Westco - Blog images (1)-Nov-06-2023-06-20-52-3428-AM


Why? Because we are human and most of us fall short in the pursuit of excellence. Even if we are supremely confident in our own skills (and who is?) success is often dependent on other people sharing the same ideas as us and they can be hard to convince.

That is what makes working in local government communications as fascinating as it can be exhausting. Every day is different. If you win one battle, you can be sure there is another one round the corner. As soon as you come up with a plan of action, you can be sure that an “unplanned” event will spoil our day.


What marks out a great Head of Communication is someone who is on the quest for excellence and always wants to learn and evolve communication practice rather than just getting stuck in day-to-day delivery. 


Westco supports this by carrying out ‘Communication reviews’ which is an awful phrase because it sounds like something akin to an Ofsted inspection. In reality, they are nothing like that. There is no “one-word” summary of performance. Instead, they are usually cathartic exercises where people can get things off their chest and learn from the shared experiences of others. 

And so here are our lessons from carrying out 40-odd communication reviews over the years, the bulk of which have been in local government.

What we have found is that success is as much dictated by the organisational conditions around the team than in the team. 

It is no surprise to find that how the council is run will have a great bearing on how effective the comms team can be. Silo delivery will mean numerous uncoordinated demands where it is impossible to prioritise.

Some councils are still stuck in Covid-mode and are struggling to plan for the long-term, which will inevitably lead to a more reactive comms service. 

Others don’t really understand what communications can achieve for an organisation, thinking of it as a “content machine” rather than a service that can provide solutions to problems. In too many places, we see communications slipping down the structure chart and losing its ability to influence at Cabinet and CEO level.

We think overall council performance goes together with the ability of the communications team to work strategically. For this to happen,  all parts of the cogs of the wheel need to be in place, from the ability to harness the power of community insight right through to the ability to use data in evaluation. All too often, vital pieces of the cog in the wheel are missing. 

Some of the cogs are down to skill development needs within the team (hotspot areas are campaign strategy, social media content planning and old-fashioned media engagement/public affairs). Others are because the communication team, for whatever reason (and there are usually a host of reasons), is not able to work effectively with key interfaces such as organisational development because the two teams don’t really understand each other’s world.

Through our work, we have set out what we think a ‘perfect delivery model’ looks like, where all the pieces of machinery are working as one. 

Do let me know what you think. Do our lessons resonate with your own lived experience and if so, what pieces of the jigsaw are missing for you?



Simon is a former chair of LGcomms. He has worked as a Head/Director of Communications in local government since 2007. 

If you are interested in running a communication peer review email Simon@westcocommunications.com


Simon Jones


In my 16 years of running different local government communication teams,  I have never come across the perfect set-up where everything is working in the most efficient and effective way.  I doubt I ever will… until perhaps the day comes that the bulk of local government is run by AI.


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