|Guest Lecturer Howell James
The most powerful PR and persuasive communicator in the UK
Howell James, the Professional Head of UK Government Communicators, told the media school that the biggest challenge facing them is how to respond to the British public in their growing need for information about public services and entitlements.
Howell James has for the past eighteen months headed the Government Communication Network (GCN) the most powerful communication machine in the UK, with some 3,000 staff covering the full range of communication skills. His team represents the public service provision side of government and not the intensely partisan side of government communications found at No.10 Downing St and in Ministers' offices.
He told over 150 students representing a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees (November 18) that Government communications has in the past been too reliant on communications via a limited number of journalists. Howell is now emphasising a much wider range of communication channels to enable individual Ministries, and the Government as a whole, to get across its messages.
He spoke about the importance of the Internet and that the GCN had to standardise how messages were communicated online. For example, he noted how one Whitehall department had responded with 300 websites for entry to its various services. Rationalisation of entry points was crucial for better service delivery and he was exploring the feasibility of a master portal.
He reported that this increased use of electronic communications by the public made direct communication with them much more attractive than going through the media and through advertising. But the challenge was how to do electronic communication effectively.
An aspect of this challenge was to make e-comms more two-way, so that they are not just a means of information provision but also of engagement. He wanted to try and turn online communications away from being an electronic brochure towards being an echo chamber for public opinion on current services and future policy.
He told students that the government communications network needed a steady supply of graduates from most of the degrees taught in the school.