Making important things interesting

How do you get the public to sit up, take notice and get involved in vital decisions and changes happening on their doorstep? Senior consultant Ian Hembrow reports on our work across England and Wales with the Society of Local Council Clerks (SLCC) to apply proven media techniques to community leadership.

The former Director General of the BBC, Sir John Birt, once said that the art of news is to “make important things interesting.” These four words neatly sum up our entire industry and profession, and pinpoint why it sometimes seems so hard to get good news seen and heard.

The nation’s 5,000-plus local council clerks are a unique and precious national asset – a far-flung army of dedicated individuals embedded in every village and town across the land. The contribution of these quiet, community heroes and heroines and the elected volunteer councillors they support often goes largely unnoticed and unsung, but they have a vital and compelling story to tell.

Take away all the work that parish and town councils do to keep neighbourhoods safe, clean and sustainable and people would soon notice the difference and be shouting that ‘something must be done.’ This is why strong storytelling and public relations is so crucial to modern, first-tier local government. But for local council clerks, who often work alone or in very small teams and who have to wear dozens of different hats every day, it can be difficult to create the time for good media relations.

That’s why at regional events visiting every point of the compass during 2019, we’re running workshops to help clerks spot and share examples of how councils promote local quality of life, and to hone their skills in showcasing big achievements.

The challenge of course lies in the subject matter. There’s no doubt what local councils do is important, but how to make it interesting? The tips we’re sharing with local clerks include:

  • Making sure media stories match and support their council’s brand
  • Finding and emphasising the news values in what they do – things that are out of the ordinary, urgent, local, controversial, emotional or funny
  • Giving the media want they want – tight, print- or web-ready copy and crisp, eye-catching photos
  • Crafting concise, well-structured media releases with a clear call to action.

One of the big hurdles for some clerks is to leave behind the formal, passive, impersonal, officialese written tone of voice they still need to use for some parts of their job. Ingrained habits die hard, but stories that sound like council meeting minutes or reports just don’t get published.

In an increasingly visual world, well-composed, professional-quality images are also essential. A striking photo or video clip can get the message across faster and more powerfully than hundreds of words, so it pays to invest in sharp, bespoke material to support every story.

These lessons hold true for almost every sector, and we’re enjoying helping such an extraordinary and diverse group of local public servants put them into real-life action.

Watch out for good news stories coming to a community near you soon.

Creative Bridge provides training and coaching on all aspects of communications – from plain language writing to television presentation skills. To find out how we can help you or your business, please contact michelle.hallmark@creative-bridge.com or 07545 610277.