This week’s email interview is with Sarah Mainprize, Head of communications and marketing for North East Lincolnshire Council. She’s had an interesting career to date, spanning agency-side public relations, journalism, public sector comms as well as a nice selection of degrees and qualifications too.
What are you responsible for at the council?
I look after media relations, internal communications including the monthly staff magazine, corporate marketing and design, and our monthly newspaper for residents.
How did you end up doing this role?
I’ve previously worked for another local authority for three years, a regional newspaper for seven years, and a PR agency.
To be honest it was down to chance that a local government comms opportunity arose at a time when I was developing my academic management knowledge and wanted to put my new skills into practice in a different kind of role. Qualifications include an MBA, a CAM diploma in marketing communications and a degree in law and English literature.
Can you tell us about a project or campaign you’ve worked on that you’re really proud of?
Well I’ve done a fair bit of work on developing the content and presentation of the civic publications at two local authorities, and was certainly very pleased by increased readership and winning national awards!
Council newspapers and magazines have taken a bit of a battering recently with the national debate about their impact on local newspapers, but I firmly believe direct communications with residents is essential and complements the media offering.
Tell us a bit more about North East Lincolnshire – what are the council’s priorities for the area?
The council has just launched it’s new three-year vision for the borough. The aims are to improve the quality of the built and natural environment; strengthen the local economy; create a safer and more secure area; improve health and wellbeing and be a well managed, top performing council.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing local government communications today?
Having a measurable impact on those all-important satisfaction ratings, which we know are linked to people feeling well informed. And possibly facing the shadow of the axe as council purse strings are pulled ever tighter in the next few years.
How is the new comprehensive area assessment (CAA) process changing the way your council communicates?
We need to get better at measuring the outcomes of our communications rather than just our outputs, and we’ll need to look at how we link in with other local agencies and organisations to improve co-ordination, consistency and value for money across the piece rather than in silos. Social media will have a key role to play too in terms of the CAA and the use of digital communications.
How is the growth of social media affecting your job/team?
We are dipping our toes in the waters and multi-media communications are built into one specific role within the team, but it’s still very much unknown territory – however we are willing to explore!
What advice would you have for a young PR professional wanting to work in public sector communications?
Get some experience of working in the media to gain a good understanding of what makes a journalist tick, and be prepared to be multi-disciplined as many comms roles are becomingly increasingly broad – you may be writing news releases, working on employee engagement, devising an integrated marketing campaign or organising a major event.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m particularly interested in potential future developments for local government communications – as we move to area/place-based service delivery, will communications follow suit with a move away from corporate comms from different public sector organisations to a single voice and function?