Public Sector Communications in Today’s Economic Climate

Panacea, in partnership with the AHCM and LG Communications, carried out research into the impact of austerity measures on marketing, communications and patient engagement services. We wanted to evaluate the perceptions of individuals working for public sector communications teams, of financial challenges and the planned measures to tackle them. We also noted any significant changes in perceptions from last year. Our aim is to ensure we continue to provide tools to help teams meet the challenges effectively.

 

In the first instance, researchers looked at how many had or were expecting to experience funding cuts and how these had impacted effectiveness and work patterns.

 

0% of respondents felt that cuts had made their jobs harder, with 75% feeling that future cuts would make it difficult for them to continue to deliver a high-quality service.

Productivity

espite cuts, 86% agreed that their team was effective in meeting its core objectives, which is comparable with the previous year’s 83%. Yet only 31% felt that they had enough time to fulfil their work, with this percentage falling to a mere 13% among respondents working for central government teams.

How individuals felt their time was spent during a typical week raises issues of concern.

Worryingly, respondents were only able to focus on core objectives for 27% of their time! This represents a substantial drop from 43% last year. While firefighting has fallen from 27%, it appears the burden of administration and auditing has increased. It is critical that these proportions are re-balanced and any measures facilitating this are prioritised.

Creative, income-generating activity is set to become increasingly important. To free time up for this, teams must be able to complete routine tasks efficiently and without the need for duplication. Being able to increase productivity with fewer resources was cited as the second most significant challenge facing teams in the next 12 months, after further budget cuts.

Impact on morale

The effect of cutting costs on job satisfaction and morale has been marked and appears to be worsening.

Only 49% of those working for councils felt morale in their team was high. For teams to continue to work effectively they must feel they have the means to tackle challenges and are supported to do so.

 

“We have faced huge budget cuts year on year, while the need for effective communications materials and services remains high. We have met these challenges head on, thanks to the automation, management information and cost savings which we have gained from using Panacea Software.”

Ros Daniel, Creative Services Lead

Camden Council

 

Cost cutting measures

The bar chart below shows the percentage of respondents citing each step they took last year to drive down costs.

 

Comparing these measures with the priorities over the next 12 months throws up some interesting points, both among all respondents and those who use Panacea Software.

 

 

Targets and priorities over next 12 months

 

Efficiency

While 86% of respondents found more efficient ways of working last year, 65% anticipate doing so this year. It appears that respondents are finding fewer ways of increasing efficiency, but as it remains a priority, more creative measures are required.

Last year, only 7% chose to use project management or MIS software, while this year 48% want better performance monitoring and 57% better strategic management. As such, the value of tools facilitating this is likely to increase and represents a key area of missed opportunity.

 

Panacea Software users’ experience

 

While there is a degree of correlation between the priorities among overall respondents and those using Panacea Software, there are a few key areas where there is a marked difference:

 

Cost savings and income generation

 

Only 40% overall indicate cost savings to be a priority, whereas 62% of Panacea Software users anticipate being able to make savings. Similarly 50% of Panacea Software users anticipate being able to generate income compared to just 35% of non-users.

 

Systems that facilitate employees devoting time to income generating activities will become increasingly important. In 2011, Camden Council’s Creative Services Team generated £130K of new revenue, despite significant staff cuts. They were able to complete 20% more projects by freeing up staff time through automating laborious administrative tasks.

 

Self-service represents a key area where big time savings can be made. Yet only 34% of all those working in public sector communications felt they had the systems to allow this. Conversely, as many as 58% of Panacea Software users foresee being able to encourage clients and colleagues to fulfil their own requests and not rely on personnel.

 

The number one priority for reducing costs is given to the use of digital services (73%), but only 29% overall anticipate being able to reduce print and paper volumes, compared to 50% of Panacea Software users. The latter can easily redirect requests for print to online or digital activity where appropriate, and so reduce print runs, plan better and reduce waste.

 

Better value

 

21% plan to prioritise seeking better value from suppliers, and Panacea Software can reduce these costs by 35-72%, as experienced by Haringey Council when they implemented the software in part to tackle the high cost of design and print.

 

“Panacea Software allows us to make informed decisions, frees up our time to plan marketing activity proactively and has cut the prices we pay for our services by 55-70%.”

Lesley Gordon, Head of Marketing

Haringey Council

 

 

In summary

 

The key challenges teams expected to face in next 12 months were identified as:

* Budget cuts

* More for less

* Staff reductions

 

Suggestions of how to improve quality, reputation or morale or make better use of their resources centred on:

* Income generation/sponsorship

* Review communication streams/social media/email/digital

* Corporate plan/strategy

 

It is clear that tightening budgets will continue to apply pressure. Communications teams recognise the need to respond in creative, high-value ways that make best use of their expertise. Any measures to reduce the time spent on tedious, mundane but necessary tasks will increase their capacity to develop opportunities, such as online solutions and the sale of services. By giving them the tools to meet challenges head on, morale and creativity will improve with a commensurate impact on productivity.