Guest blog post at www.lgcomms.org.uk
Watching the recent media coverage and images of the Loyalist protests sparked by the decision to restrict the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall, one is reminded of England’s own challenging moment during August 2011.
When Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg visited Nottingham during the situation, he said: “People should be rightly proud that the community and police have worked so effectively together and that there wasn’t any looting and rioting in the city centre.”
The city did not experience the level of disruption that had been witnessed in places like Birmingham and Manchester. Although there were some low level incidents, there was no looting or mass rioting.
This was of course in large part down to a robust and effective response by Nottinghamshire Police, who took action by arresting offenders and having a strong presence in the city.
Nottingham City Council also played an important role in quelling any appetite for disorder and reassuring communities that the situation was under control enabled by managing the communications effectively.
The ‘crisis communications team’ was quickly mobilised, roles and responsibilities agreed and began supporting the City’s Emergency Control Centre around the clock, picking up real-time information from council and police systems and personnel, and using it to provide internal and external updates and establish a narrative for the following day.
This took the form of Neighbourhood Teams and councillors going out into the local community and speaking to citizens, urging young people to behave responsibly and their parents to take responsibility for them in addition to citizens, urging young people to behave responsibly and their parents to take responsibility for them.
Community Protection Officers, Police Officers, Youth Workers, Social Workers, Street Cleaning Teams and Councillors were all deployed to support the community reassurance effort in local communities through face to face communications and high visibility. They received key messages via texts.
Working alongside police communications colleagues, City Council Communications and Marketing officers used Twitter and Facebook from the outset to correct rumours and speculation, allay concerns and provide accurate, up to date information and pictures of high streets that were not under attack. The Police, leading these communications, saw an increase of 13,500 Twitter followers and 3,500 Facebook likes. Tweeting council messages and echoing Police updates saw the council’s Twitter followers swell by 1,500.
Social networks and the media were also updated with ‘business as usual’ messages including information about events which went ahead regardless – such as the annual Caribbean Carnival which 10,000 people enjoyed over the weekend without incident – as well as publicising activities which local business, community leaders and the council organised in response to the disturbances.
The lack of national coverage of the disturbances mentioning Nottingham was and is seen as a significant positive reflection of the police, council, community response and media strategy, and has helped to safeguard Nottingham’s reputation. The communication effort was recognised by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), The House of Commons and won Gold for Crisis Communications at the CIPR Excellence Awards 2012.
Looking back, Communications and Marketing proved its strategic value through the central role it played in managing the disturbances, impact on local people and the reputation of the city.
But it didn’t stop there – Nottingham City Council and Notts Police delivered a one day training session for local public sector communication professionals to share the learning and top tips – but even more importantly made a commitment to pull together and support each other if ever there is ever a next time. And to do that – you need to build meaningful relationships now if you don’t already have them – with your local peers.
Are you prepared?