Communications in the public and private sectors – same difference

Communications in the public and private sectors – same difference

By Mark McMahon, Senior Communications Manager at HSBC.

A change of direction

“Man is disturbed not by things, but the views he takes of them.” Would that sentence change your life? It did for me.

Ancient Stoic philosophy might not be top of everyone’s reading list, but I came across this quote by Epictetus in a brilliant book called ‘Happy’ by Derren Brown and it had a profound effect on me. It’s another way of saying, it’s not the events all around us that cause us to feel a certain way, but how we choose to respond to them.

Why am I telling you this? When I read it a few years ago it made me stop and think long and hard, especially about my career. It made me choose to feel differently about my role, my career path, and my potential. It made me consider the choices that were possible. It eventually made me switch from a 13-year career in government to a new life in banking, from Whitehall to Canary Wharf.

Different, but not really…

This choice I made also led to a big realisation. I realised the private and public sector aren’t all that different. Yes, there are obvious differences you could easily highlight, but for an employee communications professional jumping from public to private, there’s more that could be different – but isn’t.

So I thought I’d use this opportunity to share my personal top three things of what’s not that different but you think might be (not quite as catchy, but you get my point!):

1. Audience

Let’s start where all good communicators should start: with our audience. Whatever communication you’re into, there’s one thing all audiences have in common: they’re all humans (well, mostly anyway). We’re communicating with humans, with people – whether they are civil servants or bankers. People who, fundamentally, want and need the same things when it comes to a fulfilling job.

2. Pace

I’m not a man to lose his cool, but if I meet another person, especially a recruitment ‘expert’, who points out the main difference between the private and public sector is the ‘pace’, then I may lose it, just a bit. I get that my switch has been from big government to big banking, so it’s not exactly switching to a small start-up, but in my experience, the pace is no different.

Both are slow and both are fast. Both can feel like a tanker turning in the Arctic and a speed-boat in the Med, depending on what’s happening. Without a doubt, both have to push forward constantly in an ever-changing and uncertain world and it’s the job of communicators to keep up and help employees make sense of it all.

3. Budget

This must be the biggest difference, surely? Well, yes and no. Yes, I admit there’s less external scrutiny of every penny we’re spending in the banking sector compared to government. But there is no less rigorous approach to managing budgets and no less amount of oversight.

It’s the people, stupid!

Of the three, the biggest ‘non-difference’ for me is the employee audience. People want to have a sense of purpose at work and feel they’re making a difference. They want to feel valued and recognised for what they do, and to feel safe and secure. And people want to feel trusted, included and listened to. It’s our job in Communications to help with all of this. It’s our job to help people be at their best at work, whether they’re protecting our border or investing our money.

So after reading one profound quote a few years ago that changed the direction of my career, I learnt another profound thing: whatever the sector, the reason Communications exists doesn’t change; it’s all about people.

This blog was written by Mark McMahon, Senior Communications Manager at HSBC.

  • Ken Hunter
    Posted at 23:14h, 03 December Reply

    I’ve worked in several sectors and your observations are accurate. Two or three times in my career I was approached by recruiters trying to fill senior roles in the financial sector and each time saying their client was really keen to attract someone from outside the sector. Every time they went for a candidate within the sector! When I did (eventually) work in FS the similarities with every other sector were far more profound than any ‘differences’.

    People and their human concerns, the need to improve cost, quality and service, regulation/compliance, etc are pretty much universal issues. The ability for IC professionals to work collaboratively with subject matter experts and to help ‘join the dots’ between numerous activities so there is a coherent narrative are also constants.

    Thanks for sharing your take on it all.

    • Vicki
      Posted at 10:03h, 04 December Reply

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ken.

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