COI faces axe in overhaul of Government marketing strategy

The Central Office of Information (COI) should be scrapped and replaced with a central body that will develop and plan the Government’s marketing strategy, according to a review.

The move would see almost one in seven Government communications staff axed. The call for a “Government Communications Centre” to replace the COI is one of several recommendations made by Matt Tee, the departing Permanent Secretary for Government Communication in a review published today (18 March).

Tee says the GCC, which would sit within a Government Communications Network, should also develop marketing strategy for all Government departments. Six “theme teams” should be established, he adds, deployed to individual departments to work on specific campaigns but employed centrally. The GCC would also hire and manage the media and creative agencies that were on the COI’s roster as well as procurement, market research and the evaluation of campaigns.

In the 158-page review, commissioned by the Cabinet Office last year, Tee adds: “I conclude that Government direct communication will be more effective if a more strategic approach is taken where activity is concentrated in fewer areas of focus and target audiences for campaigns are clearly identified, so that government is not unwittingly aiming multiple messages at the same audience.”

The report adds that because many of the functions of the COI will be handled by the GCC “retaining the (COI) brand would suggest a greater continuity with the recent past than I think is helpful. I have therefore concluded that on establishment of the GCC, the COI brand should cease to be used.”

The changes would lead to 1,000 Government communications staff losing their jobs.

The COI axed 40% of its workforce last year following the freeze on marketing activity ordered by the coalition Government shortly after taking office.COI chief executive Mark Lund, who has been assisting Tee with the review, stepped down ealier this month to return to the private sector.

It is proposed that the GCC have just 150 staff and be led by an “executive director” who should be the “head of the Government marketing profession and joint head of the Government communications profession”. A further 480 staff would work in the theme teams.

Elsewhere, Tee has rejected calls to introduce a US-Style Ad Council, which sees companies and media owners donate ad space for free as not “workable, nor desirable”. He adds, however, that “there is significant potential to ask agencies, media owners, government and voluntary and community organisations to work together for free or near free on campaigns for the common good”.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, says: “I am grateful to Matt for the work that has gone into this report. I will discuss the recommendations with ministerial colleagues and the Government will publish a full response in due course”.

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