Case study: Harborough District Council

Case study: Developing a communications strategy for HDC

Client Profile

Harborough District is situated in the heart of the Welland Valley in rural South Leicestershire. Harborough District Council serves a population of around 85,000 people,spread across three main settlements, smaller towns and more than 90 villages.

As an associate of Ron Finlay Communications, we worked with Harborough District Council to help the authority develop a strategic communications plan and we continue to provide ongoing communications support and training for the authority.

The Challenge

Harborough District Council (HDC) sought support to develop a Strategic Communications Plan to set out all key communications and engagement activities, linked to the Council’s Priorities and Corporate Delivery Plan.

HDC also wanted to embed communications planning into the business cycle and hone its key messages in its Corporate Delivery Plan.

Our Approach

We adopted an approach that would:

  • Drive a strategic approach to communications planning and implementation
  • Engage internal stakeholders in communications delivery
  • Develop better internal antennae for spotting opportunities and risks
  • Improve skills, capacity and capability of the in-house team
  • Deliver a corporate vision and suite of key messages to build a consistent profile of HDC among stakeholders including residents, businesses and partners

We began by conducting a series of interviews to gain a deeper understanding of:

  • HDC’s priorities and key projects
  • The wider political and organisational structure
  • Current strengths and weaknesses of the communications function
  • Priorities for Heads of Service and those leading partnership initiatives
  • Barriers to effective communication, including resources, skills and direction

The interviews were conducted with relevant stakeholders, identified in partnership with HDC. These included the Leader and Deputy Leader, Corporate Directors, Heads of Service, partnership leads and communications officers, and were completed within approximately four weeks from mid-December. We also undertook desk research to assess local priorities, regional context and assessment against other public sector bodies of a similar size.

Our findings and analysis led to a series of recommendations designed to improve the quality and efficiency of council communications, which we presented in a detailed report. We also drafted a strategic communications plan, drawing together the priorities, messages and activities for 2018/19. Both documents were completed by mid-February, and refined in consultation with HDC, before being presented to the Corporate Management Team (CMT) and Leader.

To further embed communications planning into the business cycle, we held a workshop for CMT in July, and supported the in-house team in developing and delivering workshops to engage service teams in communications planning and delivery.


HDC now has a strategic communications plan in place, incorporating a consistent narrative to ensure initiatives as diverse as the Local Plan, Housing, and Economic Development are tied back to council priorities.

This is supported with our ‘quick wins’ toolkit – creative ideas, techniques and triggers to support proactive PR, linked back to corporate messages.

The comprehensive engagement undertaken ensured all services including multi-agency partnerships, had a say and could therefore buy in to the resulting strategy, and is supported by a process ensuring ownership of the strategy at CMT level.

“Ron and Catherine provided a perfect balance of input, challenge and support to help us develop our communications strategy. They worked incredibly well with the various teams to develop the plan in a way that ensured that we retained ownership of the plan. Subsequently when it was presented to the Executive meeting prior to adoption by the Council it was received very positively."

Norman Proudfoot, Joint Chief Executive, Harborough District Council

Communications has been elevated to a more strategic position. New processes and systems arising from our recommendations are currently being implemented to improve efficiency with the focus on raising awareness of initiatives which deliver best value.

We have since been retained to provide mentoring for the communications team as well as ad hoc project support.

"The experience that they bring to help deal with complex situations is extremely valuable and it has helped on many occasions to ensure that the most effective message is conveyed to the relevant stakeholders.”

Catherine Martin works in partnership with Ron Finlay as an Associate of Ron Finlay Communications on this project.

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