Category Archives: Northumberland County Council

5 things I’ll miss about local goverment comms

As I come to the last couple of weeks at my role in local goverment I have become, some might say, uncharacteristically reflective. I know it’s the right thing to do for me; now, but there are some things I will really miss. I have many things to take away with me that make me feel as proud as a man who’s grown a giant melon!
Melon

1. It’s fantastically diverse
One can be in a serious case review on Monday, on a boat in the North Sea on Tuesday, having stakeholder relations with protest groups on Facebook on Wednesday, mediating between schools, the media, senior officers and eleceted members on results day on Thursday and running fun competitions and ordering T-shirts for our first free music festival on Friday. Yes, that was my week this week, and delightfully; it is typical.

Boating in Blyth

2. Being forced into creativity by budgets (or lack of)
Most people who come to us come with a solution. We have to get them to rethink this and come with a problem to which we will have a solution. Then you get to the real challenge: ‘so what’s the budget?’ ‘Er, nothing!’

3. Embracing technology (see 2)
I do not mean digital by default to thoughtlessly save money. I mean genuine creative solutions that truly embrace new mediums and new ways of communicating with residnets on their terms in a way that encourages two-way communication and relevant engagement.

4. The scope of personnel
As I touched on in the first point. I cant think of any other job where one deals with elected members, senior officers, managers, front line officers, ordinary people, extraordinary people, animals, royalty, business owners, artists, and more, where you are in control and the voice of authority. It’s a strange situation, speaking knowledge to power, with someone who earns quarter of a million pounds a year, or is the leader of a council, but that’s all part of the job, when it’s done well.

5. The people
Yes I know, its sadly predictable. But it’s true. I’ve had a whale of a time and learned so much from dedicated, passionate, often inspiring people who find creative solutions to problems with moral integrity and enthusiasm in the face of adversity.

And now, the end is near; and so I face the final curtain.

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Teaching new dogs old tricks: my year as an intern

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This blog first appeared on adaywithoutoj.com, and was written as part of a collection of works looking into the benefits of internships in PR. As I am approaching my the one year anniversary since starting at the council, at the end of this month, I thought I would share.

After finishing my Master’s degree in June, the opportunity to do an internship at Northumberland County Council was presented to me by an attentive lecturer. He told me, based on my interest and enthusiasm for democratic PR and my desire to move into Government communications, it was just the thing for me.

The idea of embarking a new job, in the midst of writing my dissertation, needed some careful consideration. I’d worked part-time as an English teacher during the taught part of my degree, and was fully aware of the pressures of time management, but he was right – this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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I’d heard a lot about the communications work at the council, and had studied the Northumberland Alerts Twitter feed during a social media assignment. So I started in June with about seven weeks to dissertation hand in.

It turned out to be a masterstroke (even if I do say so myself). While my classmates were amassing hours of time researching, interviewing and collating data, I had it all at my fingertips! As I stated earlier, my passions and interests centre on government communications and the relationship between democracy and social media. Being at the council gave me access to case studies and all the information I could ever want from the website team, who are way ahead of the game when it comes to analytics.

With the help of  the web manager and the rest of the team, my dissertation became a willing bed fellow to my practice. They complimented each other and generally just flirted outrageously.

So, I bid farewell to my dissertation at the end of the summer, by which time I felt settled and at home in the communications office. This was no accident either. The team made sure that I could be myself from day one, and the bespoke nature of the internship ensured that I understood exactly what was expected from me, and what I could get from the experience.

I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been an intern before, but the amount of responsibility and workload depends completely on the individual. In my case, and to my surprise, I found myself loving the press side of things – I’d always fancied myself more on the web and social media side of things.
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I got to lead on a few campaigns, including the successful ‘Don’t Stand for It’ campaign, where we created a genuine dialogue with residents, and got them on our side to tackle a community problem that blights the county. The key aims of the campaign was to change residents’ perceptions of the authority, and get people to use our online reporting system, rather than phone the council, or indeed, simply complain to their friends, or even worse, on our social media channels. The campaign increased online reporting by over 200% putting it in the top five things people do on the website, and a survey showed a change in opinion towards the way the authority dealt with the problem.

The experience overall has been invaluable. Friedrich Nietzsche, a really clever German man, once wrote: the doer alone learneth; and my internship has put that theory to the test. As much as I picked up from my time in academia, being in a supportive, friendly, hard-working (and let’s not forget; award-winning) press office has been worth so much more, and I would encourage any organisation, great or small, to seriously consider it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and both parties can really learn a lot from one another.

It’s certainly helped me as I take the next step in my career. Onwards.

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