By Gavin Ganatra. Originally posted 16 May 2017

It seems that local councils are between a rock and a hard place. Demand on services is increasing, but the real resource required in order to deliver these services and many more (money, to put it plainly) is dwindling.

Authorities can’t halt these services but face criticism if they choose to increase the cost of accessing them. Just recently the LGA reported that most areas are raising council tax by almost 5%, yet this will still result in funding gaps for services that we all take for granted.

The question is “are there ways in which local government can both manage a long list of objectives while protecting essential services and access to them?” A tall order, but generating income can certainly help. And using councils’ assets for advertising deserves a closer look as a way to raise additional funds.

On the whole, advertising isn’t something new to councils. Historically, local authorities across the country have engaged with businesses via paid-for advertising on council assets. Most of us have seen advertising on bins, roundabouts, bus shelters and council vehicles.

However, this changes significantly when we begin to look at the number of councils engaging with businesses online. Staggeringly, only 15% of councils offer advertising on their websites, compared with a much higher percentage offering the traditional formats mentioned above.

So what is currently on offer to local business? What are the risks associated and is it time for councils to embrace online advertising? And more crucially, acknowledge that they have the opportunity  to offer it to their local businesses?

Independent businesses already engage with their local market online, but often with some less than perfect results.

Take local press for example. These are fantastic places for local news, but most contain quite a high density of advertising. Not the best place to be if you want to stand out. And what about context? Would the local florist like being featured next to a story on a sewage leak? A garage next to a story on pollution from car emissions?

And what about Google? Google is fantastic – most of us use it on a daily basis. But for local businesses trying to engage with their markets, it also suffers from high advertising density. And when those firms are trying to reach new markets, Google isn’t optimal. It’s great when someone knows what they’re looking for; very weak for attracting new customers who may find products and services useful but are not yet in the market.

So, why are council websites the much better fit?

Council websites provide a clean, online environment with a select quota of ad spaces that are contextually relevant. A perfect place for our garage to advertise their motability scheme on blue badge and social care pages. This is a rare case indeed in which councils are in a win-win scenario: their websites support their local economy while local businesses get much more bang for their buck!