Chair: Martin Gill

Tom Reeve – Communications Consultant and Chief Communications Officer at the CCTV User Group
Catherine Piana – Director General of CoESS
Joe Connell – Registered Independent Security Consultant representing the UK Security Commonwealth

Key points

Catherine Piana notes that she knew little about security before she joined the sector. Her early impressions formed by seeing the frontline security presence in stores and at airports but at that point was unaware of the skills needed to do the job well and the professionalism of some officers. We need to communicate because people don’t know unless they are told. There are different audiences to influence, legislators, law enforcement, customers, the public, and the media to name but some. Catherine argues that a key part of communicating is listening, specifically to the needs and wants of these different audiences. The good thing is that recognition is increasing, Covid and terrorism have seen to that. Changing perception is in part linked to better regulation, Spain, Belgium and Sweden have good, if not perfect models, but there are best practices that countries can promote. What is key is that it is essential to have a narrative in common, the security sector has these in terms of commitments to values, quality, trust and compliance so that is a good place to start.

Tom Reeve invites us to see the issue via the lens of a communicator. A communications challenge to identify what the objective of any initiative is, what do we want to achieve? For example, to generate more work, attract more funding, encourage customers to spend more money? And the sector needs to clarify what the data it has to inform a starting point to work from, moreover how good is that data? It is better to communicate from a strong base, so the sector getting its own house in order is key. Then there is a matter of resources, what will the industry commit? How much funding and what will the personal commitment from leaders be? Who are its allies and will they and others help? What are the natural advantages it can present? One is that it is ubiquitous, Tom suggests we start with that. Also security is different to other areas of work, it comes with a mantle of authority, albeit putting across its customer service focus is important, and so is the need not to try and meet the ill-judged expectations of customers.

Joe Connell starts by discussing the effects of global events like Ukraine, the importance of partnerships on the one hand and professionalism and trust on the other. The Protect Duty – requiring those organising events to risk assess and protect the public– places a legal on those working in all sectors, and the security sector has solutions. The sector is vast and highly innovative, and needs to be bold and courageous. Joe encourages a different narrative offering the thought that rather than discuss the public and private sector we talk about the private and public sector. And rather than security being seen as service providers it should present itself as key enablers. Avoiding an internal focus – a self-licking lollipop – it needs to be bold. Associations offer a way forward but collaboration between them is difficult, they compete, are often staffed by volunteers, and harnessing collaboration is tricky. He reminds us, one good security officer can have an enormously positive impact on perceptions.

Joe makes the point that one key problem is that the sector does not speak with one voice, it is vast, and the interests do not always align. But as Tom says we need to think as a communicator would and understand key messages and relate them to the different audiences, there is a skill set to that. Catherine underlines the value of a common narrative as a starting point, it is a very good one. The barriers are considerable but all the panellists suggest that with the right focus it is possible to communicate differently and positively about security, but is the will there? That is less certain.

Martin Gill
3rd March 2022

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