Radical New Role for Press Officer

The press office in large organisations will acquire a new role. There is less time and attention for traditional press briefings. The attention is shifting to direct contact with citizens and stakeholders, coaching employees in communicating in this respect and communicating your own story via social media. There also is talk of reviving internal communications. This is evident from the Communication Benchmark 2015 carried out by the management consulting firm Berenschot under contract to the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat). Thirteen large organisations participated in the benchmark.

The character of press briefings is changing. Communicating with the media as a press officer no longer has the same urgency. The same applies to sending press releases. The press officer is increasingly assuming a communications coordinator role. He/she brings external signals into the organisation, has access to a large network, establishes links and coaches others within the organisation in speaking with the media and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, the time of major reorganisations of communication departments is over. While a few years ago, communication departments and budgets were significantly cut back (up to 30 percent), we are now observing that budgets are stabilising or perhaps declining somewhat over the coming years.

The communicating organisation
Government organisations and companies are increasingly evolving into communicating organisations. In a ‘communicating organisation’ the sender of a message is no longer the communication department or the press officer, but rather the employees themselves. They often make use of a broadly supported corporate story. The communication department coaches employees and managers for this purpose. It supports them in their ambassadorship.

The communication department's new approach
Internal and external communications increasingly flow into each other. Furthermore, communications is centrally managed. The communication department translates policy objectives into communication frameworks and positions itself as advisor and coordinator. At the same time, the available FTEs are positioned as closely as possible to the primary process.

In addition, these organisations are setting up a social newsroom to strengthen external communications. This enables them to disseminate their own content, scan the environment and where necessary immediately respond to relevant tweets, posts and blogs. Furthermore, internal communications is also gaining in importance. In recent years, internal communications was struggling with reduced attention and considerable cost reductions. Today, internal communications is once again being deployed and sometimes is the subject of investment, but then with a new, more strategic role, namely as coach of the communicating organisation.

Change of the media landscape
The motivation behind this development is the change of the media landscape. Everyone is communicating. The traditional media landscape is shrinking. The organisations that participated in the benchmark are noticing that media budgets are declining. Journalists are less focused on their organisations and as a consequence also are not as well informed. In addition, there is a phenomenal emergence of social media.

As a result, organisations must more proactively supply their own news and tell their own story. Furthermore, it is prudent to be active on social media 24/7 to follow discussions and to be able to respond quickly.

About the Communication Benchmark
Berenschot developed the Communication Benchmark under contract to the Directorate General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat). The goal is to acquire insight into the organisation of communications and the press office within various organisations and to learn from this.

In addition to Rijkswaterstaat, a total of 12 organisations participated in the benchmark, including the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration, the Ministry of Defence, Staatsbosbeheer (Netherlands Forestry Management Agency), ProRail, the Municipality of The Hague, the Province of Utrecht, the Province of Zuid-Holland, Rabobank, Inspectie voor de Gezondheidszorg (Healthcare Inspectorate) and the Unie van Waterschappen (Association of Water Boards).

Continuation of the benchmark
To continuously track developments in the area of communications and the press office, Berenschot will continue the Communication Benchmark over the coming years. A new benchmark will therefore be conducted at the end of 2016. Interested organisations can now register. Participants will receive a specific report.

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