Four ways local government comms specialists can enhance General Election coverage

There's something magical about driving home on empty roads as dawn breaks. But, my word, it was a long, long day.

Like many local government comms professionals, Mike James had a busy night last Thursday
Like many local government comms professionals, Mike James had a busy night last Thursday

Like me, many of you will have been working the General Election count overnight. And it seems like we're all still a little unclear as to what the result actually means in the long-term.

But something we can be clear about pretty quickly is the impact of the comms that we do on the night.

I think it's really important to understand what we're trying to achieve when we’re posting material from the count and talking about the election.

Our job as local government comms people is very clear cut in the lead-up to each poll – to support the democratic process by encouraging registration and raising awareness of polling arrangements.

On the night of the count we can build on these objectives. This is about demonstrating transparency and rigour of the democratic process. It's also about demonstrating the vital role local government plays in delivering national polls.

Hooking people into your channels of communication via an election is also a great way to build your direct audience base too, which supports all sorts of comms for the future.

Coverage of election counts from council comms teams is a world away from what it was just a few years ago.

In a world that's moving fast, I think it's important to step back for a moment and think tactics.

Here are some personal thoughts from my own experience of our election night communications:

1. Making it move

Video content is key. In the day leading up to the count, we made some short films to explain the count process because, let's face it, the vast majority of people have never, and will never, go inside an election count.

We created three lots of pre-made content, which we uploaded at different points of the process to tell people what would happen next. But we were also set up to be agile on the night, capturing live video of different aspects of the count process, following the journey of a ballot box from car boot through to count tables, for example.

Both types of video content were well received, but the "live" updates particularly so. People want to see what's happening, what it's like to be there.

2. Making it human

People are interested in people. We all know that. So we made something of the friendly police officers helping us at the count. They didn't have guns, just big smiles. And a picture of those smiles with a "thank you" note got loads of engagement.

3. Making it different

How far do people walk during an election count? I can tell you exactly. Over 6,000 steps if you're the count manager for Selby District Council. I know this because we fitted some of our staff with pedometers during the night and ran a little online competition.

This has got absolutely nothing to do with counting votes or the turnout or the end result, but it's got everything to do with engaging people with your count via your communication channels.

4. Making it into a story

For me, it’s important to think about the narrative for the whole night – what sort of story do you want to tell from start to finish, and how can you get that story across in different ways?

The story should flow, with some twists and turns and interesting angles. People are bombarded with information about the election from all sorts of different sources, so it's about making your content coherent as a whole package of updates.

At every election count I learn something new about what works, about what doesn't. This learning is a really important part of the process – constantly refining what we do to maximise its value to our organisation, to our community and, dare I say it, to our country.

Mike James is communications manager at Selby District Council


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