Chair: Martin Gill

Panellists:
Matthew Bull – Editor at International Security Journal and Security Journal UK
Peter Harrison – Managing Director at FGH Security Ltd
Rod Cowan – Writer & Director at Security is Your Business

Key points

Matthew Bull accepts that security has an image problem. The national press is interested in failures and not successes which Matthew considers to be due. At least in part, to a lack of recognition/respect for the role of the security officer. You will hear him reference a survey which places security just above traffic wardens in public perceptions of value. That said, security has stepped up and security is doing well, it has increased the number of certifications available, and it has rebranded. The key moving forward it to increase awareness of good security in the non-security media highlighting its broader role than just catching shop thieves, and its many successes, for example, in saving lives. The key to doing so is to use the language of business to communicate. He calls on security to be proud of what it does.

Rod Cowan points to the Perpetuity Research SRI study which found that although security is rarely a career of first choice, still it is true that: 62% recommend security as a vocation; 74% intended to remain in security; 84% are attracted to the work; and 78% value the commitment to protecting the public. As he says, it does not really matter that it is not their first choice and this is a good base on which to build. For Rod the key for security is to sell the benefits, not the features and to adapt the message to the audience via the science of persuasion, and be clear who is to be influenced. He highlights the value of lobbying, a key skill that typically has to be brought in; by and large associations are not good at this. There are good messages, the OSPAs is one, the bravery exhibited by security is another. He feels more could be done by security buyers and consultants to promote a good image. Key though is to be good at persuasion.

Peter Harrison explains his own start in security to illustrate the progress that has been made in improving the image of security; it is much better today than thirty years ago. Then there were no statutory licences, and the criminal links were readily apparent; the ‘bouncer’ (as door supervisors were called then) would earn extra money collecting debts and then delivering (suspect) packages, what he calls ‘muscle for hire’. You will hear Peter discuss a study at Lancaster University which confirms that left to their own devices people will think of security personnel in (negative) stereotypical terms. So things need to change more, and to aid that process he calls for more regulation and specifically the licensing of business (in the UK only individuals are licensed); he notes how difficult it is to invest when there are many new companies with few barriers to entry who then drive down standards. He highlights the value of apprenticeships and introducing the prospect of a good security to the young; when done well there is a lot that can be used to excite them.

Peter Harrison is surely right to note that many things have improved in terms of the security sector’s image; Matthew Bull that the tendency to report failures rather than successes is a natural tendency for national press, and not specific to security; and Rod Cowan that to change things meaningfully there needs to be a greater focus on the science of communication. Perhaps that is the main outcome of this webinar; communication of the success stories in security is too important to be left to amateurs. It needs a focus on not just the message but in how it will be delivered to the different stakeholders. Until we recognise that progress is likely to be pedestrian.

Martin Gill
27th May 2021