A while back I had a comms epiphany. It was a combination of things that did it.
I spent the first 14 years of my working life as a newspaper journalist with three of those years adding pages to the paper’s website. I wrote the articles sent them to the subs and moved on to the next piece. Occasionally I’d see someone on a train reading what I’d written but my success was measured by the opinions of family and friends when they read what I’d written, the odd letter that came in from readers and I suppose it was also measured with everyone else’s in the paper’s circulation figures.
Then I made the move to the double Dark Side of PR in local government. I didn’t really think about outputs, outcomes or evaluation at first but then these things started to creep in from other areas of the council. So we did what everyone else in comms did. We sent out press releases, we measured column inches and converted them into the price of an advert and everything was hunky dory.
Then I was asked along to a meeting by our sustainable development officer and we tried to work out some ideas for comms and marketing around waste, recycling, carbon management and sustainable development and that’s when the penny dropped.
In comms we can count how many press releases we send out but there’s no guarantee they’ll be used plus measuring that means press releases for the sake of it.
We can count column inches as a result of press releases but there’s no guarantee the articles are being read.
Getting involved in other services comms and marketing at the very earliest stage possible is the way forward.
The outcomes don’t belong to comms. The outcomes belong to those services. We’re all in the business of improving people’s lives and usually that involves changing their behaviour. Most of the time they don’t want to change their behaviour.
Behaviour change fits into just about every council service. Recycling more. Buying less. Paying bills on time. Not speeding. Walking to school. Taking an interest in your kid’s education. Taking an interest in you kids. Not dropping litter. The list is endless.
Since Simon Ruda speak at the LGComms Academy back in the summer I have been looking at the work done by him and his colleagues at the government’s Behavioural Insights Team. They have produced four great reports and their work goes through randomised controlled tests in the same way as medicines in the pharmaceutical industry. One of their reports delved into getting people to pay their taxes on time and how to stop people defrauding and it dawned on me that their work is transferable to the collection of council tax and rent. With welfare reform on the horizon this will be crucial but what’s fascinating about the trials they ran is that getting significant results doesn’t take whizz bang technology or thousand of pound of man hours. It’s low-fi and costs next to nothing.
It’s all about the language used in letters, perceptions and placement.
This is comms 1.0. It’s about getting back to basics and thinking about the way we communicate with the public directly, not through the media. It’s about plain English, cutting through the crap, getting to the point and making it as easy as possible to deal with the council.
So now I’m working with our rent team doing some trials of our own to see what we can adapt from the Behavioural Insights Team and what we can come up with ourselves.
The last time I was in London I arranged to meet Simon Ruda and I came away enthused. He took a look at some initial ideas, added some of his own and told me what he thought would work and what wouldn’t. He shared information about the background of the team – they have behavioural economists, psychologists and marketers. We discussed work he’s doing around alcohol advertising and he shared a belter of a reading list which I’ve now added to my Amazon wishlist.
As I was leaving Simon said one of his team was in Wales helping to set up a team for the Welsh Assembly. I suggested coming north to set one up in St Andrew’s House and I really hope he does.
Simon, if you need any help you know where I am. I can even introduce you to that infamous tonic wine we discussed