One comms professional moved from broadcast to comms a decade ago and is surprised to find himself working as a producer again with the video and social content he is making.
by Jon King
The role of the Communications Officer has changed dramatically over the last ten years or so.
Many friends and colleagues have shared their insight and wisdom on the nature of that change and how we can best respond to it.
The following is my take from the perspective of someone who came to local government comms from the world of BBC local radio. I share this because it dawned on me last week that my two worlds have aligned and it’s changed my view of what I do; perhaps it may change yours too.
I made the switch from media to public service in 2004. Back then, if you wanted to promote something that the council was doing, the only channels available were print or broadcast media. You needed to build a professional relationship with journalists based on the understanding that they needed us as much as we needed them. Most days of the week, the front page spread would be a story about the council. Even before the days of rolling news, the media was a voracious beast and it devoured everything we gave them.
Journalism has always been a competitive sport and when two or perhaps three local papers were vying for the public’s attention, editors knew a negative story would make their paper appear more appealing on the newsstand and circulation was everything. Many of us will remember how a positive story would be transformed into a ‘fiasco’, ‘blunder’ or ‘gaffe’ simply by the application of creative interpretation. Like a punch-drunk pugilist, we kept coming back for more, hoping against hope that today’s announcement would receive more favourable treatment.
And then came social media.
Like smart phones, the Internet and back-garden trampolines, it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t have them.
The media landscape had changed forever. Editors weren’t just competing with each other, they were competing with the formidable alliance of web-based information, sharing platforms and personal choice.
Corporations were the first to realise that there was an opening for them on social media; an opportunity to speak directly to their customer base and even spark a conversation.
As councils started to scratch their collective heads in search of a response, some of us seized the opportunity to fill the void and steer the direction of policy.
Ten years later, you’re lucky if one local newspaper has survived but council social media accounts are racking up followings in the thousands. As a consequence, comms officers spend more time managing corporate Facebook and Twitter than they do writing press releases.
And that’s because we have our own audience now, which brings me back to my ‘eureka’ moment.
Lord Reith (https://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/research/culture/reith-1) took the view that the role of the BBC was to ‘inform, educate and entertain’ and I took my role very seriously.
As a presenter and producer in local radio, my job was to reflect life in the county in all its facets. As a local government comms officer, it’s my job to reflect the council’s work in all its variety.
If you’re looking for a corporate communications strategy in a sentence, take that.
Because, if we fail to explain how we work, why we work and what we do, we shouldn’t be at all surprised if our residents criticise us for inaction just because they didn’t see the gritting lorry drive down their street at two in the morning when they were fast asleep.
Like you, I watched the wave of criticism about pot holes and missed bins last winter. I’ve seen then moans about the state of the High Street and ‘too many charity shops’.
But I know that we have crews out at all hours fixing problems and I’ve seen the plans for regeneration and investment. So now I’m posting videos of our pot-hole-busting Velocity-Impactor machine in action and I’m filming colleagues talking about the latest commercial development bringing jobs to the borough. Last week, it final dawned on me that I’m a producer again and I’m loving it.
Zuckerberg and Dorsey have given us the channels, let’s use them to do more than just make announcements.
Let’s use them to tell our story.
Let’s use them to inform educate and entertain.
P.S. Doesn’t Zuckerberg and Dorsey sound like a 1950’s comedy duo?
Jon King is media and communications officer at Walsall Council.