Blog: A masterclass in branding and campaigns

Our latest Future Leaders session saw us journey to Manchester for a day of creativity and collaboration. Another in person session was exciting and personally for me, the furthest I’d travelled since the pandemic began!

We were kindly hosted by Manchester City Council (MCC) for the day, which started with a branding and campaign masterclass, delivered by Chris Jennings and Shawn Bahlmann, members of MCC’s in-house design team M–FOUR. Chris and Shawn delivered an excellent presentation which took us on a journey through M-FOUR’s vision, way of working and campaign delivery.

M–FOUR is unique in the world of local government communications – an in house team that also operate as a full service external agency, pitching for contracts outside MCC. Their ethos of being as good as, and competing with, external agencies in the city was refreshing and showcased a novel approach.

Creative, real, and representative. These are three reflections I noted during the session and when we moved through the team’s campaigns, these reflections shone through each from Covid-19 to recycling and sexual health.

I personally enjoyed learning more about Manchester as a place and the city’s identity, particularly how its residents see themselves. Pride and attitude are important to residents and recognising this, the team incorporate it into every aspect of their work, ensuring campaigns are relatable, familiar and will chime with people.

MCC ensure their campaigns are real, feature residents, are photographed in the city, for example. Some of this sounds obvious and many might think, we do that. However, we’ve probably all been in situations where we reach for stock imagery, particularly during times of pressure. For me, many learnings from the session reinforced the importance of key campaign principles, how these translate and achieve objectives.

Following their presentation and during a working lunch, Chris and Shawn then set us a task – very ‘Apprentice’ style but without the ‘You’re fired’ bit, luckily!

Spilt into two groups we were tasked with using everything we already knew and had been taught that morning, to pitch and promote a new Future Leaders Programme campaign, with a particular focus on ensuring the programme appeals to candidates of a diverse background.

Using our chosen medium (any we wished), while ensuring we provided the basics (audience, approach, platforms/channels, budget etc.), each team spent the afternoon collaborating, sharing ideas, and co-producing a campaign plan that we believed would achieve the set of agreed objectives.

Within my team what worked well was using our own experience which was directly relevant – we were all Future Leader applicants. Combining this with experiences of individual networks from our respective organisations, we were able to create a solid offering outlining how we’d approach the campaign, what would feature as part of the campaign and how it would be rolled out.

Each team then presented plans and took questions from a panel featuring Shawn and Chris, Saf Munshi (MCC’s Deputy Head of Strategic Communications) and LG Comms’ Alix Macfarlane and Danni Clayton.

Following a private panel discussion, the panel ended up calling it a draw – the first time in the history of the programme that the task session has ended with a draw! While some of the more competitive among us were keen for a clear winner it was great to see collectively each team had excelled in specific aspects of the task.

On behalf of the group a massive thank you to M-FOUR and Manchester City Council for a fantastic day. I’d like to leave readers with two further reflections from the team that really resonated with me and should be central to all local government communicators in any aspect of our work:

  • In-house but not out of touch
  • Above all, to make a difference

Lucy Fordham is Senior Communications Officer in the Communications Team (Governance) at London Borough of Tower Hamlets and is part of the Future Leaders 2020-21 cohort


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