The discovery that less than a third of senior communicators play an active role in advising on policy, while 80 per cent are content with managing publications, is worrying.
This survey echoes a recent MORI report, which says that the ‘vast majority’ of local authorities have satisfaction scores for individual services higher than that for their corporate reputation. It appears that the sector is not doing enough to link what we deliver with why we deliver the service, producing great publications, but not explaining how this fits together.
Local government urgently needs to accelerate the development of its thinking in terms of communications strategy. This is driven by public expectations, the growth of new media and the requirement to help shape the perception of the community through effective public engagement, linking strategy to tactical implementation.
The LGComms this week makes a start with the announcement of a commission to review the implications of the LG07 study. This will bring together chief executives and heads of communications to identify best practice.
The CIPR can also play a role. The quality of training for senior communications staff is still poor and the institute should be developing programmes that can stretch and challenge the best to develop their strategic skills.
The sector can help solve its own problems. The Reputation Award winners demonstrate some brilliant examples of best practice from Hackney to Preston, and many authorities such as Liverpool, Derbyshire and Wychavon have been delivering serious strategic communications for years. Perhaps the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) and LGA should consider paying these authorities to act as tutors.
It is time to revisit the IDeA’s Connecting with Communities project. This provides a clear route map for developing good strategic communications, but has played a secondary role in recent years to the LGA’s Reputation campaign. While the campaign has taught us to get the basics right, the focus now needs to move towards the business case for communications.