All good communicators push for open and honest communications, campaigns and responses. It can be a battle at timesbut push we do. But it’s also important to stick to your guns when you believe in your work…
by Helen Fincher
We all know the old cliché about those who work in communications or PR being ‘spin doctors’, clouding the issues or glossing over the truth.
But that’s the opposite of how professional public services communications practitioners work. At Buckinghamshire CC, we have a very open stance on our communications and media activities. After all, what we do belongs to local people and they have a right to know about it, good or bad.
In this day and age, with the number of armchair auditors, social media gurus and a much more demanding public audience, councils really have nowhere to hide. Anyone who says they can bury bad news or manage the media is at least a decade out of date.
It’s almost always best to tell it how it is, get out there first with good or bad news and never, ever say “no comment”.
We’re still very much a human organisation. Local government is not about widgets falling off the end of a production line; it’s about people providing services for other people. But sometimes that means our decisions will be scrutinised, challenged or just occasionally, we might get something wrong. We defend when we need to but equally, hold our hands up if we’ve made a mistake.
We had a good example of why openness works very recently with a set of child-shaped bollards (named Billy and Belinda) that have just been installed in one of our county’s villages to help combat a recurrent speeding problem outside a local school. Some local residents weren’t keen on them and had taken to dressing them up in different outfits and posting photos on social media, calling them ‘creepy’ and ‘hideous’. This came to the attention of journalists and there has been so much interest in the story that it went national - and even international!
A deluge of media enquiries followed and in response we could have issued a bland statement, or even the dreaded “no comment” – but instead we applied our usual mantra of being open about things. So when asked in an interview if the ‘creepy’ bollards would now be removed, our cabinet member was more than happy to bring some humour to the interview - but was also clear that the bollards were installed to help solve a serious problem, they had local support and that they were ‘here to stay’.
Being open, transparent and the voice of reason did take the heat out of the story - but not before a local news site in New Zealand ran a story on the now very famous bollards.
Being opaque with media messaging is playing a dangerous game. In the end, people like and appreciate honesty, openness and common sense – anything less and they’ll see right through you.
Helen Fincher is customer and communications officer at Buckinghamshire CC
image via Leon Fishman