‘It isn’t about the spin’ - PR expert on NHS manager’s ‘we got away with it’ email
PUBLISHED: 10:38 26 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:38 26 January 2020
I’d like to start by saying I completely agree with Steve Downes’ view on the NHS email story. There is a need to be open and honest when negative stories come along and organisations should listen and learn when they make mistakes.
There is still a misconception, even among some people who work in public relations/communications, that it's all about "managing the media" or "managing the message." It's not. If you are working in public relations/communications and that's all it means to you, then you are getting it wrong.
Public relations is a management discipline which looks after reputation. It really isn't about "spinning". It is about building long-term relationships and trust, just some of which is done via the news media. Public relations is about shaping opinions by building support and understanding between an organisation and the people it serves.
It's about what you say, what you do and, crucially, what others say about you. It's about the relationships you build to support your aims. It is about building trust. The EDP relies on the trust of its readers, the NHS relies on the trust of patients, and companies rely on trust among customers. It's trust that gives you the mandate to operate.
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Erode that trust and you are in trouble. Think aviation giant Boeing and the way it has handled the 737 MAX crashes. Boeing's reputation was built on trust in its safety built up over decades. The adage was "If it ain't Boeing - I ain't going". After Boeing's handling of the 737 MAX tragedies, perhaps not so much?
In the past I have helped organisations, including NHS organisations, be open about negative stories. An outbreak of infection in a hospital neonatal unit is a good example. We proactively announced the problem, we invited the media in, and outlined what was being done to both tackle the problem and to support patients and staff. It's a) the responsible thing to do, and b) it ultimately helps build trust.
I've worked in public relations for more than 20 years now and, along with many others, I support the increasing professionalisation of my industry through membership of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
I'm a chartered practitioner, I keep my skills and knowledge up to date, I abide by a code of conduct, and my conduct can be reported if l fall short.
PS - I have one declaration of interest. I know Mark Prentice of old. I don't know him well but he always struck me as decent person. I wouldn't defend his actions but I do feel empathy for my fellow human being.