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Communications and marketing strategy 2018/19

21 January 2019

Our Mission

We are here to help tell the story of Essex and of the County Council.

Our role is to ensure excellent communications which meet the needs of our residents and supports our employees to understand how their work contributes to the Council’s strategy and the vision for Essex. This will enable us to improve satisfaction with our services and protect and enhance the reputation of the Council.

We are strategic, we put the user first, and we will lead and guide the rest of the organisation. We will apply principles of integration and collaboration, effective use of digital (including social media) across both external and internal communications, shifting communication and engagement online, and digital insight to ensure planning, content creation, amplification, engagement and evaluation are underpinned by data and an understanding of customers’ needs.

We will work dynamically across our structure, breaking down silos and collaborating in project-based teams; developing consultative, not supplier-based relationships with the rest of the organisation; and providing excellent guidance, systems and processes to facilitate a more devolved approach across activities and channels, with content created close to the end-user.

Introduction

There are several areas that communications and marketing is essential in modern government:

  • Raising awareness of government policies and schemes so the public benefits from them;
  • Influencing attitudes and behaviours for the benefit of the individual and the wider public;
  • Supporting the effective operation of government services;
  • Informing, supporting and reassuring the public in times of crisis;
  • Enhancing the reputation of Essex at home and around the Country; and,
  • Meeting statutory or legal requirements to provide public information.

At Essex County Council we need to adopt different communications and marketing approaches in 2019 for two central reasons; firstly, in order to reach our audiences with the information, advice and guidance they need in the way they want; and secondly, to tell the story of what the County Council is doing to improve the quality of life of our residents through the Vision for Essex (with partners) and our Organisation Strategy.

A new approach

In recent years communications and marketing has followed the direction set by Commissioners, rather than the needs of the Council as a single, unified corporate entity.

As a result, it has frequently communicated across a broad range of topics, at the same time, sometimes without a strong sense of priority.

The new approach will seek to establish a more unified approach to corporate communications, deployed via channels appropriate to our audiences (including digital channels), as defined by the County Council’s Organisation Strategy and its associated business plans, in turn delivering the Council’s contribution to the Vision for Essex.

There will be a greater emphasis on the strategic, and what has been prioritised through the business plans, with less emphasis on servicing emerging in-year service needs and demands.

It will seek to build and strengthen the effectiveness of communications and marketing, particularly in driving outcomes established in the Organisation Strategy.

How we will operate

Our operating model is based on the principle of the corporate communications and marketing function providing consultancy, advice and guidance across the organisation and in collaborative relationships with partners across sectors.

It is less based on content production, although key corporate communications content will still be produced for deployment across channels.

We have adopted a new structure, with a leaner team at the corporate centre, more specialised disciplines, fewer areas of focus but with bigger impacts and outcomes. The Communications & Marketing team acts as a centre of excellence, building capability across the organisation, supporting continuous improvement in both performance and outcomes.

Brand

Strong brands promote engagement and loyalty. They identify services, activities and products clearly, consistently and proudly. They also encourage accountability.

At Essex County Council, our brand is a promise of quality to everyone we serve.

We rely on ECC being perceived as trustworthy and genuine.

Every member, every employee, contractor, partner, working for us or on our behalf has a role to play in this.

They are all brand ambassadors, with a shared responsibility to accurately portray and represent our brand in all our actions and communications.

Brands also need to evolve, and in 2018 and onwards we will work hard to ensure our brand evolves.

The Council’s four new strategic aims: enable inclusive economic growth; help people get the best start in life and age well; help create great places to grow up, live and work and, transform the council to achieve more with less, are the starting point for the evolution of our brand.

We will seek to further develop how our brand works within and across digital platforms and channels, as our work is increasingly delivered through them.

We will also seek to further develop how our brand works in partnership with other organisations. And we share responsibility for the Essex Vision brand, along with our partner organisations.

This brand is a unique example of a vehicle created to help partners address the difficult, ‘wicked’ problems affecting the county and preventing progress against our priorities. This challenger brand is bold, innovative, and seeks to portray Essex at its very best, through which everyone associated with the county can be proud of.

As part of our role as the brand guardians of the Council we will be seeking to leverage and promote this brand alongside our own.

Re-defining campaigns

We deliver strategic marketing communications consultancy, providing quality assurance and market knowledge to lead and guide the organisation. We advise on and deliver insight led, digital first campaigns, working collaboratively with partners to support council priorities. These campaigns will put residents and employees at the heart of all we do, inspiring action and encouraging behaviour change to improve lives.

