Crisis Management
  First Great Western
  Ipswich Borough Council
  George Wimpey
  South Northants Council


Mantra delivers clarity and focus to communications

Clearer focus, more clarity in messages, simplified design and tighter control on buying services are the main areas of improvement identified in an in-depth communications audit conducted by Ipswich Borough Council.  In addition, steps being taken as a result of the recommendations of the audit professionals mean that significant savings could be made through improving the efficiency and effectiveness of communications.

“Every organisation should take a hard and fearless look at its communications to make sure they are up to the highest standards.  What may once have been a coordinated campaign can easily drift over time, losing focus and consistency.  An independent study can also identify areas where performance and cost effectiveness could be improved,” believes Terry Hayward, Director of Ipswich Borough Council. 

Mr Hayward points out that communications is core to relationships with all stakeholders in the community.  From his experience, even the very best work by employees and officers will not be valued if the results are not being effectively presented.  And, equally important, effective communications should work two ways so that council executives are always monitoring the perceptions and understandings of everyone they serve across their regions.

“We decided to check how well we were doing in this important area.  Our first step was to find the best professionals with the experience and the techniques to look closely and without bias at our communications overall.  We commissioned Mantra, who presented their recommended approach.”

The Mantra team, under the direction of Chairman Brian Moore, proposed a full-scale evaluation of all public relations, advertising and publicity materials, including the council’s website.  Mantra would also evaluate the delivery of messages and how these were used across the communications materials. 

The local media coverage was analysed to measure the ratio between positive and negative copy.  The study would also check the profile of the journalists producing this material and the issues covered and the response through letters to the editor

Objectives of the communications review
The aims of the evaluations programme were identified as being to:

Review communications material including advertising, website and newsletters to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Conduct a full evaluation of press coverage from key titles to measure the strength of the messaging surrounding Ipswich Borough Council

Make tactical and strategic recommendations that will enable the council to generate better value from their communications expenditure.

The study took 3 weeks to complete and the final report to the council detailed many strong and effective elements in the communications. 

As an example, the media relations efforts seemed to be producing encouraging results. However, some areas where greater attention needed to be applied were also identified and to be addressed by the council’s communications team.

Management summary and observations
The Mantra executive report suggested that Ipswich Borough Council’s communications activity sometimes lacked a consistent presentation theme that would enable the reader to associate the advertisement, newsletter or website with the Council.  The survey also recommended that the use of logos photographs and corporate colours should be controlled.  Clearer messages were needed, as these were sometimes overpowered in promotional material.

Press coverage of Ipswich Borough Council is largely very supportive, with proactive articles making a significant positive impact.  The report believed that some of this success, however, is compromised by negative coverage covering or gauging public opinion. 

Looking at the issues addressed, synergy between advertising and PR was encouraging.  A comparison between the two disciplines shows the greater positive impact that PR is having.  When the issues being promoted by the council are compared with those raised by the public however, key areas such as the local environment and community life are identified as requiring more emphasis in the council’s communications activity.  All material produced for the IBC should be within the framework of a corporate communications structure.  The evaluation also suggested that significant savings on current advertising expenditure would also result from a greater degree of control.  Savings were readily identified through a realignment of the advertising budget with reduced design costs and fewer advertisements being placed.

Consultancy recommendations to the council
Mantra recommended creating a strategic plan for communications to shape all marketing communications activity including the website, PR, advertising and internal communications, with targets set against each discipline.  A guidebook on the handling of the council identity – its brand - should be designed, to specify how the logo and other items should be handled.  This would also reduce the repeated design costs incurred when each advertisement or newsletter is designed individually.

In addition, the council should track relationships with key publications and journalists to ensure the messages delivered to the media are consistent and accurate, and in turn that these are delivered to external audiences.

Regular audits should be completed to measure performance against the recommended changes.  Communications as a whole should be reviewed annually and media coverage should be analysed on an ongoing basis.

“The end results will include improved effectiveness, cost and quality controls that will give the community a better understanding of the council’s work and how they can shape this”, Hayward concludes.

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