How to Save Australian Local Councils $6M per Year, Every Year, Forever.

Council money is ratepayer money; our money. I've found a way to save Australian local councils a total of six million dollars per year, every year, forever. That's six million bucks of extra trees, bike paths, meals on wheels, youth centres, child care places - whatever you like. My plan is simple, proven and self-funding. Its effect is immediate and we can start now.

I'm a specialist copywriter. In 20 years I've written recruitment ads to fill job vacancies for 1000 organisations of every size and sector.

Some time ago, I was asked to look at a draft ad for a Melbourne council. It contained ten roles and was going to cost $12,500 in media. A few hours later, I'd reduced the ad's word count by 46% with no loss of relevant content. This saved the council $5,800 in media expense.

I've since found that local councils use some of the least efficient recruitment ads in the country. I've rarely seen a council ad that couldn't be cut by 20-50% without loss of meaning.

Instead of saying 'You will be responsible for the provision of effective leadership to team members' (12 words), I write 'You'll lead a team' (4 words).

Instead of saying 'Applications must be received by no later than 5:00pm on Tuesday, July 18, 2006' (14 words), I write 'Apply by 18/07/06' (3 words). Both examples save over 75%.

When I read Don Watson's 'Death Sentence' and 'Dictionary of Weasel Words' I saw I wasn't alone in my thinking. Nor is inefficient council writing confined to recruitment ads. It affects tender notices, newsletters, job descriptions, policy manuals, websites... the works.

'But', you cry, 'It's just a few words: you're a nit-picking, pedantic, semantic fanatic!' This is true, so let's consider the cost of not being that.

Media space can be booked in 'column lines' and a column line fits around five words. Melbourne's Saturday Age charges $12.68 per column line, which means every fifth (and in my opinion unnecessary) word costs about $2.50. This figure rises dramatically for large, bold fonts.

One big ad agency I work with says their council clients spend $50,000 to $170,000 per year on media. Australia has well over 600 councils. So, if just 600 councils spend the minimum of $50,000 on media each year, that's $30M. My minimum 20% word count reduction therefore makes an instant $6M annual saving.

But good recruitment ads do far more than simply reduce media costs. An 80-word ad that says the same thing as a 100-word ad is 20% clearer.

In a shrinking talent market, the employees councils desperately need already have work. These 'passive' job seekers give recruitment ads a fleeting glance at best. Waste their time with padding and they're gone.

As our economy booms, councils have it harder than most employers because (A) many are outside the big cities and (B) they can't offer the same salary as private sector firms. The last thing they can afford is for their ad to be ignored. Next time you're in a town hall, ask if they need planners, engineers or aged care staff. If they don't, I'll eat my hat.

Worse than failing to fill a vacancy is filling it with the wrong person. If they leave, you start again (and most organisations reckon this costs up to twenty grand a pop). If they stay, they can produce incompetent work, miserable colleagues and unhappy customers for years.

The beauty of deleting drivel is that you can replace it with facts that job seekers find intensely interesting. Many councils offer 12% superannuation, annual pay rises, 17.5% annual leave loading, rostered days off and a swag of other benefits private sector staff haven't enjoyed for decades.The trouble is, council ads are so busy saying 'An exciting opportunity has arisen for an enthusiastic, self-motivated professional to join the team in our dynamic blah, blah, blah...' there's no room to mention the amazing working conditions, family friendly policies or magical work/life balance. Let alone the chance to literally build a better community through varied, stimulating and rewarding council work.

Local councils are just the start. If clear, concise writing were applied to all communications at all government tiers, the benefits would be phenomenal. Imagine the resource and media savings. More importantly, imagine the greater understanding enjoyed by the people these bodies are meant to serve: you and me.

My team and I are ready to start today with council recruitment ads. As Les Patterson might say, 'Are you with me?'

Written by Paul Hassing. Founder & Senior Writer,