A Manchester masterclass in branding, humility and hats

By Claire Thrower is Communication & Engagement Manager at London Borough of Sutton Council and a 2023 LGcomms Future Leader

As local government comms professionals, we wear many hats.

Copywriter, reputation protector, designer, master of roll-up banners, videographer, flag finder, brand guardian…you name it, one of us has been asked to do it under the banner of “comms”.

While covering so many disciplines can make our roles so interesting, it can also feel challenging when we’re operating in an area where our skills feel weaker.

For me, that is branding and the pressure to “be creative!” on the spot. So, it was with some trepidation that I arrived in Manchester for a Future Leaders branding workshop and team challenge with M-Four, Manchester City Council’s in-house design studio.

I needn’t have worried: local government is a unique environment where people you’ve never met will give up their time to share their knowledge, experience and networks with you; where you can pitch an idea and push boundaries – and these values were abundant in Manchester.

From eye-catching public health campaigns to a Christmas video which beautifully captured Manchester’s spirit of solidarity, M-Four showed how a council comms team can be cutting edge and compete with design agencies, while using their unrivalled local knowledge to reach residents where and when it matters.

My key learnings from the day were:

  • Don’t overthink it: your first couple of ideas are often your best ones
  • Be brave, bold and authentic, but don’t feel pressured to “be creative” in the moment – if you need space to develop an idea, take it
  • Know your people and place, like only local government professionals can.

But most importantly for me, the day reinforced that leadership is not about being the best wearer-of-all-hats from within our magical comms wardrobes: leadership is about being humble in nurturing, empowering and championing the skills of others in the room, in our teams and in our networks.


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