Robert Webb: Fly on the wall

It's a busy old job being in local government communications.

Robert Webb: soon to be a TV star?
Robert Webb: soon to be a TV star?

In the last week alone in Monmouthshire we’ve been following up leads from our Back 2 Business week, dealing with the aftermath of a fire at one of our schools, telling the world about one of our wonderful social services teams winning a prestigious Social Care Accolade and announcing that we’ll be building a new library in Abergavenny and refurbishing the one in Chepstow.

It’s just as well that we’ve got so much to talk about, as we’ve agreed to be the subject of a BBC Wales fly on the wall documentary.

Many people would take a Sir Humphrey approach to this and describe it as 'brave'. I don’t agree. Hard work, yes. But brave? No, I don’t think so. I think that each and every one of us in local government has a great story to tell. The range of services that we cover ensures that everyone in the UK benefits from what we do – whether they know it or not.

And now, more than ever, we need to explain to people the services that they are entitled to and how we’re going to continue to deliver them in this challenging financial environment.

So, what might you want to think about if you get the opportunity to be the subject of a programme like this?

•    Confidence. If you are well-managed, forward thinking organisation you should have no worries about film crews wandering around.
•    Commitment. This will take up a lot of your Communications team’s time and some of your officers’ time. If you’re not prepared to put the leg work in, then you owe it both to yourselves and the broadcaster not to get involved.
•    Communication. Keep key people in the loop. Make sure you know what the broadcaster is up to. And make sure you let them know when something breaks – they’ll almost certainly want to film it.
•    Collaboration. This isn’t just the broadcaster’s project. You are a major player. It’s your organisation that’s going to be on display. So work with the crew – show them what’s worth looking at and tell them why.
•    Consistency. Does everyone know what they’re talking about? Are they in the same uniforms? Is everything recognisably your council’s?
•    Characters. We all work with them and the broadcasters love them!
•    Confidentiality – Remember, the TV crew will need to protect the confidentiality of vulnerable people. And you should always respect the fact that some people just don’t want to be filmed.

This is what we’ve learned so far. If you want to learn more, then you really ought to come to the CIPR LPS Conference in October - http://www.cipr.co.uk/LPS2011

Huge numbers of public bodies have done just what we’re doing. But how many others have been offered the opportunity and turned it down, or ignored the request? If your organisation isn’t happy to expose itself to public scrutiny, then maybe it needs something more fundamental than better PR advice.

Robert Webb is comms manager at Monmouthshire County Council, and vice chair of CIPR local public services group

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