As public relations or media professionals, we’re able to use a variety of tools to help us achieve the best possible coverage for our clients. From media monitoring tools that pick up articles daily, to forward features calendars that show us upcoming opportunities, we like to make use of an array of tools that help us keep our fingers on the pulse of the news and be as proactive and creative as possible.
One of these tools is very interesting – the Freedom of Information Request (FOI). Every public sector organisation in the United Kingdom, from the NHS, through OFSTED and right up to the DVLA, has an obligation to supply you with information that you request (within reason of course). This right to recorded information comes from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2000, which was passed in with the aim of creating a ‘more open government based on mutual trust’ in the UK.
The FOIA has arguably been crucial in protecting the rights of citizens in this country and giving the people the power to ask questions that – whilst they might be difficult or uncomfortable to answer – are important nonetheless. The public has an understandable and reasonable interest in the accountability and transparency of publicly funded bodies. In the words of the ICO, “Public authorities spend money collected from taxpayers, and make decisions that can significantly affect many people’s lives. Access to information helps the public make public authorities accountable for their actions and allows public debate to be better informed and more productive.”
The FOIA has also created opportunities for a number of companies, from law firms right up to charities (who are sometimes publicly-funded, in part or in whole, themselves) to obtain information and use it as a platform to put their own, often important, messages across. Where there is injustice or systems that need urgent attention and change, other organisations can unearth this and issue a call to action to address it head-on. It’s a powerful tool that can result in great exposure for important issues – and achieve great change.
As a PR professional, I have personally found FOIs to be extremely useful. In our industry, one thing is key above all else – helping your client say what they want to say, in the way they want to say it. An FOI, carefully put together with skill and precision, can often create a news story out of nowhere.
Often your client may have picked up on interesting developments in the industry through years of experience in the sector, but at that stage it’s little more than a feeling. FOIs prove a useful tool here for getting hold of proof that substantiates what was previously merely anecdotal. All of a sudden, a story that supports your client’s key messages can be created seemingly out of thin air, and has official government statistics to back it up.
At The PR Office, we have achieved a number of great results for clients using FOIs, and have created interesting and substantiated news stories that journalists have been happy to receive and publish. We would definitely recommend considering it as another addition to the PR ‘utility belt’. After all, the information is there, ready to be unearthed, ready to be analysed … and ready to become the next compelling front-page story.
Jack Rodway is an Account Executive at The PR Office