As the dust settles on elections results and their aftermath, what is the future for local government communicators and their teams?
Further cuts are on the way, so at some point the question of the size and worth of a communications function will be debated in nearly every council. And rightly so. So what are you going to do about it?
You are repeatedly told that things will never be the same again, that you’re entering a brave new world etc, but if that’s the case are you responding in the right way? Is a new approach required?
Many communications teams have already been restructured, resulting in smaller teams. Those that haven’t yet gone through this will do so. But this is unlikely to be the last time this happens, so it’s more important than ever to prove your worth, so you can both survive and thrive.
But rather than just look at your world through your existing activities, why not step back, be bold, and try a zero based approach? In other words, if your communications team was being created today what would, and should, it do? Start with a clean slate.
Every one of you will be carrying some form of baggage, doing things because they’ve always been done, even though you doubt their worth. But why?
The perceived wisdom among many is that councils are very traditional organisations, lacking innovation and creativity, where time served often trumps ability in terms of career progression. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Now is as good a time as any for you and your teams to shine.
Using a zero based approach, here are ten starters for ten for some ‘do’s and don’ts’ for communications teams. These suggestions use the criteria of making a difference to the lives of residents and/or having an impact on a significant number of colleagues in your council. If your work doesn’t meet one or both of these criteria then why are you doing it?
..things that make a difference to residents’ lives. Communications and marketing can play a key role in rolling out new or redesigned services that make people’s lives better and easier. If your work isn’t contributing to your community, stop doing it.
..be part of change, not just a communicator of change. Internal communications and employee engagement will be more important than ever as budgets and staffing levels shrink, but make sure you’re at the heart of the message itself. Be more than the messenger.
..evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. You need to prove that what you do works, and change tack or stop doing it if it doesn’t. And evaluate properly, measuring the wider outcomes and not some meaningless outputs.
..co-produce whenever you can. Join forces with neighbouring councils or partner organisations whenever it makes sense to do so, always working alone doesn’t. All councils run campaigns to recruit foster carers or discourage litter, but why do you all need bespoke artwork and locally purchased advertising space? Unite behind one image and message and buy on a regional basis. It’s better and cheaper.
..make social media work for you and your residents, and show how it does. It’s no longer the future, it’s the present, but only use what works. And use it as part of an integrated approach, it’s a means to an end, not an end itself.
..play safe with recruitment. Creativity and potential are just as important as knowledge and reliability, and you can have both. The former will take you to where you need to go, there’s already too much of the latter.
..waste disproportionate time on the unimportant. For example don’t enter any awards for a few years. If your criteria for entering were whether or not winning such awards had any benefit for residents or an impact on a significant number of staff, you would never submit a bid again.
..obsess about media coverage, chasing headlines for headlines sake, traditional media is not what it was. This is easier said than done, especially with the near obsession of some elected members and senior officers with local media coverage. But other channels can be much better.
..do social media purely for the sake of it. It is not the answer to everything, and when misused can be a big waste of time.
..take no for an answer. New ideas can take time to be accepted, so persevere. To a point. If your organisation isn’t going to change quickly enough then move on to somewhere that will. Don’t waste your talents.
These are my ten starters for ten, there are many more. What are yours?