For those of us that work for a local authority, we all know the ongoing battle of how to balance the comms team budget, alongside ensuring that the team is able to respond to the ever-growing list of communications demands.

Local councils that do not adequately recognise the importance of strategic communications in terms of resources, skills and its place in the structure, are likely to be the ones that struggle the most to connect with their residents, staff and stakeholders.

The potential power of what a modern communications function can deliver has grown enormously over the past 10 years – and it requires us to think differently if we are to harness this power.

What changed? 

For many of us, when we started our careers, communications teams were simple. We had media officers, marketing officers, if we were lucky an internal communications officer and if we were very lucky we might have a designer.

Jumping to 2022 and beyond, we need to consider a whole raft of other things – campaigns / digital / insight / engagement / public affairs / community engagement / design and creative… the list could go on.

These days the digital landscape is now the primary interface between citizens and public services, which is beginning to blur the lines between customer services and what used to be considered communications.

At the same time local government is moving away from believing that every problem can be solved in the town hall to a far greater recognition that many of our solutions begin and end with communities and the role that local people and partners play.

This means that the modern communicator needs new tools and skills to do the job effectively.

Westco recently hosted a virtual Q and A with communications leads from local councils across the country to ponder on the growing dilemma – what does a modern communications team look like?

Watch the session here if you missed it.

HubSpot Video

There were a couple of hot topics that were discussed.

Would comms all-rounders be easier?

With the growing responsibilities and expectations on the comms team – the panel discussed at length whether or not it is best to have ‘all-rounders’ i.e.: someone who is able to deliver a variety of requirements that spans media, digital marketing, and campaigns – or specialists. But is this really possible?

In reality, we all know the answer lies in budget. In an ideal world, we would have a small army of specialists. But for many councils, the communications teams are shrinking. So what do we prioritise? Where the budget and council size allows, specialisms can be important. For example, media skills, with the capability of selling at a national level, are invaluable, but hard to come by.

Where we do see skills gaps are around campaign specialists: someone who can develop strategic campaigns based on behavioural insight. And with digital – some of the skills required are very technical.

The blurred lines with engagement teams also create challenges. The links between community engagement and communications are very clear. However, good quality engagement does need specific skills. Where are the boundaries and should engagement now sit with communications teams?

One thing that the panel all agreed is that there are some basic skills that the whole team should have, such as good writing skills and a good understanding of audiences.

Are we really geared up digitally?

The digital space is proving challenging – producing the right content on the right platform alongside intelligent audience segmentation. It’s often a question of capacity: knowing what's right for each audience, what's right for each channel, planning content and who will respond where, who’s influencing them, and what time of day or night audiences are online.

The demands of social media in particular span well beyond ‘nine to five’. Are councils equipped to be able to deliver and be responsive outside of the traditional working day? If you've got a small team, finding the space and capacity to manage all that is very tricky. And there’s some overlap between the role and responsibilities of customer service and community engagement teams.

The panel were however very clear that website design and content management should fall squarely within communications in order to move to an integrated approach based on maximum understanding of the customer through email marketing, social media, content management and search engine optimisation.

Planning for internal culture and organisational change

A united panel agreed that internal communications need to gear shift into organisational development through closer alignment with strategic HR. To succeed our world should be far less about values on a page and far more about seeing those values lived and breathed across the organisation by being clearer about the mission ahead and the role of individuals and teams within that mission. That means dedicated skilled resource, not considering internal comms as an add-on.

Importance of getting senior leadership on side

With all of these issues, the growing challenge is always balancing what we, as strategic communicators know is the best way of working – with the pressures from those outside the team. The panel was clear that everyone, from the Chief Executive down, needs to be on the same page. We can’t continue ‘sending out stuff’ whilst striving to be strategic communicators.

So how do we educate our senior leadership on what a good communications team should look like (and indeed bad)? How do we get them on the same page as us?

Talk to us! 

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to discuss all the issues, with other hot topics still burning a hole in the chat box. One particular area that people seemed keen to discuss was; ‘what works best – embedded comms officers in services, business partners or corporately focused?’ Perhaps the focus of another Westco panel discussion? If you would be interested in talking about this, or indeed any other topic – let us know, email

In the meantime, remember – Westco is here to help. If you need help upskilling your team, why not think about our Westco Academy, which is regularly updated with affordable courses and opportunities. And if you don’t see what you need – please reach out.

If you are also looking for skilled support – in any of the areas we have discussed, please reach out to our Westco Works Team, to see how we can help. Email Nalini at or call us on 020 7641 5242.

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