Brent Council comms head Cheryl Curling departs amid "verbal comms" shake-up

Brent Council has parted with comms head Cheryl Curling amid a major rethink of its approach to engaging with the public.

Brent Council: Growing comms team in the face of major cuts
Brent Council: Growing comms team in the face of major cuts

Curling's departure, described as a redundancy by Brent Council, comes as the council’s comms staff reapply for their jobs ahead of moves to restructure and expand the PR set-up from nine to 11 staff. 

The restructuring effort began last year in response to the local authority having to make cuts from a £730m budget - excluding eduction, which is ringfenced - of £16m for the end of the 2014/15  fiscal year and then a further £33.7m in 2015/16.

Curling’s role as ‎head of comms and marketing is set to be replaced by the wider ranging and higher salaried role of head of media and external relations, with the post currently being advertised. 

Brent Council’s interim senior comms adviser Richard Stokoe, hired last year as part of the review, said the restructure would see a shift in focus towards making the council’s 2,500 staff its spokespeople. 

"The most trusted form of comms is verbal, and the most trusted form of verbal comms is from friends and relatives, so this is about getting staff out there. If you have each member of staff talking to five people about the council and what it's doing, you can start to bring about big behaviour change."

Alongside a change in the top role, the comms officer roles will be changed to media officers, while new corporate comms officers will oversee longer-term strategy and the training of staff as spokespeople. 

Stokoe, who claimed that Brent’s comms team was currently the smallest in London, added: "It’s about using internal comms to do external comms, and a massive shift in attitude in terms of seeing council staff as a resource in that way.

"I think people have got so excited and digital they have forgotten the basis of comms, which is about doing the basics right, and while the world is talking about Twitter people want personal interaction. Twitter is being seen as a panacea but it is just another tool in the comms kit."

Curling had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press. 

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