Agenda item

To examine the Council’s Communications Strategy – using different media, utilising technology efficiently, and assessing the impact of communication.




Further to the decision of Council taken at its meeting held on 13 July 2021 (Minute 53 referred), the Committee undertook an enquiry into Tendring District Council’s Communications Strategy.


The Committee had before it a report that outlined how Tendring District Council’s Communications Strategy had been adopted in April 2021 and which set out the strategic framework and principles which guided all of the Council’s communications activity. It built upon the development of communications already carried out following on from the Local Government Association’s Corporate Peer Challenge of Tendring District Council in 2018, which had included: “improve how you tell the story of your ambition, plans, successes and positive impact” as one of its key recommendations.


Members heard that, whilst the Communications Team was responsible for overseeing the function, and would carry out many of the operational communications the Committee might recognise, as an organisation there were many Officers who carried out communications – whether explicitly, such as posting to social media for their service, or implicitly in conversations they had with residents, businesses and visitors. Therefore a key role of the Communications Team – and the Strategy – was to advise, guide and promote best practice in communications across the Council.


Communications, like the rest of the Council, had a digital-first approach; but recognised that some residents were digitally excluded, and therefore would need to be reached using other methods.


Communications also included how the Council shared information internally, with staff and Members, as well as externally to the wider public; and consideration of cascading information to all stakeholders in a timely manner formed a key principle when planning communications.


The Committee was informed that the Strategy adopted in 2021 set out a narrative of Council communications; the journey it had undertaken and the vision for the next three years, with the Strategy aligned to the Corporate Plan. The Corporate Plan, as throughout the Council, guided the priorities and objectives of communications.


Within that context, the Strategy set out five broad areas for improvement over its lifespan namely:-


·      Video content

·      Project work

·      Social media

·      Email and SMS communications

·      Internal communications


From those flowed some SMART targets, as listed below along with the progress achieved to date:-


·      By 2024 increase the number of videos created each year by 50% from the 2020 figure (50 – target of 75).

“In 2021 the Council created a total of 49 videos, against the 2024 target of 75, ranging from internal staff vlogs to live streams of events. The Tendring District Council Communications Group has begun discussions on ways of increasing this number. NB this figure does not include live streams of committee meetings, which is around 65 additional videos.”

·      Ensure every initiative which goes through the Council’s Projects Boards has a communications plan.

“At the time of writing there were currently four projects progressing through the Boards, three of which had a communications plan or strategy associated with it. The fourth is not yet at an appropriate stage for a plan or strategy.”


·      Grow the number of Facebook followers on the Council’s corporate account to 8,000 by 2024 (baseline of 5,300).

“As of 4 January 2022 the Council had 7,659 followers, showing a steady trajectory towards the target.”


·      Increase the number of staff actively carrying out posts to the Council’s corporate Facebook page by 300% by 2024 (baseline of 5).

“Through 2021 we had 16 staff regularly posting; largely bolstered by the Community Ambassadors. Staff changes also slightly inflate the statistic. This figure should stabilise as we progress towards the target date.”


·      Present a business case for email communications software, and reinforce the Council’s Branding Guidelines with regards to email content, by 2024.

“Initial work considering Digital Transformation Phase 3 Projects has a proposal within it for an email communications software, so this is in train. A full, independent, business case may need to be worked up independently of this.
Revised Branding Guidelines with renewed focus on email content issued to staff in January 2022.”


·      Work with the IT Team as part of its review of SMS (i.e. texting) communications software, scheduled for completion by January 2022.

“An initial review meeting was held in May 2021, but due to pressures of Covid-19 and cyber security work this project has been put on hold temporarily.”


·      Review and improve the Council’s Communications Group and the Intranet, refreshing both by the end of 2021.

“Funding for new Intranet software is included within a finance report agreed by Cabinet in February 2022, so this is in train although delayed against the original target. The Council’s Communications Group has been reconvened and refreshed in 2021, with a revised membership and new Terms of Reference agreed.”


Key campaigns


It was reported that communications campaigns were largely aligned with key projects or events, with the Communications Team supporting work of other Council services. An example of a larger campaign of this nature was the roll-out of the new waste and recycling service in 2019, which saw a programme of activity planned for, and delivered, from May 2019 until February 2020. More recently Covid-19 had seen more general campaigns devised in alignment with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Council’s Summer Communications campaign rolled out across summer 2021, and aligned to the organisation’s summertime plan, had picked up key messaging around five themes:


1.   Destination marketing and the Love Tendring app

2.   Water safety

3.   Summer health

4.   Covid-19

5.   Anti-social behaviour (including littering, parking)

Members heard that this had been a multi-channel campaign, focused around a customer’s journey; the concept being to reach people before they set off for the area, on their journey, and at various touchpoints once they arrived at destinations across the District. Different messaging and imagery had been used for local/nearby residents, compared to those who lived out of area. Out-of-area messaging had been targeted at locations such as East London, Hertfordshire and Luton, with those areas selected as known points of origin for summer tourists.


Outputs had included:


-     Newspaper adverts in local press, titles in the target out-of-area locations, some magazines, and associated websites

-     Digital adverts across a number of news websites, which appeared on smartphones within designated locations

-     Billboards, bus shelters and supermarket digital screens

-     Posters on bin lorries, banners along the seafront, stickers on seafront summertime bins and roundabout signs

-     Adverts on two local radio stations and geo-located digital radio

-     Social media – both paid-for with advertising partners, and the Council’s own; including boosted posts.

