Wirral Council wants to launch a monthly newspaper costing nearly £250,000 to be funded by the taxpayer.
Sir Eric Pickles believes councils should only publish four issues a year – if any – but Wirral Council’s plans are a lot more ambitious than that. So ambitious that they’ve allegedly held details about the paper from the public in meetings. The 28 pages they want to publish every month must make for dynamite reading if they’re going that far.
It’s been labelled as a Pravda paper. Translated literally as ‘Truth’, the Pravda was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the best part of seven decades.
We hate the idea. There are already so few independent news outlets on the Wirral – bar Trinity Mirror’s Globe, News and Liverpool Echo – that are in a position to seriously challenge the council and hold it to account. That the council can publish what it likes is Orwellian to the extreme.
Yet, we really want to hear more from the council. It does need to be more open and transparent with local residents. The council claims that ‘[six] out of 10 Wirral residents do not feel well informed about local services and community information’. More needs to be done. We just think the idea of a costly monthly paper is totally the wrong way to go about it.
Their website’s a disaster and incredibly hard to navigate. From an industry point of view, the immediate euthanizing of New Day and even The Independent ceasing physical publication shows that going down the print route at such a cost shouldn’t be crossing anybody’s mind at the moment.
The council’s stuck in the dark ages when it comes to communicating with the peninsula. There are so many more affordable and direct options we think they could consider, such as:
1: Better use of Facebook and social targeting
The obvious one. Well, to you and I, maybe. Over 60 per cent of the UK’s population is on Facebook with a pretty even fifty-fifty split between men and women using the platform. Facebook is a dream when it comes to reaching specific sets of people. Time was savvy digital marketers would even go as far as directly targeting pregnant women.
Facebook also owns WhatsApp and Instagram while Twitter, LinkedIn and others are all effective social media platforms. The council already has some, though, but communication looks terrible on them. It’s all one-way and already doing what many assume the Pravda will do; posting press releases and what it deems accomplishments.
Without wishing to sound like a wanky marketer, true social growth and success comes from communicating with people and addressing problems. £50 a month would be all it would take to see continual local targeted follower growth on their social platforms (according to us) while a social media monitor talking to people would make the council instantly more approachable and open online.
2: A direct, cultural approach
When we started Wirral Way we pointed out that the most enamouring thing about the peninsula is that it has everything. There’s no one label that can describe the Wirral (apart from maybe “wool” if you’re funny and live over the water).
The EU announced in June that culture is set to become an important part of its relations and communications strategy. Culture will be central to the EU’s foreign policy in the coming years, and whatever you think of it, the ideas they’re knocking around make sense when it comes to using culture as a communications tool.
In fairness this is something the council’s getting right with Wirral’s Culture Strategy as they look to make us a world-class tourist destination. Why not use the cultural areas the plan has identified to have a more visible presence across the Wirral with bi-monthly pop-up stalls fielding Q&A sessions and meet-and-greets?
3: Better targeting of the Wirral’s residents
This is linked to the second point and how the Wirral isn’t a one-size-fits-all place. A paper distributed monthly by the council smacks of a blanket strategy of getting as much selected positive news out there as possible, with no thought behind who will read it so long as they’re on the Wirral.
The Wirral and modern local communities simply aren’t like that; something which Warwickshire County Council has recognised itself in its marketing and communications strategy. In their manifesto, they drill deep down into who they want to communicate with along with their partners, their audiences and the key messages they want to promote, all under a clear narrative.
That’s also a money-spinning strategy. Newcastle-under-Lyme also has an in-depth communications strategy listing exactly who they will look to communicate with between 2015-18, the benefits of doing so and what they hope to achieve. Perhaps getting out there with clipboards, talking to people, producing online surveys and more to produce a clearer communications directive would help streamline future communications costs.
4: Make better use of the available data
It’s a council. They have our information. But is Wirral Council’s data policy up to date so they can use it properly to communicate effectively with people? Brexit or not, the EU is still set on introducing the biggest shake-up of data protection laws in 20 years with GDPR.
The UK’s still expected to be part of that directive. It’s a good thing, though, and will (hopefully) give citizens the control over their data that they’ve been asking for for so long. Data protection and collection will turn on its head, and any company or body that abuses it could be fined as much as £15.8 million.
The Pravda money could be better spent on a new, ethical data collection and communication strategy from the council. They could invest in updating the legal side of things and collecting communication information such as email addresses across the Wirral, proposing to contact people who only wish to be reached and opt-in.
5: Have a clear long-term vision
We think the Pravda plan has gathered such little support because there doesn’t appear to be any long-term thought or ideal behind it, and it’s a case of the council’s doing it because it wants to and can.
We’ve already shown two councils with long-term communication visions. Here’s another one from Gloucestershire County Council between the 2013-15 period; a document asking itself questions such as what are we here for, what are our values and key messages, how will we behave and how will we deliver them? Here’s a similar one from Sweden’s Arctic Council too; organisations laying out long-term strategies to reach out to the people they’ve been elected to serve.
The best we can find is a press release on the council website talking about introducing a ‘digital Wirral’ because more people are using tablets. Sounds like fluff to us. Think long-term, Wirral Council, put yourselves out there and commit yourselves to a more open, transparent and easy-to-use communications process that anyone on the penisula can immediately access.