Lack of communications planning damaging Government
A few weeks ago, my colleague Michelle wrote a blog on the communications fiasco which was the Household charge.
You’d think the Government would have learned a few lessons since then but events in recent days relating to the installation of water meters suggest otherwise.
Indeed all of the signals to date are of two parties in Government plainly not communicating with each other, never mind the electorate.
The chorus of ‘Oh No you won’t’ from Tánaiste Gilmore and ‘Oh Yes you will’ [have to pay] from Taoiseach Kenny would not be out of place in the Gaiety’s Christmas Pantomime.
And with the IMF in town this week, and a referendum campaign to be fought in the next 5 weeks, could the timing be any worse?
The Taoiseach and Tánaiste are astute politicians with plenty of experience who should know better.
This always had the potential to assume ‘crisis’ proportions and there was always going to be the need for a very strong communications campaign on this issue given the opposition expressed to it since it was first mooted. As every professional PR person will tell you, it’s too late to start planning when the crisis hits. Plans should have been agreed, key messaging aligned and spokespeople appointed before now.
So what can be done now to limit the damage of the latest communications mishap?
1. Get everyone to stop talking until there is an agreed position.
2. Agree what is the position on water meters – their installation, who pays and when the invoices will be levied on householders.
3. Get the message right. Make it relevant to the electorate and easily understood.
4. Get messaging documents circulated to all members of Government so that if any are door stepped on the issue they can answer correctly.
5. Be ready for a long and protracted campaign
Last Saturday the Irish Times ran a front page report on the payment of fees to professional PR consultants by individual Ministers and asked why this was necessary when many Departments had in-house press offices. A glib answer would be ‘look at the debacles of the septic tanks, household charges and now the water meters’. But the reality is that there are many excellent PR professionals working across all Government departments and sectors. Either they are not being listened to by Ministers or they are not shouting loud enough to make their voices heard.
Less panic and a more planned and co-ordinated communications approach from the Government’s programme managers has to be the order of the day or this Government risks reputational damage which will be beyond repair.