Despite Ian Blair’s protestations, England and Wales will have 41 newly elected Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) on November 16. The first 100 days of any new administration – while purely symbolic – are often scrutinised by political opponents and the media. PCCs will, undoubtedly, be under the spotlight, but it’s important that they do not fall into the trap of announcing a rash of policies straight away.
For the first few weeks, everyone is going to want to meet the successful candidates. My advice would be; clear the diary, appoint a brilliant personal assistant and sit down with a communications professional who understands the local area. I say communications rather than press adviser because politicians too easily think that speaking to journalists is the only way to get their message across to the public.
A communications plan for the first 100 days should be purely focused on introducing the Police Commissioner to the local community. That means getting out and meeting people in places where they socialise. This will be no walk in the park. The 41 PCCs will be responsible for areas approximately 15 times larger than MP constituencies. However, the facts of the matter are that turnout for the elections next month will probably be on the low side and most of the public won’t have heard of the successful candidate (John Prescott aside if he were to emerge victorious in Humberside), let alone his or her plans to bring down crime. Talking to the community directly and understanding their concerns is vitally important before a PCC sets in train any radical plans to overhaul existing systems or announce big, shiny initiatives. On a practical level, he or she should hold a number of ‘get to know your PCC’ events in local pubs, schools, church halls or GP surgeries.
From a press perspective, think local. The national media will very occasionally focus their attention on you and your local area and if they do, alarm bells should be ringing. Invariably the arrival of the Sky News van and the national press pack spells trouble – a high profile murder, scandal or corruption. In these circumstances, the PCC will need to work out with the chief constable who is in charge of speaking to the press. Coordination and timing are vital components of any successful crisis management protocol.
Building relationships with the local and regional media should be a key part of any communications strategy. Inviting the editor of the Rochdale Observer out for a coffee is just as important as getting to know the crime reporter or the political editor of the Manchester Evening News. These journalists will always be interested in local crime and justice issues. The local reporter will know local business owners, religious leaders and union officials as well having established relationships with a number of police officers. It’s vital that any successful candidate treats the local and regional press seriously and with the utmost respect.
PCCs should consider the use of social media as part of their communications plan. Not every candidate will be comfortable using Twitter or Facebook and they shouldn’t ever feel pressurised into pretending to be somebody they aren’t. Authenticity plays a big role in people’s perception of politicians and celebrities. However, if the PCC likes to and wants to tweet then he or she should use this channel of communication. That doesn’t mean delegating responsibility to a 20 year old intern. The most successful MPs on Twitter are the ones who allow their personalities to come through. They also pick local campaigns that establish themselves both at a community level and nationally as key personalities on certain issues. Stella Creasy, the MP for Walthamstow, has led an extremely high profile and successful campaign to increase regulation on payday loan companies in her constituency. PCCs using social media need to focus on one or two big, local concerns that are part of a wider communications plan.
In summary, my advice for successful candidates can be summed up as:
- Don’t feel rushed into making announcements immediately.
- Get to know your community and listen to their concerns.
- Set two or three major priorities for your first term.
- Put in place a proactive communications plan.
- Be yourself.