Does local government communications matter anymore?

23/11/2016

Today’s autumn statement has shown once again that local government is barely a discussion topic nationally, let alone a priority.

As politics is increasingly dominated by Brexit, the economy, Trump, and the sacred cow that is the NHS, what is the role of local government and the communicators that work within it? Is the local council still as relevant to people’s lives as it once was?

This decade will see council budgets reduced by as much as 40 per cent, with only a ripple of public dissent. At the same time demand for services is increasing, and the mantra that councils and their services have no choice but to change is making little impact on the public’s consciousness.

So in this brave new world, where do communicators fit in? The digital revolution has meant that there are more options available to communicate and engage than ever before, but are these just shiny toys and no more?

As the proportion of councils’ spend on adult and other essential services continues to increase, alongside demand, can councils still justify keeping ‘nice to have’ communications teams?

Although these questions are part of the role of playing devil’s advocate, it has never been more important than now for communicators to market themselves, their colleagues, and to prove their worth.

In days gone by communications and marketing teams were associated mostly with reputation management and day-to-day media relations, with the wide range of other functions relegated to Cinderella status. Thankfully, things have moved on, although sadly the elected member and senior officer obsession with media still remains.

Also, communications and marketing were often seen as ‘add-ons’, more often than not brought in to key projects at the last minute or not at all.  Again, thankfully things have moved on, with communications becoming more integrated in most local authorities.

So, in spite of all these advances, how can communications teams justify their existence?  The answer should be simple, by always being relevant and only working on things that help to make residents lives both easier and better. By doing this you will help to ensure that local government, and yourselves, do matter.

If your work doesn’t fit these criteria, then you’re probably wasting your own time and tax payers’ money. As communications teams continue to shrink it is vital that irrelevant activities and vanity projects are shed along the way. Easier said than done when big egos are involved, but not impossible.

And if you are successful in making your teams wholly relevant, and ensuring that your work is meaningful, useful, and helpful, then you need to make sure the right people know about it.

You need to run a meticulously planned and highly effective internal campaign for elected members, senior officers, and budget planners to spell out in clear and simple terms just what it is that you and your colleagues bring to your council and the area and people you serve.

If you do these things then the future for communications teams should be both bright and secure. If you don’t, then you’ll only have yourselves to blame.

 

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Give Us Something To Vote For

20/03/2015

With just under seven weeks until polling day, councils are cranking up their campaigns to make sure people are eligible to vote on 7th May.

And, quite rightly, they will also be encouraging people to use their vote. But what are the choices available, if indeed there are any choices at all?

How the world communicates and engages has changed beyond recognition in recent years. The online world has seen conversation replace rhetoric, something the world of party politics seems to have missed.

This week’s Budget is a classic example. The exchanges in the House of Commons were both predictable and pitiful, and the follow up was just as bad. 

Media interviews had already been choreographed to tribal steps, with all sides predicting apocalyptic consequences if their opponents ever got the chance to govern.

And the traditional media were no better either. They too are part of the dinosaurs enclosure inside the Westminster bubble.

And if you really wanted to get depressed, all you had to do was follow a Twitter feed as one politician after another used their online loud hailers to proclaim that their side held a monopoly on wisdom. And that their opponents were the devil incarnate.

But guess what? We don’t believe you. We have minds of our own. We don’t need politicians to tell us what we think, we’ll make that judgement ourselves. So here’s three simple tips for anyone wanting a vote in May:

1 Communicate clearly what we will be voting for if we choose you. How will you improve our lives, what positive difference will you make? Just rubbishing your opponents isn’t good enough.

2 Use online media and other channels to converse and engage, not to broadcast. Ask us what we think in addition to giving us your views, that’s how conversation works.

3 Spin is dead. It wasn’t that great when it was popular, now it’s just embarrassing. And it doesn’t work. So stop it.

This election, more than any previously, gives politicians the chance to converse and engage in a more personal way than ever before. 

And yet the knee jerk reaction of shout first and maybe listen later is still prevailing. 

You have seven weeks to outline what positive choices I and others have, and to find out if that’s what I want. All you have to do is listen.


When Less Is More

04/08/2014

‘Conversation’ is the current buzzword for engagement and communication. This applies to everyone we converse with, internally and externally. But what does it actually mean?

In the world of social media we tell people, without a hint of irony, not to broadcast, and we trot out the mantra that consultation must be meaningful, but do we practise what we preach? How many of us have sat in meetings working out whether or not we’ve said our fair share, as one by one each participant interrupts the other?

The most important element of conversation is listening, but many of us struggle with this. Here’s 10 rough and ready tips.

1 Have the confidence to say nothing. In a discussion where the battle for attention is at its most intense, try staying silent for 15 minutes. You’re likely to learn more about the subject, and more importantly your colleagues, by just listening and keeping schtum.

2 Keep count of how many times people interrupt before someone else has finished, and who does it most. The answers are usually very illuminating.

3 Speak only when you’ve got something to say. Substance should always trump noise. And meetings would be shorter.

4 if you’re going to consult about something, be genuinely prepared to listen to what people have to say and do something with what you’re told. If you’ve already made up your mind, don’t bother.

5 Don’t dress up communication as consultation – you will get found out.

6 if you don’t believe your organisation is a listening organisation, then say so.

7 If nobody is interacting with you on social media, it’s probably your fault. If they’re not listening to you, then they won’t talk to you, so change the way you engage.

8 Being told you might be wrong, and why, is 100 times more valuable than being told you’re right. Difference of opinion adds value, affirmation maintains the status quo.

9 Broadcasting on social media platforms has its place, but should be limited. Conversation is key. If someone walked into a pub shouting their views without waiting for a response, you’d think they’d lost it. So why are you any different?

10 Listening is a skill, but it shouldn’t be. It’s just good manners.

I’m aware of the paradox of this blog, so all views are welcome!