words that are probably more important than ever in our communications-led world.

There’s no escaping the fact we need PR.

Let’s be honest, it has been around forever.

Think back.

The famous Marylin Monroe billowing skirt was not accidentally caused by a passing subway train as is often reported.

During a photocall for The Seven Year Itch, opportunistic PR staff activated a wind machine beneath the street grate once photographers had assembled.

Yorkshire’s very own Calendar Girls - members of the Women’s Institute - stripped and cheekily posed obscured by cakes and flowers for a fund-raising calendar.

Hundreds of thousands were sold worldwide, leading to a popular movie starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.

The colour of the yellow jersey, worn by the overall leader of the Tour de France which came to Sheffield in 2014, was selected because it was the same as the paper that L’Auto-Vélo, the race’s newspaper sponsor, was printed on.

PR has become sophisticated and broader in its offering.

Today it is a dynamic, multi-discipline service featuring traditional skills and new digital platforms .

These enable organisations to deliver a range of messages, to both communities and consumers.

A single tweet or Facebook Live featuring good content – including imagery and video – can quickly switch from causing a ripple to a wave of interest.

It is understandable why organisations seek PR expertise for media relations, design, digital content and events because they simply do not have the depth of resource.

Indeed, as the City of Sheffield re-brands as the UK’s first Outdoor City to boost leisure, tourism and well-being, we have a golden opportunity to build a pan-Sheffield PR strategy.

It could support the initiative and build on our reputation for sport.

An underpinning, multi-faceted PR approach can help communicate a multitude of benefits – from boosting the health and wellbeing of the city’s population, to engaging businesses to invest.

Journalists struggle to speak to people - Polly Rippon, night editor, the star.

As a journalist it’s vital to be able to speak to the movers, shakers and decision makers.

We are the eyes and ears of the public, acting on their behalf and our reporters do their best to investigate the issues that matter to the good people of this city and hold the authorities to account.

These days we struggle to have a conversation with the people who matter. All too often we are fobbed off by press officers who refuse to let us speak directly to the people we need to ask questions of.

They’ll issue us with written statements, refuse to put people up for interviews and often simply ignore our requests for information.

It’s a daily battle.

Fifteen years ago journalists could speak daily to police officers, council officers, NHS managers and those making decisions about how public money was spent. I had home and mobile telephone numbers for a whole host of contacts and I could ring them up for a quote or information at the drop of a hat.

I would visit the local police station every week and an officer would go through all the ‘incidents of note’ with me.

Not so now. We are rarely granted interviews with officers, even when there are high profile crimes such as murders.

Many press officers try to obstruct journalists from doing their jobs and speaking to the people they need to.

We understand we have different perspectives and their role is to put a positive spin on stories and get ‘key messages’ across to the public but why not meet us halfway?

After all, public sector organisations should be open, honest and accountable.

Communication has changed hugely in recent years due to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and organisations can communicate directly with thousands and cut out the middle man - but then the public only gets one side of the story.

We need skilled PR – and a robust media - Carmel O’Toole, Senior Lecturer in Public Relations, Sheffield Hallam University.

Our public services are only as public as the information we know about them. We fund them, through our council and income taxes.

But, unless we proactively ask questions of such bodies we are reliant upon their willingness and capacity to communicate about what they do.

Through its use of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, (which expanded upon the public’s right to know), The Star has given us plenty of righteous food for thought in the story about South Yorkshire public agencies and their communications funding.

There are a couple of certainties about public sector communications. I write as someone who worked for 15 years in local government PR.

If you don’t let local citizens know about what is happening to their services, such organisations are criticised for their failure to communicate. If they pro-actively campaign, public body communicators are lambasted for ‘town hall propaganda’ and wasting public money, Money, it is always argued, could be better spent on frontline services. That’s the general gist.

Since 2010 central government has made eye watering cuts to public services funding. If we take Sheffield City Council alone, by the end of this year, it will have lost almost 50% of its budget, around £350 million. Faced with such a crippling deficit, the council cannot hope to make such cuts without creating, through citizen-facing communications, an understanding of the enormity of its cutback task. It needs to communicate and consult.

That’s where skilled and trained communicators are needed. Or would we rather they didn’t ask?

To ensure a healthy functioning local democracy, I suggest that now, more than ever, our public services need skilled, ethically focused and well-trained communicators.

Just as essential is a robust and challenging local media sector to hold public agencies to account.

Great work The Star and Telegraph!