You will get a more creative outcome, better engagement with residents and increased income potential, says Eleri Salter from CAN and the London Borough of Haringey Council – who has inside info from a huge talking fish…

I came across a great video filmed in Belfast when I was searching the new COMMS:FILES resource (a bank of campaign material shared by public sector communications teams that CAN has developed in partnership with comms2point0). It showed residents and visitors interacting with landmarks in the city’s famous Titanic Quarter in an unusual way – having conversations about the city with the harbour and a Big Fish installation!

Of course, these inanimate objects haven’t actually started speaking. It’s a new idea from an AI company called Hello Lamp Post and its smart CEO Tiernan Mines that has been taken up by Belfast City Council. Special codes and social media handles on the street furniture along the city’s ‘Maritime Mile’ enable passers-by to link to technology that can interact with people, answering their queries about both their immediate location and other issues. It can also prompt discussions.

Such a clever and useful addition to the comms armoury, and never more so than now when many statues could do with contextualising and important COVID-19 reminders are needed with people getting back out and about.

It got me thinking that more assets in towns and cities should be controlled by creative communicators to really promote engagement with communities and visitors – and how this could, in turn, help local economies to recover and grow post-pandemic, and can also add directly to council coffers.

Communication is the key

For a few years now, I have been helping councils increase their revenue by utilising their assets for advertising. And the more I talk to councils about their income potential, the more I am convinced that it is their communications teams that are best placed to use these assets to their best advantage. Why?

  • They get brand and reputational risk – dealing with these issues daily.
  • They can plough back funds generated from advertising on council assets to support campaigns for core services like foster care and recycling that could in turn lead to budget savings through earlier intervention.
  • They know best how to use these channels to boost engagement and outcomes across the full range of their own campaigns.

By council assets I mean anything and everything that could be turned into commercial advantage through advertising or sponsorship: council print publications, website, apps, social media, emails, and out-of-home assets like roundabouts, bridges, street poster sites… and yes, even talking harbours and fish statues!

I suspect many councils have a few hundred thousand pounds a year in advertising revenue they are missing out on. Some may be missing out on £millions. You can find out more on this by looking at CAN’s Sponsorship and Advertising Sales service which I helped set up so councils can make the most of their assets commercially.

Even if you put earning income to one side, just the value of the media space in the council estate when used to promote their own campaigns, runs into at least tens of thousands of pounds. Most councils I speak to have not given their comms teams sufficient access to these channels to fully get their important campaign messages across.

Think how many more people – and bigger diversity of people – councils could engage with in consultations for example. And how much more comprehensively high streets and safe shopping could be promoted – not to mention public health interventions like smoking cessation.

So, I am recommending councils take a look at weaving into their out-of-home offer the sort of AI tech offered by Hello Lamp Post. And I’m hopeful that comms teams are the ones who will get to plan its use – in conjunction with access to all the other council channels – as they are the experts.