by Kim Neville
LGcommunications has nominated 16 communications specialists from local authorities across the UK to take part in a new leadership programme. The LGC Future Leaders Network, aims to support up and coming officers, connecting them with peers and some of today’s local government luminaries to help them shape their thinking and forge relationships for the future.
What does the next generation of local government chief communications officers look like? I may have had a glimpse into the future yesterday when I joined the first gathering of LGcommunications Future Leaders’ Network in Westminster.
Succession planning is something that could so easily drop down the list of priorities in these stringent economic times. Yet now more than ever it is absolutely crucial that corporate communications are strategic, well researched, planned, executed, evaluated and represent good value for money.
And for that to happen we need good, skilled people at the helm leading and shaping corporate communications. For many years people like me have argued that communications should be recognised as a strategic professional discipline, just as important to the long term success of an organisation as the role of financiers, lawyers and business strategists.
Indeed many local authorities do give their Head of Comms a seat at the top table. But sadly there are others who still see communications as an operational function or add-on. Creative people who don’t quite fit into the world of local government but are handy when bus adverts or posters need to be produced. Or press officers churning out press release after press release with little regard to the effectiveness of their efforts.
They fail to see that without a sound communication strategy based on good research and underpinning the overall objectives of the authority their ambitions for local communities will at best be less effective and at worse will fail.
I’m hoping that as one of the first LGcomms nominees to the LGC Future Leaders Network, our group can develop the skills and competencies we require for us to take up the mantle of those who have gone before us and play our part in driving up the reputation not just of our own authorities, but that of local government in general during these times of incredible change.
As the first year’s intake of communications people on the network we will be helping to shape the six month programme for those who come after us so we can build a robust framework of continuous professional development and networking that will give us the skills our Chief Executives require.
The first session at Westminster City Hall on Tuesday was opened by LGC Editor Emma Maier who provided an overview of the programme.
There followed a constant stream of thought-provoking ideas presented by an impressive line up of communications specialists, from University of Westminster’s Professor Trevor Morris talking about why PR itself has a reputation problem, to building reputation inside out by Professor Chris Roebuck from Cass Business School.
Existing heads of communications talked about their experiences, including Paul Middleton from the London Borough of Sutton, who talked about behaviour change; Robin Campbell from Southwark Council who gave an insight into crisis communications and Cormack Smith who spoke about winning the trust of members.
Carl Welham, assistant Chief Executive at the London Borough of Hackney and Ian Farrow gave us an insight into the core competencies required of chief communications officers by Chief Executives, while Julia Corkey and Neil Wholey from Westminster City Council talked about the importance for good research, consultation, strategies and evaluation techniques.
LGcommunications chair David Holdstock and secretary Alex Aiken are shaping the programme with monthly events that include a day at the LGA, a peer review, an academic day at Leeds Met University and tailored one to one sessions during the LGcomms academy in Birmingham (29-31 May).
Members of the LGcommunications committee have also volunteered their services to mentor the sixteen nominees on this year’s leadership programme.
During the next six months we will be reflecting on best practice and filling any skills gaps we personally may have that could prevent us from taking the step up to the next level.
I genuinely hope that I will be able to play my part in demonstrating how well planned, well executed and properly evaluated communications can help drive local government’s reputation in these times of incredible change.
Kim Neville is Press and PR Manager at Walsall Council (all views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of LGcommunications, LGC or employers)
*LGcommunications is a national body made up of an association of authorities that works to raise the standard of communications in local government.
More information about the Local Government Chronicle’s Future Leaders Network can be found at http://www.lgcplus.com/5031403.blog