Data is king, but comms is the knight in shining armour for cost of living crisis

Read the latest blog from Vicki Hardcastle, PR and Media Manager St Helens Borough Council

Between the tins of baked beans and spaghetti hoops is the last place you’d expect to find inspiration.

But local government comms has a way of infiltrating your subconscious in the most peculiar ways.

Talk of supermarkets was the opening gambit of an enthralling seminar on communicating through the cost of living crisis as many councils are now moving into the food business through pantries and Co-ops providing low cost food to our residents faced with budget busting inflation on their weekly shops.

Now what was the realisation that happened on aisle six?

Well that little card sitting in my purse was influencing my spending habits. What I’d bought last week was actively changing the prices available to me on that day. All from some seemingly innocuous act of scanning a little card.

Knowledge is a powerful thing.

And when used correctly it can have a huge impact on your outcomes.

JCDecaux’s State of the Nation report showed that fuel, food and utilities were the major concerns for people. But depending on age and location that could change with younger generations less worried and city dwellers not feeling the impacts the same as suburban areas.

The great leveller was using data to target your resources carefully. And with JCDecaux’s Reach programme out of home advertising, utilising data to reach areas with higher levels of a particular minority meant achievement greater impact by representing the people who live and work in an area.

Data was also crucial to Wigan Council’s Here For You cost of living campaign with thanks to data designed to pinpoint the ‘squeezed middle’ who had little disposable income at the end of the month who would for the first time be coming to the council’s door asking for help.

The data showed the risk areas but the comms led the way with a culture of kindness at its heart. Us northerners have a personality trait of being proud, sometimes too proud to ask for help. So the target was to engage residents and encourage them to come forward, no stigma attached to asking for help for you and others.

Amazingly that culture has spread to residents who are much kinder and full of praise for the council. The utopia for all us working in local government!

The way we can democratise digital opportunity, tackle net zero ambitions and even shape emergency responses with data thanks to a partnership between JCDecaux and Manchester City Council was another revelation. Imagine the opportunity through out of home advertising to support key priorities for all councils and the opportunity to advertise to key audiences all at once. It sounds like the future but it’s here!

While data is king turning that into tangible changes is the vital role we play as communicators, I suppose you could say we’re the knights in shining armour who turn that vision into something people can rally behind.

The challenge is sizeable and for me boils down to three key issues:

Impact on residents – more than ever need our help
Impact on services – demand on services increases but not many can add extra resources
Impact on staff – we need them to be resilient to face the growing need. But it’s vital to remember that squeezed middle represents a fair number of our own work force too.

The cost of living crisis is here for some time, with food costs now becoming clearer as an issue for residents.

While we may not be flush with cards to track our residents’ weekly shop we must remember that with data – every little helps.


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