UK communicator shares ideas with SA

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pretoria - Former secretary to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, has shared some of his trade secrets with South African communicators.

Campbell, who says he has been called names like "Hitler" and "Rasputin" by the UK media, was secretary to the former Prime Minister during three elections. However, Campbell says he had terrible relations with the media and admits to having a breakdown in 1986.

Speaking at the Government Communicators Forum gala dinner at Gallagher Estate last night, Campbell outlined his "tools for strategic communication", which saw him through the difficult times during the campaigns. He wrote them down on a tatty old postcard, which he kept in his pocket most of the time he worked for Tony Blair.

He said firstly, communicators should not be "control freaks" when it comes to the media as everything is changing at such a fast pace, it would be impossible to exercise control over it. 

There has also been the merger of the edition and the consumer, whereby the public now expect the same high standards from the public sector as they do from the private.

"There has also been the rise of the democratic corporation, which is not as relevant here as in the UK because the use of internet is not as wide, but it is coming. Now everyone can have a say in your organisation on blogs, Facebook and Twitter."

Campbell said it would soon come to a point where the BBC reviews Tweets before it reviews the morning newspaper headlines because they will be more up to date.

He said these changes in the media have also led to more competition, which has in turn led to a culture of negativity. However, the public can disconnect with the negativity because even though they read the mostly negative stories in the newspapers, they still live relatively good and normal lives.

Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Dina Pule, who thanked Campbell for coming to South Africa to share ideas on how to improve government communications, said while government was often a difficult environment to work in, communicators should not take their eye off the goal. 

"It is easy to fight for turfs and forget to look at the goal. It is important to remember that we should complement each other at all times."

Pule said she was glad communications was now occupying important space in Cabinet and that President Jacob Zuma had implored government to make it a priority.

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