Education shakeup PR job from hell

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 05:00 28/12/2012

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The merger of Christchurch schools and the launch of an earthquake recovery plan were among the toughest public relations jobs in 2012.

BlacklandPR has named the bungled announcement of the schools shakeup in September the hardest job of the year, and the release of the Christchurch Central Development Unit's (CCDU) central-city blueprint the third toughest.

Company director Mark Blackham said factors in the school announcement would "challenge the world's best PR exponents".

"Christchurch schools have to be reorganised, thousands of people will be affected and all of them fear change that affects their children's educational futures," he said.

The schools merger announcement led to a backlash in Christchurch, with public protests and Government promises of further consultation. Blackham said the CCDU plan was released after a "long period of dispute and frustration", but the public had "reserved judgment" on it.

Christchurch PR experts said consultation and empathy were the key to successful communication.

Erin Jamieson, of Convergence PR, said genuine consultation was important in post-earthquake Christchurch.

"It has been a challenging year but it has also been a very interesting year. Communications people have worked on projects that they never dreamed they would be taking on," she said.

"The whole challenge is ensuring organisations really are consulting. There are a lot of organisations that really need to consult properly and not just inform.

"Given what everyone has been through, there is an expectation that the community do have a right to have a say. Organisations really need to respect that rather than just pay lip service."

PR consultant Ali Jones said Christchurch issues needed to be handled with "humanity and empathy".

"You need to be based here to understand the issues. You are living it then," she said.

"You are hearing the news every day on the radio and reading the paper and talking to mums on the school run. Unless you are living here, you can't understand what is happening and what people require.

"The whole thing about good communication is the humanity and empathy, and if that is not there you run the risk of getting things wrong, as we have seen."

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