Being proactive the key to better local government PR, says expert

Councils can learn a lot about the effectiveness of their communication with local audiences and stakeholders during a crisis like Covid-19.

Communications expert Neryl East points to increased levels of public trust in local government during the pandemic as proof that councils have largely been reliable sources of information in 2020.

“The health measures imposed during Covid-19 required a local focus,” Dr East said this week.

“Councils have had to take information from federal and state governments and tailor it for their own communities and local context – and many have done this well.

“However, cracks are evident in other areas of local government communication,” she said.

Dr East, who will discuss “Engaging your Community Through Times of Crisis” at ALGA’s Special Local Roads and Transport Congress next month, said many councils tend to communicate reactively, responding only when an issue arises or when a community group becomes angry.

“Councils really need to focus on communicating deliberately, proactively, strategically and consistently with their communities – about all the areas that concern their communities,” she said.

As part of her work with local government, Dr East encourages councils to have a communication strategy that links closely with their strategic plan.

“Obviously, issues will arise and some communication will need to be reactive. But there is so much more that councils can be doing on the front foot to get their message across.

“Best-practice councils have communication at the core of what they do. And it is linked with all their major decisions and projects rather than being an afterthought.”

Smaller, less well-resourced councils can still communicate effectively if they ensure their senior communication person has “a seat at the table and is not buried down the organisational structure”.

“I think a lot of councils are very good at jumping on to new technology, and exploring what’s available, even with limited resources,” Dr East said.

“But in terms of effective communication, I’d always advise them to go back to basics, make sure they’re really clear on who they’re talking to, what channel will best reach that audience, and what their key messages are.

To find out more about how councils can engage with their communities on the issues that concern them, register for Roads, Regions, Resilience, ALGA’s Special Local Roads and Transport Congress on 16-17 November.