A matter of PRide

Okay, so a blog penned whilst bleary-eyed after only a few hours’ kip probably isn’t going to make for great reading.

But what the heck, here goes. 

For last night, little old Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council’s communications unit won the ‘Outstanding In-House PR Team of the Year’ title at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ PRide North-East Awards. 

For the team it was the culmination of about two-and-a-half years’ worth of hard graft to establish a first-rate comms set-up within the organisation.

Three new comms folks – myself included – were recruited in March 2010, not long after the Government’s now-defunct Place Survey had shown our residents’ overall satisfaction levels to be pretty low. Improving reputation was high on the agenda. 

Getting to work

Did we do anything flash or innovative to achieve that? Not particularly, to be honest.

But a huge amount of time and effort was ploughed into getting the fundamental basics of local government comms right.

Media relations, the trusty old residents’ magazine, consultation, crisis management, getting a handle on all print and design activity across the authority, tackling a massive internal comms challenge (we picked up the Best Internal Publication gold award last night too) – they all required major surgery. 

This work began as the council embarked on the biggest regeneration programme in its history, having secured tens of millions in external grants in the nick of time before various funding doors were slammed shut. In the coastal town of Redcar alone, £75m was being invested. The renaissance of Greater Eston was bringing eco-homes, a health centre, supermarket and jobs. All of this required comms support.

By the end of 2010 we were also facing up to the challenges around making £34m worth of cuts in the wake of the Comprehensive Spending Review. 

Cultural barriers

In December 2011, the comms office was home to eight of us. Today, there’s just the four.

Truth be told, we now cast envious glances in the direction of our local government counterparts making giant strides forward in the worlds of social and digital engagement.

Building a decent basic comms operation from scratch has left us a little behind the rest of the field.

The task ahead is now all about breaking down some of the sizeable cultural barriers we face in that regard.

To be fair, there have been encouraging signs in recent weeks and as a team we’re wholeheartedly committed to banging on about the benefits until we’re blue in the face. 

We’ll get there eventually – and hopefully our new trophy haul will give our voice a bit of added clout.


The #OurDay challenge

The success of the LGA’s rather brilliant #OurDay initiative last week has been well-documented, so I’ll not harp on about its wider benefits and implications for social media use in local government.

But suffice to say it was the best thing we’ve done in a long time at Redcar & Cleveland Council, leading to some terrific results and, more importantly, us hearing the collective sound of eyes being prised open and pennies dropping across the organisation.

In no particular order, here’s a few things I learned from our bid to record a full 24 hours in the life of the authority:

* Caffeine is good – I took the midnight to 10.30am shift and then 9pm to 11.59pm, covering everything from school cooks firing up the kitchens early doors to community protection officers patrolling the streets by moonlight;

* Normal stuff is just as important as extraordinary stuff – the internal reaction to our appeal for help in planning ’24 Hours in R&C’ was overwhelming. I genuinely expected at least a few “stop arsing about on Twitter and get a proper job” responses, but got nothing of the kind. Colleagues, particularly those in far-flung locations or doing things you’d probably never associate with ‘The Council’, inundated us with details of their basic, day-to-day routines in serving local communities. “Helping stallholders set up on the market at 6am”; “checking the first ships coming into Teesport”; “removing a mattress and wonky old table from resident’s home” – we really did capture it all.

* Our contact centre is brilliant – dealing with about 2,000 calls a day from people angry at their parking fines, concerned about their missing dog, curious about the roadworks at the bottom of their street, annoyed at their noisy neighbours and so much more is not easy. The comms team tipping up, wreaking havoc and wrecking headsets probably didn’t help, but their call-handling success rate remained extremely high and they were delighted to see their work showcased on Twitter;

* Telling people that they’re doing good things is great. People were chuffed to bits when we fed back the #OurDay results and many teams want to work with us in a similar fashion on individual projects from their own service areas.

#OurDay also marked my 34th birthday, which I largely managed to forget about for most of the day, but then used as a fine excuse to sink a couple of bottles of Peroni at the end of the shift.