Money makes local government go round
It’s no secret that local government has no money. Well, at least it doesn’t have anywhere near the levels of funding it had merely a decade ago, or that it now needs. Thanks to ever decreasing financial settlements from central government, and increased responsibilities without the extra cash to deliver them, town hall chiefs are struggling more than ever to balance the books.
Because delivering a balanced budget is a legal requirement, this is a hugely important issue, made worse by the fact that as income from grant funding is going down, so demand is going up.
Councils are having to start doing what few did before; generate their own income.
According to the MJ, between 2013/14 and 2015/16 English local authorities income generation increased by 4.11%. This is a trend that is only likely to increase itself.
For some this involved massive investment in manufacturing centres over ten or twenty years. Others built or invested in leisure centres, or set up trading arms to sell specialist skills and talent elsewhere across the sector.
Most, however, are not in a position to make these sorts of decisions quickly, meaning they need to look at other ways of boosting their income using the tools they already have to hand.
This is one of the sweet spots that Granicus sits in; using the GovDelivery Communications Cloud to help councils sweat their assets.
Here are just a few ideas to get you started.
Start with what you have
Every local authority has assets. Some may have a chain of leisure centres, swimming pools and gyms, while others might only have a gardening service or bulky waste collection van.
Essentially, if it can be charged for and sold to anyone else as a service, it is an asset that needs to be exploited.
You’ve also got a captive audience in the thousands (perhaps even hundreds of thousands) signed up to receive regular updates from you via email or SMS. Make use of your email newsletters and other digital channels to ensure people are aware of the service and easily able to book it. Think about which audiences would make use of it and do some targeted advertising. People signed up to health and leisure services should be getting regular reminders that gym classes and fitness sessions are available. Those interested in libraries should be told about all of the other things they can do at their local library, like attend a ticketed “meet the author” event, a play, or creative writing course.
And those who are interested in green waste collection should know about any new fees, as subscribers in Havering did, leading to an increase of £350k in revenue in one year.
Bonus points, of course, if those marketing messages can be tied in with annual events, such as Mother’s Day or Easter. Ten minutes of creative thinking could end up with dozens of new people taking part and paying to receive services; paying for your thinking time many times over.
While seen by some as controversial, more and more local authorities are starting to incorporate advertising across their digital real estate. Some, such as Croydon, Birmingham and Derby, use advertising banners on their corporate website. This advertising (provided by organisations such as the Council Advertising Network) is from an audited white-list of appropriate organisations and results in payment made based on either how many page impressions are made as well as how many people click through.
Integrating this type of advertising on your email newsletters and bulletins is a low/no risk way of bringing in additional income at little to no extra effort on your part.
London Borough of Havering has been doing this for 12 months, generating £18k in advertising revenue already. They’ve built an impressive audience equivalent to over 56% of the local population (that’s 134,000 people who’ve opted-in to receive a range of email updates on the services and local opportunities that matter to them).
Couple that reach with the ability to segment an audience, and a local government’s email bulletins service is suddenly an extremely attractive and unique opportunity for local businesses, as well as other public sector organisations looking to collaborate.
Simply adding the relevant code to your templates, which is easily handled by your Granicus account team, means you can start including adverts and seeing the cash trickle or flow in. If you’re using our GovDelivery Communications Cloud and are interested in testing some government adverts on your email bulletins, please email my colleague Lorna Perry – she’s helping others get set up this week!
Alternatively, why not use that space to advertise some of your local businesses? They could definitely do with advertising to the thousands of people you reach, and you get the bonus not only of a small income stream but also the ability to point to it as part of your local economy planning. Double win. Southampton City Council and Bournemouth Tourism do this really well by promoting income generating art exhibitions, events and beach hut breaks for example. Southampton estimated that 26% of all sales relating to its arts and heritage activity programme were directly attributable to its Stay Connected email marketing service (July 2016).
What do you want people to do?
No-one likes ambiguity. Your subscribers want information, fast, along with simple guidance on how to get what else they want. That works particularly well, as generally speaking you want them to do something too.
If you are hoping that they will book a training course, be sure to put a big red button on your bulletin that says “CLICK HERE TO BOOK”.
Don’t ask them to follow a link for more information.
Don’t expect them to read three or four pages before submitting a web enquiry form. Make it super simple; if you want them to book, make a big, bold button with a single click to the booking form.
The same goes to paying fines or bills; don’t ask them to read about the process, just take them right to it. There is lots of research out there to back this up; the quicker you get a subscriber to a transaction, the more likely they are to complete it.
Oh, and don’t dare link to a downloadable pdf which they need to save, then print, then complete, then either scan and email or take into a building. Just don’t. However, do always use plain English in your communications.
Take a look through our short plain language guide for some help.
There are loads of different ways you can use your email bulletins to help generate income. We at Granicus are coming across new and innovative income generation activities all the time. If you’d like for one of our team to come in and talk with you about ways you could use your digital assets to generate income simply get in touch and we’ll do the rest.