PROFILE: Lorraine Langham, London Borough of Hackney; The council PR dynamo

Lorraine Langham - who takes the reins as Hackney Council’s assistant chief executive (PR and communications) this summer - has an incredible amount of energy. It’s the first thing people will tell you about her, and the first thing you notice when introduced. She talks fast, darting around to gather information and is even known for changing the colour of her hair with far greater alacrity than most.

Lorraine Langham - who takes the reins as Hackney Council’s assistant

chief executive (PR and communications) this summer - has an incredible

amount of energy. It’s the first thing people will tell you about her,

and the first thing you notice when introduced. She talks fast, darting

around to gather information and is even known for changing the colour

of her hair with far greater alacrity than most.



A great deal of this energy is channelled into her work. A 70 or 80-hour

week is normal. She is usually at her desk in Camden town hall by 7am,

rarely leaves before 7pm and often works weekends This intensity of

commitment is a major factor in her rise through the ranks of local

authority PR and is surely one of the qualities that helped her to beat

100 other applicants to the Hackney job - a post advertised under the

headline ‘The toughest PR job imaginable?’ At pounds 60,000 a year it is

one of the highest paid in local government PR.



Hackney has a rotten reputation. To many it is a byword for political

infighting, incompetence and even corruption. As the recruitment ad

said: its ‘relations with the media could hardly be worse.’



‘She’s got possibly an impossible job in terms of Hackney and its

profile,’ says Carole Todd, head of communications at Hammersmith &

Fulham Borough Council, who spotted Langham’s ‘star potential’ when

interviewing her for a press officer’s position.



‘She has her work cut out because basically Hackney is a political

fiefdom,’ says one local government correspondent. ‘The old lot [of

councillors] were edged out but are trying to get back in. At the moment

the good guys are in the ascendancy but it’s still a nightmare. They

still have a bunker mentality and see the press as hostile.’



‘Clearly it’s a very challenging job,’ says Langham. ‘But Hackney have

been very honest about where they are. And they have taken a very bold

decision to put PR at the heart of the authority. It may sound crass but

I do believe that what I and my team do will make a difference to the

lives of the people in the borough.’



The recent appointment of Tony Elliston as chief executive is indicative

of the way Hackney Council is changing. The PR and communications

division has been restructured and a ‘radical’ programme of cultural

change dubbed ‘Transforming Hackney’ has been instigated. Elliston has

made it plain that PR is vital for ‘turning round the image’ of the

borough.



Langham says her priorities will be: communicating positive messages

about Hackney’s activities, putting in place effective crisis management

procedures and improving internal communications with the borough’s

9,500 staff. ‘There’s a trend in local government recognising that PR is

not just about packaging bad decisions,’ she says. ‘It’s not just about

selling products, it’s influencing how a council works. To do that you

need to put PR people in senior positions where they can have an

influence.’



One gets the impression that if anyone can communicate change at

Hackney, it is Langham who is widely credited as the driving force

behind the improvement in Camden’s reputation. She is also chair of the

IPR’s Local Government Group and in February this year set up PRO

London, a networking and best practice group for local authority PR folk

in the capital.



‘She’s tremendous at getting things done,’ says Jane Fannon, of

Communications Management who succeeded Langham as head of PR at Harrow.

‘If she has a weakness it’s probably that she drives herself too hard.’



If pushed, Langham will agree. She says she’s more than happy to throw

herself into her work because she finds local government issues ‘sexy’.



Perhaps we will see Hackney embracing communications with a passion

after all.



HIGHLIGHTS



1980 Clerical officer Local Government Training Board

1985 PR officer London Borough of Hounslow

1989 Marketing and media manager London Borough of Harrow

1993 Head of communications London Borough of Camden

1996 Assistant chief executive (PR and communications) London Borough of

Hackney



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