Working with embedded communicators

Best practice principles

This document – part of the GCS Modern Communications Operating Model 3.0 – sets out the principles which Directors and Heads of Communication should follow to establish collaborative partnerships with embedded communicators within their organisation. It aligns with GovS011, the Communication Functional Standard, which states that departmental heads of communication are responsible for the function – i.e. all communications work – within their organisation, not just the formal Communications team itself.   

Many organisations across government will have ‘embedded’ communications teams or staff working outside the core communications function.  Directors and Heads of Communications should establish links and reporting lines to foster strong collaboration and oversight, as well as ensuring embedded communicators are delivering high quality communications work consistent with GCS and organisational standards, have access to learning, skills development and career opportunities, and are linked into professional communities.  There are significant benefits to the organisation, people and delivery of VFM communications for the taxpayer of having greater integration and collaboration. 

Each organisation will have different numbers and arrangements of embedded communicators undertaking a range of work and at different skill levels.  There could be opportunities to reduce the number of embedded communicators, bring professional comms colleagues into the core communications function or develop shared services. Ultimately this will be an organisational decision along with how reporting lines, structures and headcount decisions are made. You should use the principles set out in the table below, and in the case study from DfE [DN: link will be added], to help you improve quality and impact, and establish greater alignment between embedded communicators, GCS and organisational communication strategy and standards. 

Scope and starting point

The criteria set out by DfE will help you to assess whether an embedded communicator is part of the professional communications team, and therefore should sit within the core communications team, or whether they are an operational engagement role/communicator and therefore outside of the core function. Where a role sits outside of the core communications team our guidance is that their work should still be subject to the GCS code of practice and the principles set out in the grid below. 

As a starting point, a Director or Head of Communication should know how many embedded professional communicators sit within their organisation, what work they are undertaking and their level of communication skill.  As outlined in the DfE case study, as guidance all those who are undertaking communication work to a professional standard more than 75% of the time should be GCS members and be part of the formal communications function within your organisation. Those who undertake professional communications for less than 75% of the time should follow the GCS code of practice and propriety guidance in their communication activities, and have at minimum a dotted line into the Director or Head of Communications.  

Once the Director or Head has established that a role is a professional communications role, the role should normally be located in the central core communications team, and only by exception embedded in a policy or delivery team. Embedded posts that are approved should generally be for long term or permanent work.

 A Professional Communicator should be recruited using the GCS technical competencies and be advertised using the marketing & communications category on Civil Service Jobs – HR should agree that ‘marketing & communications’ jobs do not go live without confirmation from the Comms function. Civil servants looking to recruit embedded roles should seek approval from their Director or Head of Communication before recruitment to check that the relevant activity cannot be supported by the central team and to avoid duplication.

The recruitment panel should include at least one professional communicator. Candidates will be required to demonstrate skills within one of the seven MCOM disciplines along with communications expertise to enable surge capacity deployment. 

PrincipleSuccess measure
All staff engaged in communication activity should follow the MCOM principles and must adhere to GCS propriety guidance in their work.Confirmation from embedded communications team leaders to DoC/HoC 
Any new communications roles at any grade should be approved by the Group Communications Director. Where this is in an ALB or NDPB who has a degree of independence, the Head of Profession in that ALB or NDPB is responsible for headcount and recruitment, and for feeding this back to their departmental DoC if there is an expansion in headcount reported via your annual GCS data audit return.OR The relevant Head of Profession should be informed or directly involved in the recruitment of communications staff (Grade 7 and above).Written evidence of compliance
3.    Any embedded communications professionals should have a hard reporting line into the relevant communications Head of Profession for professional communications oversight and a dotted line for task management (DfE operating principle), along with a Group communications objective. Written evidence of compliance
4.   All communications programmes must be developed using the OASIS planning model and evaluation framework, as set out in MCOM. All communications activities should appear on the organisation’s overall planning grid.  Sampling of communications plans and evaluation report
5.    Embedded communicators should follow the learning and development guidance set out in MCOM, using the same standards and requirements as for core communicators. PDPs to evidence learning
6.   All communications professionals should attend communications team meetings regularly, be on the director’s cascade group email, and take part in regular communication learning and development opportunities. PDPs to evidence learning 
7.   All communications professionals should be considered as part of the communications team’s talent management discussions. Departmental talent management discussions 
8.    All those classed as professional communicators should have transferable professional comms skills so that you could, if necessary, be redeployed to work for a short time anywhere across GCS (e.g. Covid response, Bridges, MoG support, Coronation, terror attack response, rather than comms skills that are only related to a specific policy area).Short term capacity requests are fulfilled by a greater number of organisations across GCS