There really are some things that unite every comms person. In this post the chair of LGComms vents some spleen and raises a few things that will make more than a few nod in recognition.
by Cormac Smith
I love my work in local government. Both in my day job as a senior communications advisor and in my national role of chairman of LGcommunications I get to work with some fantastic people doing work that I hope makes a real difference.
But my job like any other has its frustrations and here are my top three that drive me apoplectic on a regular basis. So here they are – the three things that make me cross.
Being asked to ‘spin’
It used to be that ‘spin’ was an industry insider’s term used mainly by practitioners of public relations and not in the lexicon of the public at large. Then thanks to a new breed of political communicators from the mid 90’s onwards the term entered into common usage and quickly became synonymous for everything that was rotten and dishonest. The very concept of spin was subsequently responsible for a significant undermining of trust.
Why oh why then do supposedly intelligent people ask me and my colleagues to put ‘a good spin’ on everything from staff redundancies or cuts in local services or simply explaining ineptitude and bad behavior?
We must not do spin – can’t you get it through your heads – the public are on to you, your own staff are on to you – and you are simply losing their trust.
Good communication is not a panacea to bad news but used honestly and consistently it can help us build trust and understanding but we back our words with actions.
Everyone’s a communications expert
Local government is a unique environment where dozens of professions work side by side to deliver services for local people. I would never dream of telling an accountant, environmental health officer, social worker or transport engineer how to do their job.
Why then in the name of all that is good on this sweet earth do so many of these people think they understand communications and, every day, somewhere in our country come me and my colleagues with their preconceived and misbegotten ideas about how they think we should communicate on behalf of them and the organization.
As a great man I know once said: “I don’t tell you how to sweep the streets – don’t try and tell me how to write press releases.”
Managers who think internal communication is my job
Well it must be - I’m the Head of Communication after all. Wrong – it’s their job, they have the relationships with and hopefully enjoy the trust of their staff – my job is to support them.
In hard times line managers are the frontline troops in the battle for better staff engagement and upholding moral. Good corporate communications can certainly help but posters, intranets and global emails are no match for face to face conversations with engaging managers’ and inspirational leaders.
Cormac Smith is chair of LGComms which is the professional body for local government communicators.