The role of effective communications in successfully building a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC)

As councils have come under financial pressure in recent years, many have considered the use of different service delivery models, with ‘Local Authority Trading Companies’ (LATCs) proving increasingly popular.

With potential for reducing costs, generating income and improving efficiency, it is easy to see the attraction for council leaders when developing a business case for such a model, but effective communication should be high on the priority list for anyone looking to build a successful LATC.

It is sensible to involve a communications advisor early on in the process, as a new LATC is likely to involve a significant transitional period for the authority and as such, attract plenty of local publicity in the development phase and in the lead up to launch. How this initial contact with the local media is managed can set the tone for the likely nature of the company’s coverage and reputation going forward.

Once launched, much of the focus is still likely to be on the transition. The transfer of people is a key stage in establishing the company and with sensitive HR and legal issues to be taken care of, managing the morale of the team is a crucial process that has the potential to make or break a LATC almost as soon as it has begun. With Trade Unions and possible redundancies to navigate in this period, a comprehensive communications strategy should be central to ensuring a positive and cohesive approach, both internally and in the wider media.

As a backdrop to this work, it is key to ensure that your internal communication strategy is flawless. When starting out, you are likely to be faced with an anxious, possibly disengaged workforce who will have many questions and concerns over their futures. If you can embrace their apprehensions and keep them fully informed of progress and developments within the business in the early stages, you are far more likely to be met by support and enthusiasm when it comes to taking the business forward following the initial period of transition.

In currently working with LATCs, I am pleased to say that this is an area where both have excelled and I firmly believe it has been in no small part thanks to the emphasis they have placed on adopting a proactive attitude towards engaging their colleagues.

There are many elements that feed into a successful brand; company values and culture will prove just as important as having a good visual presence as your organisation grows, which is why it’s important to take the time at the start to get the basics right and understand who you are as a business.

Many LATCs are supported by in-house communications teams in their early development, but at some stage this resource is likely to be removed and it is prudent to consider alternative support well before you may actually need it. By doing this, you will be able to develop a comprehensive approach towards your communications that can encompass the development phase, the transition phase and the wider external promotion phase. Each of these time periods and associated risks/opportunities need careful consideration in isolation, but the company’s overall development will work much more cohesively and fluidly when considered as a whole. That being said, at GD PR & Media we already provide PR and Marketing support for LATCs and much of the work we do with them is in partnership with their parent Local Authorities. This requires a collaborative attitude and we have been able to use our experience in understanding what messaging and approach will be required by the Local Authority and where we are able to ‘control’ the messaging for commercial PR purposes, often in the sector-specific publications.

It is worth remembering that established private sector companies invest significant amounts into marketing strategies and stakeholder engagement. Some LATCs factor for investment in these areas, but often only considering the early stage development. These processes are just as relevant to LATCs as any commercial operation and as any LATC looks to expand, they will need to consider their approach to brand promotion and marketing. Add to this the need to harness the ever-increasing power of social and new media and crisis management and the need for a well-directed strategy becomes evident.