Public – or political – communication: let’s set things straight!
Public communication is the product of institutions, with elected officials activating a strategy to serve their jurisdiction and their populations. It carries a significant political dimension, but is not political in its definition.
It fulfils a public service function: it is characterised by information, transmission and neutrality, when one of the objectives of political communication is to influence. It is partisan, being the action of parties or politicians.
However, the lines are not so easy to distinguish. Take the web site of a local authority, for instance, in which the content is aimed at showcasing public action and the municipal team, as well as supplying the citizens with helpful information about their city. In this same medium, public communication is blended in with political communication. In times of election, the lines are blurred even further, even though since the 1990s, laws have provided a framework for these abuses.
Public communication serving the general interest
Public communication is that engaged in by a variety of players such as the State, the local authorities, the administrations, the national or possibly European institutions, or for instance, the local public bodies (hospitals, tourist boards, universities, etc.) and even associations.
It is thus addressed at a heterogeneous target group ranging from citizens, employees, civil servants and tourists to economic decision-makers and companies.
Its purpose is strategic and shines the spotlight on public action. However, its objectives are broader: improving civic knowledge, keeping up public debate, informing about and fostering public services, enhancing citizen activity, promoting the local level, stimulating local life, relaying the major causes advocated by associations and accompanying the revolutions in progress (ecological transition, new mobility, etc.). Public communication brings meaning to public and political life; it also serves the general interest.
Tools serving public communication
Today, digital is part of every public communication endeavour even though traditional media (displays, newspapers, flyers, etc.) continue to be used when conveying substantive information, to illustrate major projects... As well as to reach those who do not have access to digital. Digital technology, meanwhile, fulfils a need for immediate and transparent information, and sometimes even for participation or consultation. Conversational communication with the social media is also in vogue amongst those who shape public life. It is not uncommon for cities, regions, etc. to recruit community managers to run their platforms. Events, meanwhile, have always enjoyed special status, in that they fulfil the need for social connection, and strengthen the attachment of local residents.
L’événementiel quant à lui, a toujours eu une place privilégiée, car il répond au besoin de lien social et renforce l’attachement des habitants.
La Sécurité Routière, which was chosen in 2019 for the Grand Prix for best public communication in the last 30 years by the French Association “Public Communication” is a perfect example of a multimodal plan. Beyond the creativity of the campaigns that have raised awareness in the French, it is the adaptability of these communications that was praised. It deployed advertisements, public relations, events and activities on the social media, through which it successfully reached all its targets, to fight down road insecurity and accidents.
There are many tools for communicating to reach these targets... but one of the major aims in public communication today is to restore confidence in the public word.
To wit, the strategies and resources deployed must above all “make sense”, resonate in order to (re)establish a link with constituents, residents, users, and citizens.
For elected officials, associations, and institutions, public relations, for example at Stade de France, are an effective means of initiating dialogue with their stakeholders and reaching out to those who shape public life.
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