Ben Smith, Founder, PRmoment.com
Welcome to the PRmoment Podcast.
This week we’re chatting to Alex Aiken, long-time executive director, of the UK Government’s Communication Service.
We’re going to talk to Alex about his career in government communications, the personalities of the Prime Ministers he’s worked with and the changes he made during his time heading up the Government Communications Service.
Before we start, just to tell you about PRmoment’s new Patron Scheme. If you are a regular consumer of our content, including this podcast, and you’re getting value from it, if you fancy making a contribution to help fund PRmoment - now you can.
We have three different Patron Tiers—The Daney Parker Tier, The Chadlington Tier and Edward Bernays Tier.
Finally, thanks to our PRmoment Podcast sponsors, The PRCA.
This interview was recorded before the resignation of Boris Johnson as the UK’s Prime Minister.
Alex welcome to the show:
2 mins Alex talks us through his new job!
3 mins Alex reflects on his 9 years heading up the UK’s Government Communications Service, a period which covered The Referendum, Brexit, COVID and Putin’s war in Ukraine
“What I wanted to do is create an exceptional standard of government communication”
5 mins Alex compares the 3 Prime Ministers he’s worked with - David Cameron, Theresa May and then Boris Johnson. How would you compare their leadership styles?
6 mins Alex discusses the leadership styles of Cameron, May and Johnson.
“The demands on PMs is so much greater in 2022 than when I started”
7 mins How Prime Ministers have had to adapt their leadership styles over the last 10 years.
“The UK Government is a £700 bn beast that operates 24/7”
8 mins Does the work of GCS’s change depending on who is the leader of the government? Or is the approach fairly standard?
9 mins Due to the volume of communications channels - has the complexity of government communications become too complex?
11 mins As a government communicator does Alex worry about the impact of the current “party” scandals on the public’s trust in government?
13 mins Alex about his passion for effective government communications and how “effective public service communications can change, improve, enhance and save lives”
14 mins “The issue, whether your private sector or public sector, is evaluation”
16 mins How can governments fight disinformation? Alex recommends the RESIST toolkit for further reading.
20 mins Alex talks about the risk of the UK coming under a cyber security attack from a foreign government.
20.30 mins Alex discusses the behavioural science strategy behind the UK’s COVID communications.
22.30 mins Will Alex’s work on the UK government's evaluation framework be his legacy from his time at GCS?
23.30 mins “If I go into any senior decision-making meeting if there are a dozen people in the room, 12 people who think they are communication experts. If you are the senior communicator what you need to bring is great advice and a plan of action based on data and insight. That’s what makes you the singular communications expert.”
24.30 mins “In 20011/12 2,500 COI government communications people lost their jobs because they couldn't prove their value.”
26.30 mins Alex talks about his chairmanship of Westminster Wanderers football club and confirms he’s, surprisingly, never received a yellow card!
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.