The Communications Manager explained that, with any campaign, there was also a reactive element, picking up and addressing issues as they arose combined with looking out for short notice opportunities to support the overall campaign objectives. For example, reports from the Beach Patrol of a busy weekend and a specific incident around jumping from a groyne led to the issue of a press release to reinforce safety messages; or reinforcing the campaign messages within the responses to a media enquiries about parking issues in a seaside town and lifeboat call-outs.


The campaign had been successful: large numbers of impressions (i.e. times adverts were put in front of people) had raised the profile of the Essex Sunshine Coast out-of-area; relatively low numbers of issues had been raised during the summer (though it was noted there were a wide variety of factors at play there); and download figures of the LoveTendring app had matched communications activity. As a result there was a real positivity around the summer season despite the challenges posed by an increase in domestic holidays.




It was reported that, due to the way the function was structured corporately, the Communications service had a minimal annual budget (excluding staffing costs) to cover software licences and equipment such as cameras. The total budget for 2021 (including staffing) had been £75,320, though that did not include spending on the communications drone. This was because spending on communications activity was paid for by the specific service which required it, with the activity recommended by the Communications Team. As much work as possible was carried out in-house to minimise costs, with the Communications Team expanding its skill set and capabilities to accommodate this.


Covid-19 had been the exception to this principle, where some specific communications activity had been undertaken to support the Council’s wider response. This had included the ‘Shop Local Shop Safe’ campaign (largely funded from the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund allocation), and the 2021 Summer Communications Campaign funded from general Covid-19 grant funding. The latter had had an allocated budget of £90,000 (which included contingency), of which £77,058 had been spent. Spending had largely been on advertising space – such as billboards and bus shelters (‘out of home’), print and online media, banners etc.


There had also been some expenditure on additional capacity to support the Communications team, with freelance help procured for the Shop Local Shop Safe initiative, and some funding provided for casual staff to assist with social media activity at peak times.


Analysis of reach, understanding and action


Members were informed that evaluation was an important part of communications, and was something the team had worked to develop over the past few years. Each month a ‘Communications Snapshot’ was created to take a high-level look at the effectiveness of various pieces of the team’s work. This monthly report was submitted to Management Team, and then shared with the Senior Managers’ Forum. As part of the ongoing development of monitoring and evaluation, the Communications Team was looking to focus more on outcomes than outputs; there was always, however, a balance to be struck between using available resources to carry out the required work and evaluating that work.


Individual campaigns could have evaluations carried out on them depending on their scope and requirements; the Summer Communications Campaign had had a full evaluation report written which had been presented to the Corporate Enforcement Group.


The Committee heard how it could be difficult to evaluate the success of communications, particularly when it related to information sharing, when there was a wide range of factors affecting behaviour. It could have been easier to achieve if a behaviour change campaign had been carried out, but again individuals’ actions might have been driven by a number of factors. However, the Council could learn valuable lessons from the evaluation that it did conduct, such as around effectiveness; frequency of social media posting; uptake of press releases; and which topics would organically reach large numbers of people, and which would require more input.


Service user communications


The Committee was made aware that all Council services would carry out direct communications with their ‘customers’ to varying degrees. More formal, regular communications, could take the form of annual billing or letters. Some services had a newsletter (mostly digital) for their direct service users; examples would be the Princes Theatre (weekly and monthly ‘What’s on’ mail-outs, plus seasonal programmes), Economic Growth (a monthly business e-bulletin), council housing (quarterly) and Careline (twice-yearly newsletter to customers). It was noted that the frequency of those publications had been less rigid during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those were not overseen by the Communications Team, as per the function and structure outlined above, but the team was available for support and guidance, as required. Moving forward, if a new email communications software was introduced there could well be more centralisation of the templates and structure of this function.


It was also reported that, regarding internal ‘service users’, there had been regular staff newsletters in the past – the corporate newsletter had been paused during the pandemic as information was changing so rapidly, while a short-term ‘by staff, for staff’ newsletter was run by a team of staff volunteers. Members were also aware of the regular email bulletins to them by the Chief Executive. A piece of work was currently underway to review and refresh internal communications. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Council’s move to virtual committee meetings the Communications Team had begun live streaming public meetings so that people could watch remotely; this had continued even with the return to physical meetings to maintain transparency and engagement, and for those who felt uncomfortable returning to public venues. Figures had varied meeting to meeting but viewers had peaked at 32 at any one time for the Planning Committee, and the streams had average around 16 viewers across meetings.


The live stream response had been created in-house and at short notice due to the pressures of the pandemic and had been maintained pending development of a more formal solution – with the skills, technology and learning being used for other live streams outside of Committee meetings.




The Communications Manager reported that marketing had largely been undertaken by those services with a more commercial focus or approach, such as the Princes Theatre, Leisure Centres, and the Tourism Team in order to promote events such as the Clacton Airshow. The Communications Team had provided some support and advice if required, and had stepped into this arena to some degree during the pandemic with less conventional marketing of things such as the LoveTendring app, and a place marketing element to the Summer Communications Campaign. Communications had also acted as a central, corporate point to ensure messaging was both joined up, and cross-pollination opportunities maximised.


It was further reported that a Digital Marketing Apprenticeship post had been created in the Communications Team at the beginning of 2022 which, it was hoped, would strengthen the wider team’s knowledge and capabilities in this area. To support content creation the Communications Team also operated a small drone, enabling it to collect aerial images and video of various council projects and at events, and the use of this was under continual development to identify suitable opportunities for its deployment.


The Chairman thanked the Communications Manager for the report and congratulated him and the rest of the Communications Team on their successful work.


After some discussion the Committee RESOLVED to NOTE the contents of the report.

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