Friday, 26 March 2004

Communications: Kenning and Phillis

The Church of England recently announced the appointment of a new Director of Communications for the Archbishops’ Council and General Synod. The Church Times duly interviewed Peter Crumpler:

…Mr Crumpler described himself as “passionate” about the Church, which he described as “a superb institution that is not given the value it should be in society”. He will take up the post in May. The post was vacated by the Revd Dr Bill Beaver in 2002, and was frozen while a review of the national communications strategy was conducted on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council. Mr Crumpler… said he had studied the Phillis report into government communication strategies, which stressed the need for positive presentation, openness, and no “spin”.

Some information about these two reports may be useful.

First, the Independent Review of Government Communications, a 40-page report which can be downloaded from here, deals with UK government communications strategy. It was originally set up in the wake of the Jo Moore/Stephen Byers fiasco but later it also responded to the departure of Alistair Campbell.
Bob Phillis, who is the chief executive of the Guardian Media Trust and a former TV executive (with both the BBC and commercial TV companies) chaired a group of media professionals, many of whose recommendations for restoring public confidence in the government are in my view equally applicable to the Church of England. Just try substituting “church” for “government” etc. For example:

R.10 A new approach to briefing the media - We found that the lobby system is no longer working effectively for either the government or the media. We recommend that all major government media briefings should be on the record, live on television and radio and with full transcripts available promptly online. Ministers should deliver announcements and briefings relevant to their department at the daily lobby briefings, which should also be televised, and respond to questions of the day on behalf of the government.

or this

Greater emphasis on regional communication - Research told us the public want information that is more relevant to them and where they live. We recommend that more investment should be made in communicating at a local and regional level and more communication activity should be devolved into relevant regional government or public service units…

and on websites:

R.10.3 Government websites should make all relevant background material available to anyone who wants it.
R.11 Customer-driven online communication
… We recommend that the central government website should be redesigned to meet the needs and perceptions of users, with individual departments only becoming “visible” when this makes sense to the users. Information on local public services should be prominent and easily found. There should be increased investment in websites to reflect the increasing importance of this method of communication.

Turning now to the Review of the National Communications of the Church of England which was undertaken by Mr David Kenning of Bell Pottinger Ltd, this has not been published, but a 35 page summary was posted on the CofE website in Microsoft Word format. That can be downloaded from here. A more concise 8 page version was issued last November to all General Synod members, diocesan secretaries and others, and is reproduced as a web page here. This is worth reading in full. Synod members were told that:

The Council has accepted the general analysis and overall prescription in Mr Kenning’s report.
…The Council agreed that the new Director would need some flexibility over the detailed recommendations in the report. They noted that decisions about the resources devoted to the Communications Unit would need to be considered in the budget round next spring in the usual way.

Translating into plain English, the specific recommendations of Kenning would require a huge increase in the staff and budget of the department. So that’s not going to happen any time soon. The new Director will have to fight for his slice of the cake like everyone else. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Kenning’s emphasis on traditional media seems rather odd anyway. Kenning said:

The Communications Unit should invest in two additional professional journalists - one from the national press (preferably with tabloid experience) and one from national broadcasting (preferably also with national journalistic experience). This would increase the number of press officers from two to four…… revitalising Church relationships with key national journalists, columnists and journalists on a one-to-one basis. These (personal) relationships can only be improved where they are manifestly based on trust and openness. This should be done in the form of a weekly lobby - preferably held away from Church premises. … Hold a separate Thursday lobby for the Sunday press.

Whereas concerning the CofE website, Kenning said:

The Official Website requires full-time dedicated professional support with a recruited or outsourced full-time professional webmaster. Much more use could be made of an improved website (establishing an intranet) for more direct communications between the Unit and the dioceses and parishes…
A careful balance needs to be maintained between the effort devoted respectively to the press and electronic media. The recommendations for the staffing requirements above reflect the optimum balance for each. The Internet has made enormous strides into the national consciousness over the past five years and the next decade could well see it overtaking the established media as a source of information. However, the conventional press and media must remain a priority for the foreseeable future. There is no reason, however, why Church Advocates should not be able to post their views on the internet via webcams [sic] and, on occasions, invite an interactive communication with the nation such as is often conducted by television networks.

Compare this with what Phillis said about the lobby system, emphasising regional media, and using websites. Try looking at the Bell Pottinger website :-)

On the other hand, Kenning accurately portrays the magnitude of the task facing the new director when he lists as a major issue:

A culture of inclusivity and openness - The fortress mentality in the NCIs needs to be dismantled - An entire strategy and programme needs to be put in place to improve and monitor relationships with the national press and broadcast media.
The Church must set about dismantling (the perception of) the “fortress” mentality at Church House in particular, and to a lesser extent at Lambeth. The first and most important area to begin with is within the Communications Unit itself.
This will require a change of culture.

Yes, and this is not a task which a Communications Director can do alone. Kenning also said:

The configuration of the Communications Panel holds the key both to enabling the communications strategy to work and to empower national Church communications as a whole. To date this Panel has been too remote, underpowered and insufficiently representative to do the job properly. It must draw together representatives from the major institutions and key individuals involved in communications.
… I recommend a new, re-configured Panel should include the following:
- Chaired by a media-literate senior bishop representing the House of Bishops with experience of national Church communications and who has a direct link to the Archbishops
- A maximum of two lay members (communications experts) to be elected by Synod
- One person elected from Diocesan Communicators’ Panel
- Director of Communications
- Senior Lambeth communications advisor
- Senior Bishopthorpe communications advisor ??

But the Synod was told that the Archbishops’ Council in its wisdom had:

- created a small task force to support and oversee the work of the Director over the next two years as he or she draws up and delivers a detailed implementation plan for the Review. The need for a Communications Panel will be considered further towards the end of the period. The task force will be chaired by the Bishop of Manchester. The three other members are Andreas Whittam Smith, Jayne Ozanne and Anne Sloman.

So no elected representatives of any kind on that task force, then. And the Panel recommendation has been sidetracked for at least two years. I don’t find that at all encouraging, and don’t suppose many synod members will either.

But, like many others, I do look forward to Peter’s arrival at Church House in May with joyful anticipation.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 26 March 2004 at 8:39am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking