John Shewell: how to manage political change

Council comms teams face fresh challenges following the local elections on 5 May.

John Shewell: credibility of comms teams could be under risk
John Shewell: credibility of comms teams could be under risk
For many councils across the country there were sweeping changes as the electorate voted for a new administration. But even for those councils that have kept the same political administration there will be a new agenda to deliver for the next four years and comms teams need to be ready to step up to the mark.
In Brighton & Hove we have the prospect of forming the first ever Green council today (Thursday 19 May) in the country making it one of the most exciting places to work.
Therefore, comms chiefs face three stern tests that will bring into sharp focus their credibility and integrity.
The first is whether they can navigate a successful transition from one administration to the next or towards a new agenda if it’s still the same administration.
The key is to plan the transition – both for the incoming administration and the organisation.
This means understanding the political manifesto of the incoming administration in fine detail, but more importantly devising a narrative that shapes the agenda.
The agenda will be driven by a careful alignment of the party’s manifesto and the organisation’s priorities.
This will assist in teasing out the key messages that support the overarching narrative.
The second test is sustaining the change. This requires organising the senior leadership around an explicit strategy designed to support both the incoming administration and the organisation going forward.
In practical terms this means sitting down with the leadership team to devise a reputation management strategy for the organisation – focus on the narrative arc across a timeline with key dates.
Make sure that a thorough analysis has been carried out on the situation identifying the critical issues that could hinder or enhance success. This will help put flesh on the bones.
And keep the strategy flexible in the early stages so as to give the administration and the organisation some space to reflect and refine.
The final test is delivery. A great strategy is worth nothing if the execution is poor. A mediocre strategy is worth more if the execution is exceptional.
Failure to do all of the above will only serve to undermine both credibility and integrity of the comms team in the eyes of those that matter most at this critical stage – the politicians.
John Shewell is the head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council

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