Comms in a hung council

Corporate Communications teams work at the heart of a local council, often on the political coalface. Bang smack in the middle of where political dreams meet officer reality – or the other way around.

So when a council moves from being controlled by one party to hung or a coalition, I just know that the comms teams and the policy wonks will be feeling slightly nervous.

Whether you agree with the politics or not, it’s much easier to work for one party, with one view and a clear direction.

There are several reasons to be nervous about coalitions or joint working;

  • The new members will see you as allied of the previous administration (press officers in particular get labelled as supporting one party or another). Believe me, we’re not a loyal bunch. We’ll work for anyone.
  • You’ve spent four years, or more, getting to know your Leader’s and/or Cabinet Member’s voice – now you’ve got to start all over again.
  • With overall control you get messages signed off by one person – now you’ll have to get it signed off by two parties, maybe even three.
  • You’ll have even more political researchers to fob off….. damn
  • You’ve spent four years convincing the last lot about the wonders of social media – what if you get a bunch of luddites in…… yawn.

On the upside, a hung council is a really good opportunity to bring people together and deliver messages about what’s best for the people out there, rather than feeling like it’s all being driven by a single party view. You also get the chance to bring together some real characters…

My top tips for comms teams new to hung councils;

  • Treat all the members the same, regardless of party. If some old faces remain that you know well, resist the urge to be pally. You need to show there are no favourites.
  • Once the power sharing has been decided by the politicians, push for some protocols to be agreed for sign-off and contact processes. You need clear agreement on who approves what and to retain some control over the channels you use.
  • Once your Cabinet is established arrange a meet and greet with your key communications officers. I’ve always done this and it helps put names to faces, it makes the Members feel relaxed about who they might be dealing with. Include key press officers, digital (who runs your social media accounts?) and web team.
  • As soon as you can, share your agreed ways of working with your key media contacts. They need to know who they can go to for what and when.
  • Set up press and social media training asap. Even if it’s just awareness raising, what to say, what not to say, the service you and your team provide. Set out those all-important boundaries.
  • Be as helpful as you can, especially to new Members. If you’re feeling nervous imagine how they feel. Be open, honest and willing to help. It will make working together so much easier.