The role of head of comms in local government is a tough gig. So, imagine being a head of comms at two councils.
by Louisa Dean
The last 18 months has really hit comms teams.
We’ve had to adapt, change our working style and sometimes work every hour in the day to deal with the social media updates and messages to staff.
It’s been really hard.
And on top of that, some of us have had to deal with home-schooling, isolating children and caring for elderly parents.
Our team at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has been no different to every other council comms team and what we have all been delivering. But something has really changed.
My confidence has grown, my ability to adapt to ever-changing situations has improved, and my clarity on ensuring the team are focused on the biggest priorities has sharpened.
And I might have stamped on that imposter syndrome that has lurked around for a while.
So, how has this happened and why am I telling you?
Well, today, I take on a new job, nothing new about that but this is a shared head of comms role across two councils.
Yes, I know a job share is normally two people and one job, but I’m doing it the other way around.
The reason I have been able to do that is because my team has grown and developed in the last six months to a one that I can leave to manage day-to-day operations without me looking over their shoulders. We’ve worked on COVID comms, going into lockdown(s), coming out of lockdown(s), Prince Philip’s funeral, the Queen’s Birthday, and on top of all that, we’ve run successful monthly comms campaigns throughout.
I have seen all of the members of my team grow in confidence, work together and collaborate with others, and fall back on each other when they needed to. We laugh a lot in our team meetings too, which has to be a good sign.
I don’t mind admitting that at the end of Prince Philip’s funeral, I had a little sob. They were mainly proud tears for colleagues – many who had never met in person – just got on with it and did an amazing job under great pressure and in view of the nation.
So, confident in the team at the Royal Borough, today I start at Reading Borough Council making me a shared head of comms for two different local authorities, with two different political parties and two very different areas. The two jobs have different challenges, different messages and different residents. But they also have different opportunities. And at the heart of both organisations are people that care about their residents and the services they deliver.
I’ve done some pre-work with the team at Reading and the list of projects they are working on is huge. They have a small team who have also had to develop and change over the last year because of COVID. They are a hard working bunch of comms and events professionals who are committed to their town and want to do the best for it. They have some great things to be proud of – I watched one of the team present recently at a webinar on social media, full of confidence and knew her subject matter so well. And the events team are about to put on their first ‘real life’ event following all the COVID restrictions, the stress levels in organising that I can only imagine.
I’ve also met the senior leadership team and the leader and they are clear on their priorities and what they want to achieve for the town. Having that focus is great for a comms team as it shows what the direction of travel is. You don’t always get that in local government.
Everyone who knows me knows I love working in local government and this innovative opportunity, which is a maternity cover, was too good to miss.
I know that my team in Windsor & Maidenhead will continue to thrive and they don’t need me every day. I am lucky that I have developed such a strong team and I am lucky that my senior leadership team and councillors at the Royal Borough have been really supportive of this collaboration, and been able to see the potential benefits for both organisations. And I am obviously grateful for Reading accepting my proposal to work for them too.
It’s unusual for two organisations to share a role in this way, but I also know that when we share ideas with colleagues from other areas, great things can happen. I don’t know what the outcome will be – a lot of people think I am mad and will need a lot of gin! But I know that I will try my best to deliver a good communications function to the residents and support both teams to ensure they continue to thrive and grow.
I’m going in there to make a difference – to Reading, to the Royal Borough, and ultimately, to me, by stretching my skills and experience in a new direction.
Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how much gin I drink 😊
Louisa Dean is head of communications at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and Reading Borough Council. You can say hello on Twitter at @LouisaDean23
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image via Louisa