21 September 2022


To build public trust and confidence, government agencies need to provide clear and consistent reporting on their expenditure.  This is scrutinized by the parliamentary Select Committee process. There has been inconsistency in how agencies have been reporting numbers of, and expenditure for communications professionals.   

The Public Service Commission has identified the need to have a commonly understood definition that describes the role of the communications function to enable agencies to have clarity when applying the correct cost code to their roles.

Application of these guidelines  

This guidance is issued in accordance with section 44(b) of the Public Service Act 2020. Public Service agencies as defined in s10(a) of the Public Service Act 2020 should use these guidelines. Their use by non-Public Service Departments, Crown Agents and other Crown entities is also recommended. 

These guidelines apply for both the Select Committee Annual Review and Estimates processes, for questions about the number of communications professionals. Agencies are to supply this information to the Commission at the same time they supply it to Select Committee.  

These guidelines apply for all reporting, effective immediately. There is no expectation to apply the new guidelines retrospectively to recalculate expenditure for preceding years.  Instead, agencies should provide a narrative for the 2021/22 Annual Review, noting how their reporting has changed from the previous year as a result of implementing these guidelines.  

We recommend agencies provide Select Committee a description of their communications function, and provide numbers of media advisors. DIA should also provide the numbers of press secretaries.  

These guidelines are superseded where Select Committee questions relating to communications professionals seek information further to, or contrary to this guidance. Agencies should use full time equivalents (FTEs) to better estimate the communications workforce where some employees undertake communications and non communications functions. Where headcount is asked also provide FTE.  

The Office of the Clerk has endorsed these guidelines.  

Where it is practicable to do so, these guidelines also apply to the answering of Ministerial and OIA requests.  

Communications function definitions  

This definition helps position the function in the overall context of the value it adds to support and deliver on the Government’s priorities. It should be used by agencies in responses to queries on the number of, and expenditure related to their communications staff.

The role and scope of public service communications: 

Communications staff play an important part in building an understanding of the work of the Public Service and Government. They help provide the public and media with information that is of importance to New Zealanders, and which can often involve complex issues, new policies and the availability of services or assistance. 

This includes explaining and publicising laws and regulations, and providing helpful advice/guidance on a range of issues from health, to road safety, to biosecurity. 

Comms staff use a number of different ways to achieve this, including responding to media inquiries with factual information, publishing press releases about new initiatives or issues, supporting public consultations on policies, and supporting communities through major events that affect them.  

Communications roles and definitions





Communications/PR Manager 

Communications Managers and GMs 




Communications professionals engage in a broad range of functions primarily focused on public-facing communications channels such as media, social media, and publications.  

Media Advisors 


Comms Advisors 


Corporate Comms 


Internal Comms 


Social media 


Press secretaries  

Internal Comms is closely connected to public relations professional roles and is not easily segregated. 


Social media is distinct from website content writing (not included)  


Press secretaries only applies to roles in parliament supporting Ministers. These roles are employed by the Department of Internal Affairs 


There are a number of related roles that are often managed by Communication teams that are strictly speaking not core communications functions.  These are to be excluded from the Communications function when reporting on either numbers or expenditure.  





Marketing Specialist 

Marketing specialists have a strong focus on branding, advertising and promoting services.  The marketing professional operates at a transactional level, providing audience insights that can be used in awareness raising campaigns around specific initiatives or programmes.  

Content advisor/creator 


Digital/website advisor 



Marketing specialists sit outside of the public service communications function.  

They are not involved in the day-to-day provision of information to New Zealanders and dealing with media on a variety of topics, services and issues.   

Liaison office staff 

Liaison officers are community-based and focused on understanding the needs of communities.  Through establishing local networks, they are able to understand the pressures or challenges facing local communities and to feedback this information to agency policy or project delivery teams. Their role involves meeting statutory community engagement required to support effective project delivery.  


Community Liaison Advisors 


Stakeholder Engagement  


Events Management  

Community-based engagement is an enabler for policy and operational teams who develop and implement solutions to commonly identified issues.  It is not a communications function. 

This guidance can be read in conjunction with the ‘Guidance to enable agencies to consistently measure and report their usage of contractors and consultants.