For what seems like an eternity channel shift, and particularly reducing the cost of print, has been part of my work plan.
Council newspapers or magazines are becoming an endangered species. Most councils are even trying to do away with the need to send out council tax bills as we move to fully digitalise services and the way we communicate them.
It has left me wondering… aren’t we missing something?
That something could easily be described as having a connection with large swathes of residents – call them the “silent majority” if you like – who are likely to never come into contact with their council, or even hear from their council, until something goes wrong.
It includes people like me. I have no interest whatsoever in following my council on social media. I haven’t been invited to sign up for an e-newsletter but if I were to do so I would politely decline. I am fairly active on social media, but I can’t think of an occasion where my path and my council’s path have crossed.
My only contact is via my bank statement where I see £200 coming out every month. It is only because of my professional job that I am aware that this is value for money but if I was “Joe Bloggs” I wouldn’t have a clue and, no doubt, would be moaning about the cost of council tax and the time my council missed a bin collection three-and-half years ago.
It is small wonder that, with the demise of local newspapers and the rush to digitalise everything that we do, we are seeing a fall nationwide in people feeling informed and, subsequently, satisfied about how their council runs things. This isn’t about vanity. Satisfaction equals trust which equals influence which equals the ability to get things done. As someone once said, take away trust you take away a license to operate.
Remember the days when councils produced an “A-Z of Services” with their council tax bill? When done right the reputational and transactional value of this product was priceless. Yet, sadly that’s not how finance directors saw it and they were the ones who often had to pay for it which is perhaps the reason why it was the first apple to be snapped away from that low hanging fruit.
Scratch between the surface and you will find that most councils, post GDPR, are barely reaching 20% of their population via digital communications. When I say “barely reaching” they are the people who may receive an email, a tweet or Facebook message. When you factor in how many people actually open the email or read the information that 20% often becomes 5%.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an advocate of digital communications – but to get to this place we need to be more intelligence and effective. We shouldn’t be asking people if they want to sign up for a newsletter, we should be asking people whether they want to know if their bin collection day will change or if someone wants to build next to them. We should be ending an over reliance on Twitter and taking the conversation to places where it is happening via Facebook community groups. And we should be replacing e-newsletters with personalised emails, based on maximum knowledge about where our customers live and what they are into. Sadly, most councils are a million miles away from this.
Back in my day job I am still searching for print savings. However, I have added an extra column on the spreadsheet which recognises the value of print and when we need to invest in it. Explaining what we do and how we spend money within the council tax bill is high on the list, as is safeguarding my council’s quarterly printed publication.
Simon Jones is Chair of LGcomms
Is print dead? LGcomms is hosting a debate at The Liquorist, 5-7 Greek Street, Leeds, LS1 5RW, on Thursday March 12 from 6.30 – 8.30pm. The event is free to all LGcomms member councils.