My Media Day: Stewart Argo, media manager, City of Edinburgh Council

STEWART Argo is the media manager at the City of Edinburgh Council. He began his career with the BBC on Radio Shetland, moving into PR at NHS Grampian and then the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. He was the PR manager at SEPA for two years before joining the council in 2007.

He submitted this on Monday, September 10.

What exactly is it you do?

I manage the team of media officers at the City of Edinburgh Council. As you would expect, we do the vast majority of reactive and proactive media relations on the council’s responsibilities, but we also manage the corporate social media sites and support other communications colleagues with their work.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

I live in Dunfermline so I like to use the train time to get through jobs that need some peace. This morning I was shortlisting applications for a post that’s going to be pivotal in taking us to the next stage in our use of social media.

We staff our office from 8am to 6pm and today I was on our early shift, although I try to be in at eight, anyway. There aren’t usually many calls first thing on a Monday, but I got one today – and it was from a member of the comms team who’d broken her arm and couldn’t come in. She was due to be issuing a news release so arranging someone else to do that went on my list of jobs for the day.

After I had tidied up a few loose ends from a late finish on Friday I had a look through our coverage from today and the weekend for any possible follow-up actions.

Normally, we have a team meeting on a Monday to go through our timeline for two weeks ahead, discussing stories, staffing, etc. This week, we’re launching an economic strategy and preparing for the big parade on Sunday, which will celebrate the Olympics, Paralympics and Sir Chris Hoy receiving the freedom of Edinburgh.

The timeline also includes several other big issues that will likely emerge in the next few days.

Unfortunately, I had to skip the meeting today and asked the team to have a quick catch up among themselves.

The conflicting commitment I had was attending a presentation I set up for STV Local to a group of cross-party councillors. So, I dashed up to the City Chambers on the High Street from my normal base of our HQ at Waverley Court on East Market Street, thankful that I’m no longer having to compete with the festival crowds for pavement space.

Sheena Borthwick and Shaun Milne did a great job of explaining what STV Local is all about and how it can help the councillors and I enjoyed a brief chat with them afterwards.

After I got back to HQ, I had some bits and pieces to attend to, including a query about our ongoing Festival of Sport and a request to promote Doors Open Day, plus quick catch-ups with various colleagues about ongoing issues or projects.

There’s also the management side of my job, which is a constant stream of tasks – some of which take seconds and others days. Today, it was mostly minor stuff like signing off timesheets (and updating my own), making sure our on-call phone is diverted back to me after the weekend, doing some HR forms and planning staffing over Christmas / Hogmanay while in a Scrooge-like humour.

Then it was back up to the Chambers for my other major job of the day: attending the agenda planning meeting for our full Council meeting next week. This is common to most, if not all, local authorities, and consists of senior officers and councillors discussing the upcoming business before the reports go public on our website on Friday. I was there to help us plan our communications handling, which I later wrote up and sent round my team and various managers for follow-up.

Earlier in the day, our late shift person had to leave because his daughter was ill, and so I spoke to another member of the team who agreed to cover. I would normally be quite happy to do this myself, but my wife sings in a choir on a Monday night and there would be much domestic disharmony if I made her late. It’s a helpful discipline, making sure I get home at a sensible hour at least one day in the week.

The last thing I did was my contribution to our daily media digest, which is an email for senior officers and councillors summarising all of our activity.

Usually, I’ll catch up on neglected emails on the way home but today I wrote up this piece for AMS as some light relief.

How different or similar was it to your average working day?

It wasn’t untypical, in that there was a fair variety of topics, some unglamorous admin to do and a couple of meetings. But, equally, there were many typical aspects that were missing today: media briefings, news releases to issue, horrendous enquiries, social media development, workload juggling or thorny problems to solve. I know it’s a cliché, but we don’t have normal days – and that’s probably inevitable considering the breadth of our responsibilities, the size of the council (circa 17,000 staff) and the fact that we’re a capital city.

How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in post?

It’s much the same in many ways although there are two big differences. The continued shift in media consumption, especially newspaper readership, brings a variety of challenges including our traditional routes having lower reach, to working with journalists who are under greater pressure. The other is the fact that we now have a multitude of channels to manage, which demand a slightly different set of skills.

How do you see the job evolving?

The main changes relate to the previous points. Instead of our focus being on the (traditional) media, it’ll be more on news and stories that work across lots of different channels and trying to reach increasingly segmented audiences directly.

I also see a potential shift coming in general comms/PR roles, with a greater role in helping organisations to be better – whether that’s contributing to strategy, challenging inefficient business processes or driving improved customer care. We also have to evaluate our performance more rigorously, difficult though that may be.

What gives you most job satisfaction?

I thought, first of all, that my answer would be something about getting a good result on an issue that is completely new to me, the times when we get good feedback, or how the team have embraced social media.

But really what pleases me the most is something that happens most often when I’m not around, which is members of my team looking out for each other and providing support – professionally or personally – especially when they’re really under the cosh.

We have our off days, of course, but that team ethos is something we’ve all worked really hard at creating and I genuinely love seeing the benefits of it.