FOUR LEVELS: Canny steps to take when your good advice gets ignored


I blogged this week that most dangerous words to a PR or comms person are ‘oh well, that’s what they want.’

It’s the going along with the request for a leaflet, poster or video from a more senior person even though you know its not the right course of action. You can read the original post here.

There was a fascinating response to it not least in the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group.

One question in particular was spot on… what do you do when the client doesn’t want educated?

What do you do if your client doesn’t want to be educated?

The really glib answer is to leave and get another job.

It’s something I’ve done and I know others have, too.

If the choice is to be a glorified shorthand typist knocking out posters or not pay the mortgage that’s not much of a choice.

Besides, there’s no point in heading for the door over a pretty minor disagreement.

But long term, you need to grow as a professional or else it all catches up with you.

Four levels of dealing with people

Very often the advice that you give is exactly that. It’s advice.

You can point out the open goal.

But if they really insist on kicking the corner flag instead, that’s up to them.

Level one: Try improving your advice

Come from the point of view that you’d like to help them deliver something.

More sign-ups?

More tickets sold?

More flu injections?

For this try asking two questions.

The first is simply ‘why?’

We need a press release.


Because the chief exec wants it.


Because he wants more hospital staff to get flu jabs.


Because we’ve a tough winter coming and having more people at their post would be a good idea.

It may not be a press release you are after. It sounds like a poster, reminders at staff meetings, something for managers to tell their team.

The other good prompt is to ask is ‘So that…?’

If your questions point to a good reason for something to have and an audience, that sounds like a route to take.

Level two: Seek advice

But good advice doesn’t always land.

If you are junior, ask the views of your manager or head of comms. If you are the head of comms there’s no harm in comparing notes with a fellow head of comms.

If you are being asked to break the law, talk to your union representative, HR and take a look at the whistleblowing policy.

Level three: Spell out your advice verbally

Explain your thinking face-to-face if you can or over the phone at a time when you are able. It’s easier to talk through something without an audience.

I’m struggling to think of a time when a row over email was solved by email. That said…

Level four: Spell your advice out in writing

Once you’ve articulated your ideas and they still say no, put it in writing. Politely. Just to re-inforce and formalise the advice. So if and when things blow up you can present it back to them.

Something like this maybe:

“In my respectful submission, my clear professional advice is that the suggested course of action is not effective, not the best use of money and would be exposed to justified criticism in the event of further scrutiny and FOI requests…”

Look for the chapter and verse

Maybe you need to step things up.

If the issue is political pressure in local government, you have the Government’s Recommended Code of Practice for Local Government Publicity here.

This is really clear on what you can and can’t do.

If you work for a public sector or third sector organisation you have an extra array of ammunition. It’s called the constitution. It’s the rules that govern every aspect of your behaviour and the organisation’s decision making.

In particular, if you are local government, it will set out the relationship between you giving professional advice to elected members. It’s really important to know this. You are likely from time-to-time to have the boundaries pushed either from ignorance or devilment.

You are politically impartial and you need to stay that way. Your constitution will set out how you do this.

If this is you, take 10 minutes to read yours. You may find a gem or two in it. The council I worked for included an expectation that professionals were to observe their profession’s code of conduct.

That’s gold.

This opens the door to the NUJ and CIPR codes.

CIPR Ethics Decision Making Tree is a flow chart to help you. You can find it here.

You can find the CIPR Code of Professional Conduct here.

1.1 maintain professional knowledge and competence through continuing professional development, to ensure they provide a professional, up to date and insightful service.

2.2 exhibit and role model professional and personal integrity and honesty at all times.

NUJ Code of Conduct here.

2. Strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair.

The aim of this is to be the best you can and to offer the best professional advice its possible to give.

In a landscape that’s ever changing you need to be flexible, learn and evolve.

As I’ve said before, your job is to educate yourself, your client and your organisation.

In that order.

Picture credit: Nick / Flickr

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