#100 Alex Aiken – 5 ways to strengthen the value of communications

It’s our 100th episode of InTransition, and our very first guest returns for a special chat. Alex Aiken is the Executive Director of Government Communications for the UK government. He has been responsible for creating the Government Communication Service and developing many of the UK’s very successful cross-government campaigns, and offers 5 tips on strengthening the value of communications.

He speaks with David Pembroke about:

  • public trust in government communications
  • the lessons of Brexit and economic change
  • governments need to listen to be nimble
  • sharing research across government departments
  • five ways to strengthen the value of communications
  • proving your value to your political masters
  • the new professional skills required for communications

Listen to the podcast:

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Selected links:

Download the transcript

Alex Aiken on LinkedIn

UK Government Communication Service website

Alex’s 5 tips to strengthen the value of communications:

“I think there are five things which I’ll cover briefly but I’ll offer it to anyone who is looking at leading a communications team or improving a communications operation.

First, you got to have a clearer idea of the destination. Certainly, I said when I took up this role, that government communications should be exceptional. Exceptional in terms of it should run highly effective campaigns that are efficiently delivered. Of course, you can run a campaign with twice the resources, the trick is to run it with limited resources effectively. Being exceptional was our goal and where I want us to get. Certainly, from a leadership perspective, just saying that does tend to reinforce those who want to give their best and does raise the performance of people.

Second is that absolutely rigorous focus on evaluation. While he was in the UK, Jim McNamara sat on the evaluation council which is the group I chair that routinely looks at the performance of government campaigns that says, have they been effective? To a point, how can they be more effective and how can we use the best evaluation techniques? That’s the point about creating value.

Third is that collaboration. It should be just the de facto practise whether you’re local, state or federal level that you cooperate and you learn from one another. Certainly, in the UK, as we got the national public health authority to work with local government on improving people’s health, you can’t just call from Whitehall to improve public health, you have to work with local governments. That practical collaboration has helped.

Fourth, celebrate success, and certainly by championing best practise, we have proved our worth.

Fifth, practically it should be first rather than fifth, but understanding the political agenda and getting alongside the agenda of the politicians because the vast, vast majority of politicians want to do a great job for the people they serve. Understanding their goals and what they want to achieve and showing how communications could be a powerful force for good means that you bring the bureaucracy and the political side together in a way that I hope benefits both.”


David Pembroke

About David Pembroke

David Pembroke is the CEO and founder of contentgroup, a government and public sector content communications agency based in Canberra, Australia.

He has a commerce degree (marketing major) from one of Australia’s leading business schools (University of New South Wales) and worked in product management for the American multinational 3M. He changed careers to work in media where he spent a decade as a radio current affairs and sports reporter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

He was the communications director of the Australian Rugby Team when they won the Rugby World Cup in 1999 and is a member of the Australian Olympic media team.

contentgroup was founded in 1997 and offers consulting, content production, training and research services. David hosts InTransition, a weekly podcast which examines the practice of content communication in government and the public sector.

More posts by David Pembroke

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