The Friday Night Test is simple. Imagine you are in a pub on a Friday night and someone asks, “What do you do?”, what would you say?
This is a question I have asked people who work in local government in the course of consultancy work, training sessions and conference speeches for a number of years. I asked it this week at the LG Communications annual conference.
Most people do not readily admit to working in a local authority. Most prefer to describe themselves in terms of their profession: PR, Lawyer, Performance Manager, whatever.
Over the years there have been some exceptions.
Chief executives always say they work for a council.
People from leading brand authorities are quick to be seen to be part of their council.
Sometimes people use it to hide other things. One social worker said she worked in admin in a council – “who would want to admit to being a social worker” she explained.
The problem seems to be that council staff just don’t like the brand association. The social meaning of “council” is not attractive to many of those who work for them. It’s too much grief over too many years caused by too many negative stories.
When probed, those who deny their employers admit they would readily associate themselves with other leading brands such as Google, Facebook, Apple, the BBC, or Virgin, if they worked for them.
Admittedly, such brands are “sexy” (as they say in the trade).
It’s not possible to easily change the brand experience of a local authority. It’s too diverse, offering too many different and sometimes contradictory things.
But it’s not necessary to do so. Rather, those who are concerned about what the word “council” means, need to help change how it’s seen. They need to help people realise the true value of this public sector brand.
When it comes to transforming lives, no leading brand can out perform councils. Take away any local authority from an area and within days, it will begin to fail.
Bins won’t be collected. Care won’t be provided. Leadership and influence over important decisions will not be exerted. Local views will neither be heard nor acted upon. The list of things that councils do to underpin our lives is vast and diverse. No other element of government provides so much and gets so little credit for doing so. Quite the reverse.
But councils have become both whipping boys and fall guys, easy to malign, blame and bully. That they pick up acres of negative space in the local and regional media might go some way to explain why their staff may be keen to distance themselves whilst relaxing over weekend drinks.
What have the Romans ever done for us?
One way to deal with detractors is to challenge them. When you meet someone who does not respect what you do, hiding the fact neither sets the record straight nor makes you feel any better. Denial can all too easily become a habit. But set out what would happen if councils were to disappear tomorrow and you’d get a different reaction.
It would literally be the end of life as we know it. That’s not an overstatement.
So ask your staff what they’d say on a Friday Night. And when they sound doubtful (they won’t readily admit to denial in front of senior leaders), arm them with the facts, help them make the arguments and give them the confidence to challenge and feel proud.
And tell them about all the things your organisation does every week of which they should feel proud. Maybe they just don’t know.
It’s hard to imagine your customers, service-users, clients or citizens advocating your brand when the people who work for you might not do it.
After all, if your staff won’t talk you up, why should anyone else do so?