Local authorities need to communicate clearly and effectively at all times.
Whether you are an elected member, an office worker or working out in the community.
It’s important the council depicts a strong and positive image at all times.
Our trainer Marjory Kenny knows this better than most.
As a former Acting Head of Communications at Edinburgh Council.
When she joined the Council, she brought over 20 years of experience in journalism.
Having worked for local and national news.
“It’s easy for the media to portray a negative image of a local authority when it fails to communicate effectively.
In my training role with Pink Elephant Communications, I work with many of Scotland’s councils daily.
Many of which face the same issues when communicating internally and externally.
Here are some of the top tips I give out in these training courses.”
‘So what do we get for our Council Tax’?
‘What does my local authority do for me’?
Questions each local authority needs to answer regularly.
Often directed at the communication teams, council officials and elected members.
Whether at times of crisis or during local consultations on budgets or service changes.
They can reflect a disaffected, uninformed and often negative view of the Council.
A view which can spread like wildfire.
A view with adverse effects at the ballot box.
But these two questions are a great opportunity.
A chance to turn that negative opinion around and boost your reputation.
To communicate clearly, just by answering the questions.
They offer a great opportunity to tell your Council’s story.
To paint a vivid picture of exactly what value citizens get.
To explain how every employee plays his or her part in the running of a town, city or county.
The daily activities of workers are much more interesting than the department they work in.
For example, a person who’s saved by a new drug is more interesting than the development of the drug.
The human message will stick with people hearing the story.
They can relate to it.
They will share it and the positive message will spread.
Use this to your advantage.
A council story about social work is best told by a social worker.
One who protects vulnerable children daily by supporting their family.
Town planning is difficult to understand, even boring.
But an everyday hero who protects your local shop engages the local community.
The daily duties of so many people paint an open, honest and authentic picture.
Just tell a story that is easy to understand.
Then your audience will easily understand what they get for their Council Tax.
“That’s just the council feeding us rubbish to dilute the truth.”
By telling a real story, you can also avoid accusations of spin, or propaganda.
Whether communicating with the media or directly with communities.
It’s a method which allows you to communicate major achievements with authenticity.
How a worker contributed to a new library service for disabled people.
Plus the effect on a real person’s life.
This is engaging – and worth reporting or sharing.
Used effectively, storytelling can really help managers and elected members.
Especially in times of crisis.
Councils and businesses who fail to communicate simply and often internally do so at their peril.
Employees are the people who tell their own story – good or bad – hundreds of times a day.
From a throwaway remark in a shop queue.
To an easily overhead conversation on a bus or in a pub.
Telling a local authority’s grassroots story.
There may be 20,000 of them – that is 20,000 storytellers who may be ambassadors or critics.
Their voices and stories have the single greatest effect on a Council’s reputation.
So it makes sense to make them positive ones.
Include and inform them often.
Use their knowledge and skills.
Create positive stories and let the wider community know what their Council does for them.
The Council faces a huge fine for failing to meet its landfill targets.
People are failing to recycle effectively and too much rubbish goes to landfill.
A day in the life of a refuse worker can paint an engaging view of the whole process.
He or she is excited about the vital part they play in protecting our planet.
They can spell out the ease of local recycling.
They can even bring in key messages about money saved.
Unnecessary fines being used in schools, or mending roads or on elderly care.
He or she can talk in their own language, more likely to be widely understood.
Language and a person more likely to be seen as open, honest and truthful.
“Council to close schools”
“Community battles to save school”
“Council does U-turn to save schools”.
We so often see this sequence of media headlines.
But where do they come from?
They are the aftermath of poor community consultation schemes.
Conversations with stakeholders in your community that have conveyed the wrong message.
More and more councils are seeking the opinion of those within their communities.
Public opinion on spending is needed with budgets stretched to the limit and so many budget cuts.
But is consultation with citizens effective or just downright dangerous?
Every Council faces budget choices and decisions.
Many have considered closing or amalgamating schools and libraries.
They will likely decide to consult the community before doing this.
But mix up the message.
Then fail to communicate what they want people to do.
Zero calls to action, damaging the entire process.
The Council’s reputation ends up in tatters.
When actually they were only seeking views of the citizens on the budget.
By failing to tell the story in simple terms the media jump all over the emotive angle.
Without real examples or a clear call to action, misinterpretation sets hares running.
The best communications follow a clear pyramid shape.
To recap the four key lessons in this article:-
Marjory Kenny is a senior trainer with Pink Elephant Communications, journalist and former Acting Head of Communications at Edinburgh Council.
View her full profile here.
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