Council centralises PR team at head office

The Dunedin City Council has created a new central communications unit with a potential multimillion-dollar budget, and appointed a new manager to head the team, in a drive to sharpen its public image.

Former Dunedin-based journalist Graham McKerracher has been appointed as the council's new communications and marketing manager.

Mr McKerracher is a senior communications adviser with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, based in Wellington, but would begin his new role in Dunedin on April 23.

He previously worked in Dunedin as a Radio New Zealand journalist, as well as stints with television station Channel 9 and the Gore Ensign, and also worked in communications roles with Inland Revenue, the Ministry for the Environment and the University of Otago.

Council city strategy and development general manager Sue Bidrose said his appointment was part of a reorganisation and efficiency drive within the council, launched by council chief executive Paul Orders late last year.

The council was not happy with how the public rated its communication skills, and wanted to improve, Ms Bidrose said.

"If we'd been doing [communications] well the whole time, there's a few situations that we found ourselves in that we probably wouldn't have.

"That is the sole job of [Mr McKerracher], to ensure that we better communicate with, consult with, talk with, listen to, the community," she said.

Mr McKerracher would head a 14-strong team that performed all the council's communications, marketing, online and graphic design duties.

Previously, the council had staff spread across the organisation - including at the Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin Public Libraries, Dunedin Botanic Garden and Moana Pool - who all performed some communications and marketing duties, she said.

The new team would be based on the second floor of the council's Civic Centre, alongside the offices of Mr Orders and Mayor Dave Cull, she said.

Mr McKerracher would also attend the council's executive management team meetings to provide input on the communications implications of all major council decisions and issues, she said.

It was hoped the changes would improve the council's ability to speak with a "single message", she said.

"We're in the process of re-establishing the strength of the public service ethic and what that means around transparency, honesty and all of that stuff.

"That's all being reinvigorated, I guess you might say. This role will be central to that ... making sure our communications are full and complete and transparent and not massaged."

The new department's budget for the 2012-13 financial year was yet to be confirmed, but could be up to $5 million a year, she said.

The reorganisation had resulted in two council staff being made redundant before Christmas, as multiple team leader positions were combined into one, she said.

However, the changes were expected to deliver savings of about $250,000 a year, compared to the combined budgets of communications work across the organisation, she said.

Long-serving council communications co-ordinator Rodney Bryant would remain, and with his job description unchanged, but in future would report to Mr McKerracher, Dr Bidrose said.



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