The event was organised by the Public Relations Institute of Ireland, of which we are members and which regularly organises useful briefings for PR professionals.
The briefing was attended by PR and communications professionals from agencies and public and private sector organisations, as well as members of the media and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD.
It was well worth the early start, helped by the delicious breakfast laid on by the Shelbourne!
Appointed Government Press Secretary in 2011, Feargal Purcell took up the position during a very challenging time for Ireland and the Government, having spent just two years prior to that working in politics.
Feargal joined the army as a teenager, and had spent time serving overseas on many peace-keeping missions. Returning to NUI Galway to complete a degree in English and History, and having become involved in debating and drama, Feargal developed a grá for communications. After completing a Masters in DCU, he took up a PR position with the Defence Forces for a number of years. From there, he moved to Fine Gael, taking up the demanding position of Press Secretary in 2011 following the collapse of the Fianna Fáil and Green Party government.
Insider Tips on Political Communications
Feargal spoke about how the media landscape has changed dramatically over the six years since he took up his position – according to him, there is no longer a news cycle; rather, the news is dictated by a series of events happening one after the other and the demands on journalists and reporters are increasing as a result. Nowadays, you have to own tomorrow’s news the day before.
According to Feargal, governments need to professionalise their communications and integrate the communications function into other areas of work. It makes no sense for a policy to be drafted, then handed over to the communications department for a press release to be written about it, he said – someone with a communications role should be involved from the get-go and should feed into drafting the policy. Otherwise, how can the policy be communicated authentically to the public? This was a particularly warmly-received point by the audience, and one we at Alice PR feel strongly about!
One of the most interesting insights into political communications that we heard this morning was when Feargal touched on how the Government approaches media planning. The fast-paced media machine can be difficult to keep up with, he said, so in order to maintain control, they resist “feeding the beast”. For example, they try to avoid having more than two policy announcements per week.
It was particularly insightful to hear this side of the Government’s media relations strategy, especially since we work with many state agencies and companies that regularly engage with Government departments.
Feargal’s best piece of advice was saved for last: when asked how organisations can better communicate with the Government, he simply replied, “Hire a really good PR agency.” Hear hear!