Good media relations; good communications, for Brighton

It sounds obvious, but it’s good advice. Brighton & Hove Council’s head of communications John She­well has called on councils to ‘partner’ with local news outlets – it’s a strong idea.

According to PR Week, he’s been advising this week that councils should coll­aborate with local news media to release information about specific issues or campaigns, specifically, via the use of the internet. That last point is important; current estimates suggest local news circulation is falling by ten to 40 per cent a year; something which his partnership idea could address.

His advice was to councils is to ‘embrace the social web… the biggest threat to traditional media is the internet, but it can also be an opportunity. Recent ABC figures show that while print circulation is declining, online audience share is increasing.’

Shewell thinks that the media can be brought into the ‘partnership circle’ of local councils. As he puts it: ‘by unifying local public service comms it makes sense to include the local media as part of the family In this way local public services can develop economies of communication and support their local media. As with most families there will always be disagreements, but strong and healthy families work through their issues for the sake of unity’.

Brighton & Hove City Council is already a forward-thinking entity when it comes to its media relations, no doubt thanks to Shelwell.  It made the rather controversial move of launching its own PR consultancy following in the footsteps of Westminster City and Essex County Council – both of whom have launched commercial agencies in competition with the private sector – earlier in the year. Brighton & Hove’s agency focuses on providing ‘shared service solutions’ to public bodies, making communications more efficient.

There’s never been a more crucial time for local councils to make the most of communications opportunities through the media. Public services are facing the tough challenge of improving services whilst working with decreasing resources. ‘Therefore, one of the big issues facing public services is doing more with less and communications is no different’ says Shewell.

We have held media training and presentation training sessions for several local councils, so we know that media communications is something that is being taken seriously. But Shewell’s suggestion is a good one; partnering with and utilising local media can only bring good results, and of course, importantly, it’s likely to be free.

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd

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