It’s a classic chicken and egg. What comes first: economic development and communications or communications and economic development?
I think the answer is obvious – but very few councils get it.
Successful economic development should be considered part of a strategic communications function, if not wholly then at least as a driving force.
If it is seen merely as an add-on then you are doomed to failure because economic growth or ‘place-making’ as many like to call it cannot be conjured up through flashy brochures, smiling pictures, a couple of events and a nice website.
The development of a genuinely authentic offer only happens over time and is formed of many moving parts, not least bringing your partners and community with you.
To deliver this we have to think differently. It is resource-intensive and we have to start bridging the gap between what is naturally considered the domain of communications and economic development respectively.
At the heart of economic growth is the need to tell a powerful, compelling, authentic story that draws in and builds the assets of the areas we are championing and connects them with the audiences we are seeking.
To deliver this strategic communications has to be central to all the component parts: research, partnership working, a cultural strategy that brings our communities with us, creative campaigning, digital, public affairs, evaluation, policy, underpinned with a customer relationship management system which drives outbound and inbound marketing.
Most councils make the mistake of separating out these components parts across disparate and far flung parts of the Town Hall, which inevitably means bundling all kinds of ingredients into a cake recipe and hoping for the best. It’s not surprising that we end up with too many soggy bottoms.
This isn’t necessarily a land grab for communications. It is, though, a sensible reminder for why local government needs a strong communications capability. Attracting economic growth should be central to that mission.
Simon Jones, account director, Westco