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Report calls for increase to city’s communications budget, staffing

Timothy Schafer
By Timothy Schafer
October 26th, 2018

The next version of city council could have a deeper connection and conversation with Nelsonites.

An external review commissioned by the city has recommended several changes to the way the city communicates its message with the community, including the hiring of communications-specific staff.

Jan Enns of Jan Enns Communication delivered the document, the City of Nelson External Communications Review, on Monday night during the council’s last meeting and said the city needs to add at least one full time communications person to help deliver its message.

Enns suggested reviewing communications resources and consider at a minimum increasing one part-time communications coordinator to full time.

She also felt the city should augment communications budgets currently within departments.

“This position needs to be closely aligned with the senior management team in order to provide the maximum benefit of communications,” she said.

The city’s communications department consists of one part-time position for internal, external and council communications (Ginger Lester), while each city department has staff contacts for social media administration. However, communications occupy time for department staff on various projects.

But the need to accurately and consistently communicate a municipal message and solicit feedback in return is paramount, said Enns.

“You have a strategic priority to achieve excellence in city governance. Research tells us that excellence in organization goes hand-in-hand with excellence in public relations; that’s how we communicate with our residents and our citizens and our businesses and our industry,” she said. “Communities like when their local governments communicate with them.” 

There are staff who are doing communications and engagement work for their projects, said Enns.

“The amount of time spent on communications carried out by department staff is unknown, however conversations suggest that it is noteworthy,” she said.

“The budgets for each of these functions are part of that specific department’s budget and the true cost of resources for communications, both human and financial, is unknown.”

Enns suggested that “concentrating” communications in one or two specialists can reduce the time spent by department staff.

In addition, the City has engaged outside contractors and consultants to leverage the capacity of the in-house team. This may include graphic designers, videographers and other communications consulting services. While adding consultants is often necessary, especially for communications and engagement on major or ongoing projects or tactical
work such as graphic design or video production, it does require staff time for onboarding and providing content.

In addition to the full time member, Enns said the city should identify internal resources (for social media and website posting) and amalgamate existing resources used for communications and use to fund central communications staffing.

A percentage of project budgets should also be set aside for communications.

The intent of the review was to formulate how to better inform and engage Nelsonites, with communications and public engagement identified as a key priority in the city’s strategic plan, annual report and resource planning.

Enns said the report provided an overview of the external communications and public engagement work being done by staff  — without audience analysis – and how those communications are being received.

There are limited policies or procedures in place in Nelson to support priorities, said Enns.

“While there are guidelines for managing and responding on social media, there are no formal policies in place to provide direction for staff on communications and engagement,” she said in her report.

“The use of brand guidelines are evolving with the use of simple templates for ads and posters, although this is not consistent throughout the organization.”

Action items

Key actions related to communications and engagement in the strategic plan include:

  • Develop partnerships and relationships with businesses, community groups and many government organizations who work with, for and in Nelson;
  • Employee training that supports the implementation of strategic directions;
  • Encourage citizen and neighbourhood engagement so that residents contribute to the affairs of the whole community;
  • Provide volunteer programs that engage and retain volunteers in a way that reflects the changing nature of the community;
  • New public engagement opportunities and initiatives that increase public participation, including expanding social media presence;
  • Improve customer service and enhance efficiency and effectiveness through innovation, high customer service standards, and a commitment to continuous improvement.
  • Focus on the city’d customer service values and their application across departments and services.
  • Continue to grow online options to allow customers to do business in the city.

— Source: City of Nelson External Communications Review

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