In the last two weeks I’ve listened to a deputy county governor in Kenya and a city manager in the US and was amazed by the contrast in communication activities employed by the two. Wally Bobkiewicz, the City Manager of the City of Evanston in Illinois, USA, spoke at a Rotary Club meeting last week where he answered questions about city administration and the first thing that struck me was the incredible amount information he had at his finger tips. Later, when I spoke to my friends from the city, I noticed that they were aligned to almost everything he had to say. Amazing. Common marketing wisdom states that when the customer is able to articulate the brand essence as well as, or even better, than the brand manager, then the communication job is done. Wally spoke in an easy manner about revenue from street parking and beach access among others, and detailed how that income is spent to maintain the city.
I also had a chance, at a Rotary Club meeting in Nairobi, to listen to Deputy County Governor of Kiambu County Gerald Githnji, and learned about the county’s health, education and security initiatives that they are successfully implementing and had a chance to compare the differences of how administrations in the US and in Kenya use communication as a management tool.
Hon. Githinji lamented about the ability to use mainstream media to communicate with his constituents because of the high cost of advertising and the inability to influence the prevailing media agenda that is bent on covering divisive politics. It’s a little surprising though that our counties rely on traditional media to do this and yet they have a direct line to their constituents through owned, earned and paid media channels.
The process leading up to the distribution of leaflets in our cities is foiled by bureaucracy, with unjustified fees and incredibly stifling manual systems that beat logic. For example, every flier must be stamped by a member of the county council, yet the equipment to automate this action was invented more than 300 years ago! Instead of frustrating advertisers, the county could use the flier distribution system to communicate with residents, informing them of upgraded health facilities that have better capacity, and encouraging them to use the features for preventive health rather than treating late stage conditions. The leaflet systems is very targeted and inexpensive especially if you don’t load on the mandatory county fee.
Online media is quickly becoming the most influential in Kenya but when you browse websites and social media profiles of national and county governments it’s clear that they never dropped the campaign-mode after the elections. For that, you’d be hard pressed to list the differences between the incumbent and the people aspiring for office. They still promote campaign promises, post pictures of politicians shaking hands with business people and citizens needing help, or of the office bearer making speeches. There are lost opportunities to share latest data on education as a result of the county initiatives, and share tips on what parents can do to improve student performance while supporting the education system, for example. In this way you can connect with your constituents and guarantee their support in ways that are impossible for your competitors. Likewise, social media can be used to update residences on infrastructure projects while sharing alternatives to ease traffic.
When it comes to earned media, you’ve got to remember that neither mainstream media nor new media influencers give you airtime just because you are a county leader. It takes effort and planning to establish a variety of events that have the magnitude to earn and keep media attention. For example in an effort to bring your security forces closer to the people and debunk the myth that they were created as oppressive forces to protect the interests of the leaders, you could invite residents to an open day at an upgraded police station in their neighborhood, where you, the OCPD and his team will demonstrate the latest security features put in place, as well as community policing initiatives that residents can actively be involved in. You could then go a step further, together with the Rally Association, to host a local car race that brings the community together for a weekend of fun. Residents of other counties would come along and leave behind a good amount of money in the hotels, bars and restaurants, as well as attract the media. During this event you could emphasize the importance placed on security by sponsoring a police team in the race and by sharing your achievements on the printed material.
When the citizens articulate the aims and achievements of the county as well as the Governor can, that’s when you know the job of his communications team is done.