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LGC Briefing: The comms collection

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A selection of LGC’s finest communications columns

This week the usual summer lull in politics comes to a close – although, what with Brexit, national political leadership contests and the ongoing refugee crisis, silly season hasn’t been as quiet as usual.

Northamptonshire CC’s Simon Deacon has a cautionary tale for local government comms folk about silly season. Northamptonshire attracted media attention and Twitter jeering this summer when a news agency made hay with a course in its adult learning brochure, entitled ‘How to Wear a Scarf Effectively’. Bemusing as such a course might be, Northamptonshire’s comms team was confident that it presented little reputational risk because it was delivered at no cost to taxpayers. The unscrupulous news agency chose not to include this vital piece of information in its release to national media and, as Mr Deacon puts it, “bedlam ensued” as red-top papers weighed in with classic “council gone mad” stories. He includes tips to help other authorities avoid similar skewed coverage.

Birmingham’s Eleri Roberts used silly season to make a significant move, from her former role in Westminster City Council’s comms team to assistant director of communications at Birmingham City Council, the largest single tier local authority by population size in Europe. However, Ms Roberts says in her column that “size isn’t everything” and contends that professional standards should be the same across the sector, no matter the size of the authority. She recommends ways that comms officers from any authority can keep up their CPD.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Emma Rodgers has strong opinions on professional development. In her column she recalls being grilled about whether she was a member of a certain PR body, by that venerable institution’s president, no less. She was less than impressed when she was told that not being a member was unacceptable. Ms Rodgers says that there are a number of ways that a comms officer might build up their development, and that joining institutes, taking up expensive courses and attending pricey conferences are not the be all and end all. There are more flexible, informal and cost-effective ways, Ms Rodgers says.

This emphasis on learning and standards can drive poor practices from the profession, outgoing LGcomms chief Cormac Smith says. In his column Mr Smith says some public sector bodies are still crudely assessing the impact of comms activity by measuring column inches of PR coverage and valuing it compared with the cost of the same amount of advertising space. This is “downright dishonest”, Mr Smith says. Chief executives should demand from their comms teams the same evidence-based evaluation of their work that one would expect from accountancy or law professionals.

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