7 Ways PR Can Engage with Metro Mayors

By Deb Sharratt,

By the end of this week we will know who the first mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority will be.

We already know it will be a white male, but, regardless of their gender, age, race, background or political persuasion, how can we as PR people work with and influence Metro Mayors to benefit not only our organisations and clients but also our stakeholders and even more widely our regions.

Last week over 30 of the region’s senior strategic public relations professional, gathered cabinet-style, at Northern Counties in Newcastle to debate “How Regional Mayors and Brexit are Transforming the North’s Power Map”. The event hosted by CIPR North East welcomed Gill Morris, Chief Executive, DevoConnect to lead the discussion, with panel members Neal Smith, Head of Communications and Marketing at the Tees Valley Combined Authority, where Mayor Ben Houchen is marking two years in office; and Will Mapplebeck, Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Manager at Core Cities UK.

North of Tyne Combined Authority Mayoral Election

May 2019 saw the first mayoral election for the North of Tyne Combined Authority, with registered voters in three local councils: Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland eligible to take part. The North of Tyne devolution deal secured £600m over the next 30 years, aiming to create 10,000 jobs and boosting the local economy by over £1bn.

As well as representing every single person in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, they will ensure the area’s voice is clearly heard by Government and champion the North of Tyne nationally and internationally. The deal means more decisions will be taken locally rather than by central government which means we as communicators will have a big part to play in influencing these decisions. It’s no longer just about what is happening in Westminster.

North East Devolution

We opened the second North East Strategic Communicators Forum with a brief history of devolution from Gill Morris beginning with the referendum of 2004. I remember it well as it was just 6 months after I started work at regional development agency, One NorthEast. Although that referendum delivered a no vote, 15 years later here we are waiting for the result of a mayoral election covering less than half the region and population of the former RDA area.

In that time six major city regions across England have elected Metro Mayors: Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley, West of England, West Midlands and Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. The key focus is on transforming these regions and improving life chances.

All Metro Mayors elected to date are male, a point discussed by Sarah Hall in her post event blog ‘Break from the bullshit: it’s time for truth not tabloid headlines‘.

As well as discussing EU referendums and the ongoing Brexit, Gill ended saying “Devolution is here to stay” and therefore it will become a key part of our strategic communication. Importantly Gill also said that “Devolution is a journey not a destination” and that we should look to “build coalitions, collaborations and consensus” as communications professionals.

So how can we do that?

7 Ways PR Can Engage Metro Mayors

  1. Be politically engaged and understand the issues. Whatever your sector, make sure you understand all of the main issues affecting your region. How can your organisation or client can make a difference?
  2. Tune into the mayor’s agenda and take note of their personal priorities. Things will happen quickly as a mayor has only a short time to demonstrate an impact. Do you offer a way to connect these projects with audiences?
  3. Understand it’s a journey not a destination. Agendas and priorities will change so look what is on your agenda and see how it fits with the combined authority’s and start trying to shape messaging whilst managing expectations. Identify how you may fit in the future?
  4. Collaborate and build leverage. Support for the priorities when appropriate and also support partners in the area. Collaboration has demonstrated that it can bring investment and funding. Which priorities can you support?
  5. Do our own PR. We need to promote ourselves as communication and public relation professionals and demonstrate the impact that PR can have on an organisation in delivering its purpose, key messages and achieving objectives. Be bold and sell the vision
  6. Lead by offering solutions. Anticipate what is coming and offer robust, workable solutions, and then deliver.
  7. Understand the importance of soft power and leadership. It’s not just about the powers devolved to the mayor.

North East Strategic Communicators Forum

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) North East Regional Group has created a series of professional development and networking events for senior / strategic professionals in the North East’s PR & communications industry. The first event with Heathrow Airport focused on putting PR at the heart of your organisation and how to get PR a seat at the boardroom table.

Organised by CIPR North East committee member Huw Lewis (Nexus) and Vice-chair Deb Sharratt (Independent Practitioner) the Strategic Communicators Forum North East aims to provide events which meet the needs of a targeted audience, focused on leadership and strategic communications rather than purely practical and technical PR skills, whilst providing an opportunity to network with colleagues, as well as meeting new people with similar roles, experience and insight.

This fits with the vision of the CIPR to be at the heart of a professional and diverse public relations profession that organisations, government and the public understand and value.

Further events for strategic communicators from CIPR North East via the North East Strategic Communications Forum are planned throughout the year. To get involved tweet or DM @CIPR_NorthEast or email me, CIPR North East Vice Chair Deb Sharratt.

CIPR North East also has a various training, networking and social events across the year for all PR practitioners. Follow @CIPR_NorthEast on Twitter or LinkedIn to keep up to date.

Image courtesy of flickr user Matthew Paul Argall via CC2.0

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