OPINION: Bigger doesn't mean better PR

Preston might be the future in terms of local government reputation. Its success at the recent LGA Reputation awards shows that you can deliver great outcomes on a tiny budget.

Many aut­horities are well resour­ced, but their ratings for resident information and advocacy remain middling. In contrast, smaller authorities are producing tremendous work and high ratings in many areas.

A new analysis of the best value performance data supports the argument that size doesn’t matter. It finds that there are only three author­ities where the score for corporate reputation is higher than that for individual ser­vices. Two of these councils, Kensington and Chel­sea and Wandsworth, have half the communi­ca­tions staff – combined – of the average London authority.

There seem to be five characteristics common to the successful smaller communications teams.
First, they have clear direction. They have an agr­eement between the leader, chief and head of communications on the story for the council, art­iculated through the comms strategy.

Wychavon’s ‘good value, good services’ ethos sums up what auth­orities should deliver, winning it a string of awards.

Second, they don’t sit communications in a silo. Some smaller teams are actually strategy units, combining policy and communications functions to shape the direction of the organisation. At Fenlands Council, effective internal commun­ications is enhanced by a strong corporate team.

Third, it’s about great research, and this is where many well-resourced communications teams fall down; they ‘carry on implementing’ but never establish an evidence baseline.

Fourth, fewer resources is not an argument for skipping evaluation. It’s the route to winning confidence that communications can deliver. Wycombe’s success in demonstrating public satisfaction with their council magazine was crit­ical to maintaining the role of communi­cations.

Finally, smaller authorities learn to work successfully with others. Their lack of resources means that they have to, evidenced by Preston’s A-Z of services which covers all local services. They manage to pool resources while retaining their identity, and demonstrate to the public that government delivers.

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