10 tips for local authorities & the online newsroom approach

With the media landscape changing the idea that the public sector comms teams should be press release factories is changing. But how to make the shift? Think more like a media company.

by Laura McLean 

To keep up with developing trends in communications and the changing media landscape, many organisations are beginning to think and act like media companies, a strategy which we at Mynewsdesk refer to as the online newsroom approach.

Working in this way means organisations will be better equipped to take advantage of breaking news stories, deal with the many different social media channels their audiences use to communicate and better engage with their key stakeholders.

In our 2014 newsroom report we looked at the newsrooms of the UK’s ten largest local government authorities based on population size and found that the majority have invested substantial efforts into developing good online newsroom infrastructures. However, not one of these local authorities is using their newsrooms to their full potential.

Here are my suggestions for local authorities on making the most of their online newsrooms...

1. Define your audience

As local authorities are tasked with engaging with their citizens and the diverse range of stakeholders they serve or work with, it is more than likely that to achieve their objectives they’ll need to communicate with more than just the media.

Therefore, doesn’t it make sense for their newsrooms to serve more than just journalists?

List your communications objectives then work out who you need to engage with to make these happen.  

Create a persona of each different type of person you want to engage with and every time you have an idea for a piece of content, test it against these.


2. Establish an editorial position 

Do not be tempted to write everything there is to know on a topic all at once. Nobody wants to wade through streams of lengthy content to eventually find something of relevance to them.

To really connect with your audience communicate simply and succinctly, explaining how what you’re writing is of value to them.  

 

3. Don’t fall for the myth of virality - actions speak louder than views 

It may be good for your corporate ego to get thousands of YouTube views, but without a clear goal and call to action the effort will be wasted.

Establish your success measures first. What does success look like? If you don’t know before you start you won’t know when you’ve finished.

You’ve probably seen this before but I had to share one of my favourite communications campaigns which exemplifies this point perfectly (and also happened to go viral).

Insert dumb ways to die case study video.

 

4. Find your tone of voice 

People now communicate across a variety of different channels rendering it almost impossible for an organisation to create content for each individual one.  

The best stories work at a human level, with an informal and direct tone of voice. Make your message clear, compelling and consistent wherever your audience sees it. 

If you’re not clear what tone of your voice your local authority should have you could try asking those who live there as well as your colleagues. 

Last year the city of Glasgow ran a fantastic rebranding campaign which ultimately informed their tone of voice by holding a month-long conversation, both on and offline, built around the question: ‘What makes Glasgow a great city?’

They did everything from creating a website where people could share their ideas, images and videos to placing 60 post boxes around the city so people could submit their thoughts offline too.

As well as this, they implemented a public relations campaign targeting print, broadcast and online media across the UK and globally through network of PR agents in France, Germany, Canada, Australia and the US.

As a result more than 1,500 people from 42 countries shared their views as part of the conversation. Read more about this campaign here.

However, you don’t have to run a big budget campaign like Glasgow to find your tone of voice but could try implementing some of their methods on a smaller scale. Ask your colleagues in surveys, workshops or focus groups and open it up to your local community on social media and by providing comment boxes in council run facilities to help you find a tone of voice that works.

 

5. Build a team

A major issue for many organisations, local authorities or otherwise, is lack of resource.

However, there are ways to get around this:

  1. When you build your marketing or communications team, make sure to hire people with versatile skill sets.

  2. Look to your whole team for hidden talents. Caerphilly Council in Wales run a fantastic social media campaign called #seewhatwedo to highlight the important services the council provides by delving into the average working day of its employees. This is one example of content which would really work well as blog content in the newsroom and is a great way of getting the rest of your colleagues involved in creating content.  It’ll give a fresh perspective on the fantastic work your local authority does. You can read more about it here.
  3. Use guest bloggers. Why not give your local citizens a voice? Why not let them talk about how they are benefitting from the projects you’re running or let them say what things they would do to improve their local community if they were in charge?

 

6. Use the diary

I’m sure almost every council will have run an anti-drinking campaign around Christmas.

However, there are so many other events which take place across the course of the year that you could use to highlight the campaigns or services you provide. It’s worth spending some time researching festivals, events, international holidays etc and putting these into a content calendar. It will help you to more easily plan campaigns and content pieces for your newsroom.

 

7. ...but be ready to react to news

Local authorities must be able to respond to breaking news stories or deal with crises quickly and efficiently as soon as they arise.

Recently Manchester City Council has been dealing with issues which have arisen in their community as a result of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and on 30th July published the full speech which took place during a council meeting on their “Leader’s Blog.” This is exactly the type of content the people of Manchester and the media would potentially be interested in too. As such, I really believe this should sit in their newsroom rather than on a separate blog.

 

8. Define a workable sign-off process

To take full advantage of breaking news stories and trends you must set up an efficient content approval process to ensure your voice is heard as part of topical discussions.

 

9. Establish no-go areas

 

As Will Sturgeon, Executive Director of Strategy at GolinHarris said, "You can't have every piece pulled apart by committee - it slows things down, gets messy and gets expensive."

It’s important to create a set of guidelines so everyone in your organisation who can create content or is active on social media is aware of what they can and can’t comment on.

 

10. Give them what they want

Every piece of content you create, regardless of what its purpose is, must be interesting. If you hadn’t created it yourself, would you be interested in it? Is it something you’d imagine your friends talking about and sharing on social media?

And finally, don’t forget to measure how effective your campaigns and content have been. This will tell you if you are really giving your audience what they want.

Download our ‘Rise of the brand newsroom’ white paper for a more in-depth look at the brand newsroom approach and tips from leading PR and communications professionals.

Laura McLean is communications executive at Mynewsdesk who sponsored #commscamp14.