18 pearls of wisdom from lgcomms academy birmingham: day one

by Dan Slee

There was a survey recently that listed PR in the top 10 most stressful jobs along with soldier, firefighter and police officer.

Surely in the field of public relations some of the most stressed must be in local government.

The LGComms Academy at Birmingham Council House drew hundreds of comms people from across the country in a formal event.

Twelve months ago at the event in Nottingham some people - wrongly - were talking about social media as something to think about next year. Forward wind a year and even the most died in the wool are having to work with it. Better than that, some are working with it well.

But digital is just one issue facing local government communications teams. Smaller budgets, less for more and a lack of trust all affect the sector.

Here’s 18 things that struck me from day one of the event.

1. It’s actually really good to see Louise Kidney from the Government Digital Service in the big room with some big things to say. She was a local government blogger I really admired and it’s good to see doors open because of it.

2. The Government Digital Services’ social media guidance for civil servants has lessons for local government. I can see all of it being the basis for council’s social media guidelines although the sixth - adhere to the code online and offline - may be troublesome.

Government should:

  1. Communicate with citizens in the places they already are
  2. Use social media to consult and engage
  3. Use social media to be more transparent and accountable
  4. Be part of the conversation with all the benefits that brings
  5. Understand that government cannot do everything alone, or in isolation
  6. Expect civil servants to adhere to the Civil Service Code (online as well as offline)

3. Many councils just don’t have social media guidelines.

4. There are some talented people across the field whose passion and whose work is propelling them into the spotlight. That’s brilliant to see. Sam Thomas from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue is one of those. You can read her blog here.

5. I wish I could have been in three places at once for simultaneous sessions from Nick Booth on Social Media Surgeries and other things, Darren Caveney from Walsall Council on getting senior buy-in and Greater Manchester Fire’s Sam Thomas.

6. According to a MORI poll people think people tell the truth 55 per cent of of the time falling to 24 per cent for council officers and 14 per cent for elected members.

7. Local Government is often not very good at listening. Good comms just can’t make up for this. Instead of even better comms we need better listening and doing.

8. Basildon Council trained three people to deal with the Dale Farm  traveller evictions and were ‘Stalinist’ on letting only those three speak to the media, Cormac Smith says.. Providing a safe area for the Press was helpful. As was providing tea and coffee. At its height there were 50 news crews but they only used social media to mainly broadcast.

9. Place marketing can help to create jobs and investment. That’s branding somewhere like Hackney which was suffering terrible stigma.

10. Asking 100 residents and 100 non-residents to think of words that come into their head when they think of your borough is a good starting point.

11. Having a roving microphone would be a good idea.

12. Martin Reeves, Coventry City Council’s chief executive believes local government should ‘get out of the employment business.’

13. The financial tide for local government has gone out for the next 10 years. Maybe 15. If at all.

14. Communications is at its best when it is true and compelling.

15. Only half of delegates had their own Twitter accounts.

16. Comms people should be scientists not artists. They need to base what they do on statistics and results.

17. There was a lot of talk about a council as a brand. I know people who would violently disagree.

18. It would be great to see an unconference element next year.

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