Media Analysis: Targeting local government titles

As local government prepares for an image overhaul, leading public sector titles, such as Local Government Chronicle and The MJ, will become more influential. Sarah Robertson looks at the opportunities for PROs.

Bastions of their field and tough to pitch stories to, the two weekly titles for Britain's local government officers are lapped up by all levels of management at England and Wales's 380 local authorities.

While both the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) and The MJ (formerly Municipal Journal) have a surprisingly low circulation (see right), each individual copy is often read by around ten people, the titles claim.

Audience reach

PROs may struggle to discern large differences between the titles. LGC has traditionally been for CEOs, council solicitors and finance directors, while The MJ was for middle-managers, but over the years the titles have moved closer together in terms of their audience.

Four Communications public affairs associate and former Lambeth Council leader Jim Dickson says: 'The MJ has slightly more interesting features but LGC has a bigger number of supplements, which are good for specialist stories.'

The MJ, which publishes on a Wednesday, a day before the LGC, puts more emphasis on in-depth analysis and features than LGC. But as the latter has a dedicated finance editor, it can focus heavily on finance issues, a Local Government Association (LGA) spokesman points out.

Ultimately both magazines are known to 'set the bar high', asserts Fishburn Hedges director Barney Wyld: 'These magazines want strong stories and stories that are about delivering results, rather than plans and products.'

As both strive to paint local government in an interesting light, lively and unusual pictures are almost guaranteed to make it in, claims Westminster City Council comms head Alex Aiken. 'They want stories that have a wider message to local government, there has to be a point that applies to a number of councils,' he says.

The LGA is planning a five-year campaign to boost local government's image (PRWeek, 25 February) and both titles will have a crucial role to play in helping address this issue, points out South Tyneside Council head of corporate comms Lynda Fothergill.

'There is increased interest in getting to the root of the issue of why local government does not get more recognition for its achievements. This is an area where support from both titles really helps,' she adds.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT CHRONICLE

News editor: Varya Shaw

Circulation: 7,500 (ABC) with claimed readership of 70,000

Deadline for news: Monday 6pm

Contact: Lgcnews@emap.com or 020 7347 1818

What is the biggest difference between LGC and The MJ?

We are aimed at the highest level of local government. The MJ is traditionally aimed at a more junior operational level. We used to be aimed at CEOs, finance directors and council solicitors but are now for all officers.

What do you want from PROs?

Apart from news, we want to hear from PROs who have a sparky CEO or director who has something to say for one of our columns; we also love quirky diary stories. Our hot topic is best practice. We cover education, social services, finance, regeneration, environment, and to a lesser extent planning and transport. Central government relations are also covered.

How do you rate councils' comms?

They are variable. Many PROs do not know how important they are. People need to know what councils do or they cannot engage with them. Council PROs are fighting a tough battle to get the public to listen to them.

Are council PROs improving?

They are using increasingly sophisticated techniques, such as using celebrities to get a point across and using glossy publications. Research by the LGA shows councils do not appreciate the importance of comms and that comms directors do not sit on the board, so there could be more investment.

THE MJ

Editor: Michael Burton

Circulation: 8,500 (ABC) with claimed readership of 80,000

Deadline for news: Tuesday 12 noon

Contact: News editor Heather Jameson via H.Jameson@hgluk.com or 020 7973

6691

What issues does MJ cover and how can PROs help?

We are a news title but we also focus on key issues every week such as children's services, adult services, sustainable communities and the Gershon efficiency review (of public sector costs). We use case studies that show how councils have, say, reorganised services and have a forward features list. People often forget the letters page to voice their opinions. We also do profiles and our awards ceremony generates huge amounts of coverage.

How useful are PROs?

We rely on comms staff to remember us as well as their local newspaper, especially with new appointments. It's important because the paper is as much about people as it is about jobs.

How has council comms changed over the years?

The main change is the introduction of strategic comms and the realisation that comms should be at the heart of the organisation for the council to sell itself. Council PROs are also expected to be more proactive, but there is a huge skills gap in this area.

What do you find most frustrating about council PROs?

There is a tendency to be reactive rather than proactive. To be a PRO you need to be a people person, which isn't always the case.

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