When Council Makes Communications a Strategic Priority
Over the past while, I’ve been noticing more Councils include “Communications” as a priority in their Strategic Plans. In fact, in many cases, it comes in as one of the top priorities.
For those communities, the question then becomes how to translate that strategic direction into action that will reflect the desires of Council.
Here are 6 strategies to turn Council’s communications goal into action:
1. Communications Workshops
Set council up with facilitated communications training, providing them with a better understanding of local government comms, including how Administration executes communications; Council’s part in communications, while still operating within their governance role; and specific areas of communications relevant to them, such as social media use, media relations, and crisis communications.
2. Improved Communications Planning
Improve and expand communications planning to drive more focus onto specific areas of execution, including creating plans for:
a. Internal Communications
b. Crisis Communications
c. External Communications
d. Stakeholder Engagement
3. Reshape Campaign Design Processes
Increase interdepartmental and inter-initiative involvement by your communications team. Instead of bringing them in at the last minute and telling a communications specialist that you need a brochure, make the communications team part of the process. They know what works and what doesn’t, and the answer is very rarely just a brochure. Strengthen your comms tools by having the communications team work with you in determining what they feel will be most effective specific to the campaign/initiative at hand.
4. Strengthen Public Engagement Approach
Increase the breadth and depth of external engagement in a manner that is valuable to Council’s decision-making process — which means the results of engagement efforts should be reported to Council on an ongoing basis, as well. We find this is often a piece that Council has in mind when prioritizing communications as part of their Strategic Plan, but it is something they may not immediately know how to articulate.
5. Increase Council Communications Opportunities
Increase Council-to-resident communications opportunities through formalized efforts. This could include everything from Council newsletters; to Council Town Halls/community forums, where members of the public can submit questions; to improved public meeting webcasting; and so on. Two notes of caution: First, this does not mean that Council should take part in operational external engagement, or that they should involve themselves more in corporate communications. They must still operate within their governance role. Second, Council Town Halls will always prove more effective and more valuable than ‘Councillor Coffee’ or ‘Meet Your Councillor’ events, where residents meet only one member of Council, instead of expressing their questions, concerns, and comments before all members of Council simultaneously.
6. Incorporate Communications in Emergency Training
Include your communications team in all emergency management tabletop exercises. Communications efforts are crucial to the success of emergency management in the event of a crisis. Bring the communications team into those settings so that if and when an emergency does occur, they’re not scrambling. Training makes perfect!
Many of these strategies should be implemented regardless of whether Council is prioritizing communications within the Strategic Plan, but these efforts will certainly help provide action to Council’s desired area of focus. From the conversations we’ve had, we project more Councils will begin to see the need for bolstered communications, both from Council and from the organization. Building forward-thinking communications strategies will have a tangible impact on the organization and on the community.
Let us know if you’re looking for a hand to take on — or if have any questions about — any of these 6 action items. We’d be happy to help! Feel free to connect with me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s get to work!