With the emphasis on more strategic activity designed to have a greater impact, a new approach to campaigns will be introduced.

This will aim to interrogate, design, execute and evaluate external campaigns which are driven by the Council’s priorities and which aims to affect a behaviour change, generate income or support the reputation enhancement of the County Council.

Underpinning this will be digitally-led work to promote and explain the council’s priorities, across all four areas of the Organisation Strategy, bringing to life and illustrating the range of services we deliver.

Digital by definition: targeting, reaching and engaging with audiences

We are the centre of content excellence, with user need, data and insight at the heart of content planning, curation, engagement and evaluation. We work collaboratively with colleagues across the organisation to ensure content is high quality, high value and has the required effect.

Digital and social media will be at the heart of how we tell Essex’s story.

The Council has developed devolved approaches to social media, in particular, which now need to be developed to ensure that quality, consistency and effectiveness is more uniform across the Council.

A new social media team will provide insight and depth of knowledge, which has not been available before. They will lead the development and socialisation of a new social media strategy which will establish the role of corporate accounts and service accounts and guide best practice usage regarding content planning, engagement and metrics.

We will also be taking a new approach to content management across all our channels, reviewing the suitability of our existing ones, ensuring they are fit for purpose and managed efficiently and effectively in line with the principles established by the Government Digital Service.

Engaging and accessible - External Communications

Protecting and enhancing the Council’s reputation remains a core part of the role of external communications. We are here to explain and justify the Council’s position and policies, as well as, primarily through digital channels, make sure we listen to what residents, businesses and everyone who lives here and who we work with are telling us.

Residents still access news and information about the Council from the local, regional and national media. Increasingly, this is via digital channels and mobile devices, and frequently via social media.

But the media’s ability to influence perceptions of the Council means that the Council still needs to invest in high-quality, proactive external communications which provides a professional service for journalists and is a trusted and respected source of news and information for all audiences, whether promoting the Council’s agenda or achievements or responding to issues or events.

Public affairs

We will seek to build relationships at Westminster and beyond in order to promote Essex’s vision and help make sure it is delivered.

Influencing key Government and parliamentary audiences to achieve our outcomes is a key component of our strategy.

We will focus lobbying resources on our top three priorities: linking our priorities to Government’s core interests; Brexit; and, economic growth.

We will aim to influence select Committees, which themselves will carry greater influence in a minority government, will have greater weight. We will build a strong Essex caucus of 18 Conservative MPs, widen our parliamentary engagement through the All-Party Parliamentary Group for local government innovation, and expand our engagement beyond local government networks to link our voice wider sectors.

Employees at the heart of what we do

We are our organisation’s professional and trusted advisers who create innovative and engaging communications to ensure our employees are well-informed, understand and are inspired by our vision and their role in it. We provide strategic communications advice and consultancy to enable employees to deliver against our organisational objectives. Employees are part of our story and we empower them to join in the conversation.

Our aim is to make sure that all employees understand what the Council’s is here to do, and their role in it. We need to ensure all employees can access the key information they need to do their job, and provide line managers with the information and tools they need to communicate effectively with their teams.

There will be a clear focus on consulting and advising on internal communications options and activities and less on content creation, other than for the corporate, organisation wide news.

Much more internal communications will be created within teams, and we will enable content and activity to develop organically, utilising tools such as our communications toolkit.

We will facilitate ‘bottom up’ communications, for team and groups within departments and across the organisation, using digital approaches and utilising new channels to encourage online interaction and engagement.

Face-to-face communications will still remain a key element of our approach, focussed on Chief Executive and Corporate Leadership Team, working with colleagues in Organisation Development to promote engagement-led events and activities.

Creating compelling visual design

We are a professional, in-house design team, progressive in our thinking, evolving through our learning and responsive to our customers’ needs. Our creative and innovative design solutions enable and support the organisation be the best it can be for our County.

Without an insight-driven, compelling and engaging approach to visual design, our aspirations to change behaviours, to engage and inform and to strengthen and evolve our brand, will fall on deaf ears. Our design studio will prioritise its time crafting creative solutions to enable our Communications colleagues to achieve the cut through they need in their activities.

Our plans

We have set out the activities we will be delivering in a series of plans which underpin this strategy.

All of this activity relates to lines with the Council’s business plan, and its workforce strategy.

These plans are living documents, and will be added to and amended throughout the year.