State’s PR revamp '5 stages of grief’ for staff

Varadkar’s Communications Unit warns change may feel like ‘death’

A briefing from Leo Varadkar’s strategic communications unit is warning that teams across the government may suffer “five stages of grief”, if told they had to revamp their websites, PR, and branding.

Last September, two senior officials from the unit travelled to The Hague to meet communication experts.

A report on the visit explained how some people would go on an “emotional journey” to let go of longstanding logos, branding, and internet homepages.

“Don’t underestimate the emotional journey that many need to go on,” said the document.

One piece of advice was to treat it like a bereavement.

The report said: “[One expert advised] that she could spot, within a few sentences, the ‘stage’ each person was at (shock, denial, anger, depression, and acceptance) and adapted her approach to them accordingly.”

As part of the plan, common branding and streamlined communications are to be introduced across all government websites.

The communications unit has faced criticism from opposition politicians, because of its €5m annual cost, amid further suggestions it will be used for party political purposes.

The visit to The Hague was the second international trip by John Concannon and Andrea Pappin, two senior members of the unit.

They had also travelled to meet the government PR team in the UK, in September, and said the approaches in Britain and the Netherlands were “strikingly similar”.

The report said work was “citizen/user-led” and that leadership spent much of their time “campaigning the campaign”.

It said the initial plan was focused on rationalising logos and websites, then getting people from different departments under one roof.

“Once a government website rolled over to the new system,” it said, “a number of the departmental content team moved to a shared services team.

“They sit together, each as their own department, and work together on devising and uploading content onto their respective departmental pages.”

Directors of communications from each department also met every fortnight to discuss “upcoming campaigns, campaign evaluation, and to share best practice”.

The report also said there was an emphasis on the “importance of research and buy-in”.

The Dutch had commissioned two reports, showing there was a gap between citizens and the “siloed approach” their government had taken on communications. [It was] resulting in confusion, regarding services available to citizens and the work of government itself,” the report said.

Like the Irish plan, they had first looked for a single logo project, a single website project, and a single mission statement.

The Department of the Taoiseach said that two overseas visits had taken place by the Strategic Communications Unit (SCU) so far.

A statement said: “The Strategic Communications Unit will continue to consult with international counterparts to adhere to international best practice”.

They said the unit would lead to more co-ordinated and cost-effective communications, which would “generate efficiencies and increased value for money”.


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