who should we really be talking to?

It's never been more important to base our communications activities on sound intelligence about who our residents and customers are. And checking that that evidence is up to date is also vital.

by Julie Waddicor

Who sets your comms priorities? Your councillors, your boss, your residents? I imagine that, in most local government organisations, it is a bit of all three. That’s fair enough (to an extent), but a lack of focus on residents and their issues, in the right proportions, could mean a lot of our efforts go to waste.

I did some research into the make up of the Staffordshire population recently, using figures from the 2012 census, the NHS and the county and district councils. I then compared the results to how often Staffordshire County Council’s Communications Team touched the various audiences with a campaign. I was really surprised by the results, and it made me question whether we have a balance to redress.

In the last year or so, a lot of work has been put in to value for money messages for taxpayers and comms around road improvements, and rightly so, as taxpayers and road users make up the majority of our residents. After that, the data suggests that 30% of Staffordshire people suffer or will suffer from ill health as a result of their lifestyle (or that of a close associate): that’s 147,000 people who smoke, 107,000 who drink excessively and 13,500 who experience domestic violence. Now, local authorities have only taken on public health responsibilities in April, but our comms work in this area has been limited to one short campaign on alcohol. Given that such a large proportion of our residents are affected by issues which have such a massive impact on their quality of life (and have the potential to cost public bodies such a lot of money) we could really build trust and reputation, and make people’s lives better, by concentrating our efforts in this area. It would be interesting to know how big this audience is in other parts of the country: I expect that it some areas it is a good bit bigger.

In contrast, we’ve done a huge amount of work targeting parents and businesses, driven by saving targets and political priorities, who make up around 23% and less than 10% of our residents respectively. Young people make up 19% of our audience and carers 12%, and yet for both only one campaign has been done. Most starkly, people over the age of 65 make up 19% of Staffordshire’s population, and no positive activity took place to target this audience in the last year. The balance will be redressed somewhat in the coming 12 months, but not to a level that fully represents the audience.

It’s far too simplistic to say that our comms efforts should be proportionally divided to reflect the make up of our residents. Political priorities, financial targets for areas like adoption and fostering, and the targeting of ‘key influencers’ who have wider impact all play a part. But the fact remains that, if we want to build trust, we need to talk to our biggest audiences about their biggest problems, and about how we can help. That’s how we will see reputation, satisfaction and trust grow. No successful private company ignores its biggest potential markets, and neither should we.

Julie Waddicor is Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council

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