In My Opinion: Stewart Argo: Some thoughts on Edinburgh Council’s new news manager post

MY old job has been advertised, although it’s not exactly my old job.

The City of Edinburgh Council is seeking a news and content manager – and the deadline for applications is today.

I’m pleased to see that the title has been changed from ‘media manager’ to ‘news and content’ manager. That’s important for several reasons: it marks the fact that the job had, intentionally, become about social media as well as traditional media; it recognises that what’s most important is the ‘news and content’, not necessarily the channel; and, from a dull, organisational point of view, it provides greater flexibility in the responsibilities and functions of the team managed by that person.

For the right candidate, I can barely think of a better time to have this job.

The main reason is to do with a certain infrastructure project. For five years of my six-year tenure, we had tram construction works going on. I don’t think I need to describe why that made the job immeasurably more difficult for everyone at the council. But now, the trams will be up and running in a few months’ time and I’m certain, as I always have been, that they will prove very popular.

There are other reasons though.

1. There is a relatively new head of communications, nearly three years after the previous incumbent left, during which time it was inevitably difficult for the service to make headway without a dedicated leader. That person brings with them a new perspective and the fresh impetus to tackle the challenges and opportunities that face the comms team in a large local authority.

2. In terms of the team they will manage, there is a solid group of talented and committed professionals, with knowledge and experience, plus the systems that they need to manage their work well. (The successful candidate can look forward to a lengthy handover note and ‘manual’ by me on the ins and outs of running the service.)

3. Assuming that the new postholder values evaluation (and which self-respecting comms person will say they don’t?) there is a good body of evidence that they can use to help shape a proper strategy and to gauge its success.

4. As I said in my leaving speech, much of my time in the job was spent actually creating and forging the team that now exists, plus doing all the day-to-day PR work that is never in short supply at a place like the council. What I think my successor will find is a solid foundation on which to build better practice, especially if that can be done in the context of clearer priorities for the organisation’s corporate and comms objectives.

5. There is stronger political and officer leadership. I hesitate to mention specific names or say too much for fear that people make erroneous inferences from my comments, but many others have given praise to Andrew Burns, Lesley Hinds and Sue Bruce for their communication styles. Andrew and Lesley’s use of social media is particularly noteworthy and was very helpful, culturally, for the council when they took office in 2012.

Of course, there are areas that will be difficult. It’s a council, after all. Having dealt with local authorities over 12 years in different guises, I knew when I started back in 2007 that it would be bedlam. I wasn’t disappointed.

There is a never-ending supply of queries, controversies, organisational politics, party politics, legacy issues, service problems and so on. There are pressures on staffing and budgets, with every sign that these will continue or even worsen, rather than abating. It is not for the faint-hearted or those that lack personal resilience.

What is certain though, is that there is scarcely a better job for being at the heart of Edinburgh life and the experiences it provides are probably equalled only by a handful of other posts in Scotland (or even the UK). The council is not only the eighth-biggest in the UK, it is also the home of Summer and Winter festivals, the Queen (when in Scotland), national election results, the Scottish Parliament, and some major investment projects.

As well as the opportunities and challenges that go alongside these, it’s also a fabulous city to live and work in.

And, for all that some people ignorantly denigrate those who work in local authorities and other public sector bodies, my successor will find they have many highly capable colleagues across the council.

There is a good story to tell and in many ways the planets are aligned for the person coming into this job. I hope they get the right candidate and, whoever that may be, I wish them the very best of luck.

Stewart Argo is an associate director with Weber Shandwick, and was (until September last year) the media manager  at The City of Edinburgh Council. This is a slightly amended version of a blog found here. Read Stewart’s ‘Media Day’, from September 2012.