Alex Aiken: comms professionals have the power to change lives and relieve burdens on public services

Written by Alex Aiken on 18 July 2018

With nominations open for the Civil Service Awards 2018, the government communications chief takes a look at some past winners of the communications award and explains why his is one of the most exciting professions in government

Alex Aiken, executive director for government communications. Credit: Crown Copyright

Since we launched the Civil Service Awards in 2005, we have showcased and celebrated a host of brilliant achievements across the civil service. Each year, we pay tribute to a wealth of inspirational individuals, impactful campaigns and innovative projects.

The Awards have encouraged the sharing of best practice right across government, with a focus on innovation, learning and leadership, to the benefit of all of the civil service.

The Communications Award in particular recognises a campaign that changes lives for the better and provides powerful, timely and relevant information. This year, we’ve made it easier than ever to enter, with applicants simply needing to submit a two-minute video. The challenge for entrants will be to capture their arguments concisely in such a short video.

We saw some exceptional entries last year and our winner, the Stay Well This Winter campaign, was exemplary. The campaign was run by Public Health England, NHS England and the Department of Health. It aimed to engage vulnerable people to take care of their health and avoid becoming ill. The result was a reduction in the numbers of people that needed to be admitted to hospital.

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In its first two years, the campaign prompted over three million people to seek earlier advice and treatment from pharmacies. The PHE partnership team engaged a diverse range of stakeholders, delivering over £5.5m of free advertising in support of the campaign over the last two years.

Stay Well This Winter perfectly demonstrates the role of communication as a valuable strategic tool that can change behaviour and relieve some of the burdens on a valuable public service.

Previous winners of the Communications Award have been equally impressive. They include the Welsh Government’s Pack your Imagination Campaign (2016), the Department of Health and Department for International Development’s Ebola Campaign (2015), the Food Standards Agency’s Food Safety Week team (2014) and the Scottish Government’s Health Marketing team (2013).

The communication profession has changed dramatically since the launch of the Civil Service Awards, particularly since we launched the Modern Communications Operating Model (MCOM) in 2015.

But we must go further and faster to create a smarter government – one that is more collaborative and open to new ways of working. We have to develop our people effectively, providing career pathways that give them depth of expertise and breadth of experience, and opportunities to realise their potential and, fundamentally, to ensure we can deliver improved outcomes for those we serve.

More and more, I am seeing that MCOM encourages staff to become fully-rounded communications professionals, and communications teams across government are delivering value both for our ministers and for citizens.

Communications is one of the most exciting fields in government to work in. We’ve taken huge strides in making our teams flexible and ready for the challenges of the modern media landscape like fake news and a 24-hour media cycle.

I’m sure my fellow category champions will agree that one of the joys of compiling a shortlist for the Civil Service Awards is the opportunity to hear about the incredibly creative and collaborative projects that have taken place across government departments in the last 12 months. I am looking forward to reviewing all of this year’s submissions and would encourage colleagues across the civil service to apply, or nominate a colleague for an award.

Nominations are open until 25 July 2018.

The Civil Service Awards Community is a new section on Civil Service World that aims to celebrate past winners, inspire people to nominate in 2018, and help us all to learn from good practice. If you’ve ever won or been shortlisted for an award, register your interest to hear about future events and projects for awards alumni