Heaton has been head of comms at six county councils in the UK and joins Encore as senior PR consultant. He will work alongside director Simon Brian, who set up the agency in 2003.
The Leicestershire-based company recently expanded its team from two to five, following various undisclosed new-business wins.
Heaton said the challenge for local authorities is to win public support and involvement. ‘If people realised all the things that local government did, our reputation could be better,' he added. ‘Although the image of local government has improved over the years, there is a long way to go to win over people up and down the country.'
Heaton's local authority career began in 1983 when he became head of comms at Staffordshire County Council, where he worked for five years. In 1988 he moved to Cambridgeshire Council for two years, and then onto Buckinghamshire. In 1998 he joined Milton Keynes, and then Northamptonshire in 2001.
He was made redundant from Northamptonshire as part of a drive to absorb cuts in the council's funding. Shortfalls in the settlement grant eventually led to the council axing nearly half of its comms team (PRWeek, 7 April 2006).
Heaton's most recent permanent local authority stint was at Cumbria County Council, where he was interim head of comms from 2004 to 2005.
He has since worked as a freelance local government consultant.