Reputation: not a goal but a measure

I am not Dave Briggs*.

I’ve been following the #lgcomms12 hashtag this week. This is the label for tweets from the LGComms Academy event in Birmingham. It is much more lively than in previous years I must say and it sounds like they’ve been having a really interesting time.

Richard Stokoe from London Fire Brigade has caused quite a stir. He seems to have been arguing that Councils should not care about their reputation. I’ve put a flavour of the tweets in a Storify. Richard refuses to tweet himself.

It is pretty strong stuff for corporate comms professionals. Managing reputations is what PR professionals do. Already under threat from digital comms, from people “just doing it” within their own organisations they now face one of their own turning on them.

Which is all to the good.

I’m pretty sure that Richard Stokoe does care about the reputation of local government. He ran the LGA news team after all.

But he cares more about looking after people. When I interviewed him about how London Fire Brigade approaches social media he was very clear that it is all about stopping fires.

I agree with that approach, communications activity should be about changing people’s lives. It should be about making sure that the vulnerable know what services they can access, it should be about making sure that everybody makes use of the recycling service, it should be about transforming the way services are delivered.

Though I have concerns about where that narrative takes us. If local authorities cease to care about their reputation locally that could take them into some very dark areas.

Local authorities are important. They intervene very heavily in the lives of the most vulnerable in society and they shape the environment and economy for us all. They regulate things, they balance competing needs and wishes, they hold the ring in communities.

If we don’t trust or respect our local authority it will find it hard to deliver services. It may make people’s lives worse. It will become dragged into conflict and a cycle of failed projects and angry customers.

Local authorities should earn and re-earn trust. They should care about their reputation: not as a goal in itself but as a measure of how well they serve their community.

PR in local government should be a tool by which citizens can drive improvements in the council. It should not be a tool by which citizens can be persuaded their services are better than they are.

*This is my first blog on Kind of Digital’s site. I have my own blog where I write about digital comms and emergencies. The plan is that, as I often help Dave deliver projects and training, I may post on this site from time to time about non-emergency comms stuff. But I guess that depends on how many complaints the Kind of Digital team receives.

The digital press office

One innovation in the way that local councils communicate is the developments of digital press offices, or newsrooms.

There are two elements to these, I think. The first is having a digital savvy communications team, who get the growing importance of online new sources and the need for mixed media; as well as the increasingly realtime nature of news reporting. This tends to be the result of already existing inspiration in the team or through training.

The second is having the means to deliver on this, often through an online platform. Some examples of these include Birmingham, Shropshire, and Leeds who all have separate microsites for their digital newsrooms. I hear that Warwickshire have one in development that is close to release.

Often these site are using a lightweight, flexible publishing system like WordPress, rather than being a part of the corporate content management system (CMS). Why is this? I suspect there are several reasons:

  • Speed – using a tool like WordPress you can circumnavigate some of the process and workflow associated with a big enterprise CMS and get messages live as soon as you need them
  • Flexibility – WordPress and tools like it can handle pretty much any content you throw at it, whether text, images, audio, video
  • Conversation – the inbuilt commenting engine in WordPress means you can have a discussion with journalists and other media outlets – again, not the sort of thing that happens often on a corporate CMS

One way that such a platform can be used is to develop online news releases, rather than the more static traditional variety. Rather than sending out a PDF or Word document to journalists, the release can b published online, and the link sent out to people – so if there are any amendments made, the latest version is always the one that’s out there.

Photos, videos, related links and documents to download can all be embedded in there as well, so everyone has all the available media resources to work with as well.

What’s more, this way of doing things ensures a bit of visibility, and findability too. Rather than sending your release to the list of people you know, which is obviously pretty finite, by making it searchable online, many different people are likely to find it, and make use of it, whether they are newspapers or hyperlocal bloggers or whoever.

If you’re interested in developing a digital press office, or newsroom, at your organisation, do get in touch!