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How rubbish does this sound?

June 16th, 2009 · 9 Comments · Irish Politics, Social Media, Social Policy

Today’s Questions to An Taoiseach specifically about his Department of the Taoiseach raised the issue of PR companies and the way Government tenders are awarded. The word Twitter was heard in the Dáil and Ciaran Cuffe was not involved. It was time for me to get out my shovel.

Deputy Enda Kenny: The Government information service provides information about Government decisions. Every Minister who makes an announcement makes a Government announcement specific to a Department. What is the relationship between the Government information service and public relations firms contracted to Departments when the end result is much the same?

I would like to bring two cases to the Taoiseach’s attention. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform launched a PR awareness campaign on knife crime in February, and he allocated €200,000 even though it never got off the ground. There has been a 72% increase in knife crime and the use of offensive weapons in five years that have led to proceedings. Three out of ten offenders are aged under 20. The aim of the campaign was to access social networking websites and promote the campaign in tandem with a national campaign in schools. The on-line campaign was a total flop. Only 17 followers made contact on Twitter and there were 39 friends on Facebook. There are 170,000 people between the age of 18 and 20 in Ireland, so this campaign has failed completely to resonate with the group for which it was intended. A PR firm was contracted to promote the campaign, but it stated that it only held six out of 12 planned workshops. That is 12 workshops across 733 secondary schools, which speaks for itself. In 2001, the “Cool Choices? alcohol awareness programme cost €50,000 and was off-line within five months.

Is there a system of monitoring public relations contracts on awareness campaigns approved by the Government? Does any group look at the advertising consultancies involved? What does the Taoiseach think of the Quigley report, produced in 2005? It recommended that the Department of Finance should consider providing advice on the monitoring and the recording of work done under those contracts and in respect of the quality of the work they carry out.

The Taoiseach:
If there are any particular public awareness campaigns related to a Department, they should be referred directly to that Department. I do not have any information on those campaigns. As I said already, there is no group that oversees PR contracts. These are matters for individual Ministers and Departments. Arising from the Quigley report, a need was identified to bring forward guidelines. These guidelines were provided and the Secretaries General of all Departments are aware of them, and must utilise them where they are relevant. There is no group looking after that.

The Government information service has no role whatever in the procurement of PR contracts for Ministers and Departments. It is a matter for Departments to work with public procurement rules themselves.

The campaign referred to by Enda Kenny is the How Big Do You Feel Campaign?

This is was a knife crime awareness campaign launched in February which was based on the use of social media.

From their Bebo page – (372 profile views and 226 friends including many 2fm Dj’s and the like.)

The ‘How Big Do You Feel’ Campaign aims to highlight the risks and consequences of carrying a knife. Here, we offer you the chance to have your say.

What do you think about carrying a knife? Is it cool? Do you know anyone who has been stabbed or has stabbed someone? How has this affected their life? Don’t be shy, leave a comment, do our quizzes, interact with our blogs.

Let’s prove to everyone that carrying is knife is just stupid!

So for 39 fans on Facebook and 15 followers on Twitter(to correct Enda they were following 17 others but only had 15 following them back) and a few hundred ‘friends’ on Bebo and a load of workshops that didn’t happen the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform allocated €200,000. (The Gardai said last month that online component of the campaign cost €4,500 )

I knew I had not heard about this before or seen anything on Twitter or Facebook (750k Irish users, over two thirds of who are over 25). While I may not be a young male in the habit of carrying a knife or tempted to, if the Gardai were using social media in such a way I’m sure I and lots of others online would have heard about it. But nobody seems to have told anyone. And yes this might be where FAIL is more than appropriate.

And the PR Company? According to the IE Domain Registry – Carr Communications. (Managing Director of Carr Communications, Tony Hughes wrote recently that ‘Social networking websites provide the opportunity to network on steroids’. As someone who knows a little bit about social media and an awful lot more about steroids I’d be questioning the dosage used!)

So Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform/Garda Siochana, next time you want to run a social media campaign that gets noticed you might talk to a few of the many people in Ireland inside and outside PR that actually know something about it? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s all very well to sell people the buzzwords and set up the sites but you actually need to know what to do with the tools and it might actually work! Money for old rope and a huge disservice to the very positive work with young people online that many are engaging in also comes to mind.

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