Reputation. It's a key element of any communications campaign. But as an outcome, reputation enhancement alone is not going to cut the mustard with residents.
by GUEST EDITOR Julie Waddicor
As foot soldiers and officers, we stand surveying the battlefield. Through no fault of our own, we seem to have lost the fight for reputation.
Our successful campaigns lie strewn in the mud, some effective in their time but forgotten now. The war around us has moved on, focusing on changing how residents relate to us and the relationship we have with them.
The language we use is telling, and we (of all people) should see the insinuations of it. For years we have waged 'campaigns' for (and against?) local people. We've been at war with a shifting field of enemies: sometimes against residents in order to get them to accept things they don't like, sometimes with them to tackle a collective foe like litter, poor health or low skills.
After years of battle, the evolution that local government is going through is now seeing our theatre of war change utterly. We've realised that we don't have the resources to fight anyone anymore: we need to work with every faction of every persuasion to achieve any worthwhile results at all.
In my opinion, this change leaves the notion of the 'campaign' dead in the water. We're no longer selling the product of our local authority brand, and we've realised that, as an entity, the local authority is morphing into a wholly different beast: it is becoming a set of collaborations, seeking to fundamentally change the way it does business with residents, stakeholders and partners.
There is little place for the reputation campaign within that model. As communicators, our challenge is to work out how to shift away from positioning our organisations as a big brother, an all- seeing eye that takes charge and does to residents, rather than does with them. It's about encouraging local people to work with us as true equals, and we'll only be successful when they actually care about the topics we are communicating about, and can see how their efforts actually deliver something concrete. In many cases, we'll need to break down the walls of cynicism, apathy and reliance before we get there.
Perhaps that's where we need to focus our military experience now: the war may not be over, but suddenly we have no traditional enemy to fight. The new style of warfare demands new battle tactics, and the traditional campaign won't cut it.
Julie Waddicor is Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council
pic via WikiMedia Commons