The question of whether or not the City of Revelstoke should hire a communications staff person has emerged as a hot topic during the ongoing budget cycle.
The position is budgeted for $103,250 annually, with a target of a $75,000 salary and the remainder for various benefits costs.
So, what is the actual plan? Barb Flowden of Flow Communications Group was contracted to create a communications review report for the city. She presented her findings at the January 12 council meeting.
However, that meeting featured several hot topics, so the communications report didn’t get coverage. In addition, due to some kind of technical difficulty, that portion of the meeting wasn’t recorded on the city’s YouTube broadcast.
More recently, during the closed-doors “in camera” portion of their Jan. 22 meeting, council approved a “direct award” contract to Flow Communications Group to create a communications and engagement strategy.
Here, we provide an overview of the report, and Flowden’s presentation to council.
What’s the status quo?
City spokesperson Dawn Low the city spend $63,000 on advertising, something Low said had been decreased by about $20,000 in the past two years. Much of the city’s advertising is a legal requirement; the B.C. Community Charter stipulates advertising requirements for many city processes.
For example, if there is a rezoning application, the city is required to place an ad in the local paper for two consecutive weeks. That legal requirement is the reason for the many small city advertisements for various city functions that you see in the newspaper.
In addition, the city has a website and uses social media platforms like Facebook. They have a YouTube channel for council videos, and engage in various other social media channels.
Communications plan in development
Low said both the communications review and the communications plan both cost $12,000 each, for a total of $24,000.
Low said the city is developing the communications plan with the new communications staff person in mind. “The plan will assist the City of Revelstoke to communicate effectively and meet its strategic objectives over the next two years, specifically to support knowledge of Revelstoke’s programs and services, increase capacity to support the corporation’s communication projects and activities and increase public participation in Revelstoke’s engagement opportunities.”
Currently, the draft budget includes the new communications position, but if it were to get axed later in the process, Low said city staff would use it as a guide, but there wouldn’t be anyone to push it forward.
“The plan will still be used as a guide for staff; however, communications will continue to be done ‘off the sides of employees desks’ and will not have the effect that a consistent, proactive communications function would have,” she said.
What does the communications review report say?
The 27-page report is embedded at the bottom of this story. If you’re interested in the details, read the report. Here’s a brief overview of some key points.
Some general background
The report says the City of Revelstoke needs to take control of its communications by taking several steps, including redoing branding, retargeting messaging, paying attention to metrics, creating communications plans for major projects, and developing a crisis communications plan.
“Gone are the days of taking out an ad in the local paper, or issuing a news release to the same newspaper in order to educate residents on a new program or initiative. Savvy residents share information, discuss issues, and fill in any information gaps on social media, with established local media outlets struggling to remain viable,” writes Flowden in her report.
Flowden interviewed staff, councillors and other stakeholders for input on the city’s existing communications practices.
One of the stakeholders interviewed during the survey painted a picture of an online environment where a few vocal critics were driving the public conversation, often casting the city in a negative light.
“[A] small number of people are shaping reputation as uncaring, out of touch, ineffective,” noted one respondent. “[There is] no bandwidth to counter that.”
Another noted a need to “change the relationship between corporation and community.”
This sentiment was echoed by city councillor Rob Elliott, who responded to a Mountaineer question about the communications position. “Revelstoke’s brand as recreational mecca is exceptional. Our brand as a make-it-happen community however, is damaged,” he said. “Our city’s relationship with its citizens is either reactionary or inadequate. A focused, constant message hasn’t been provided to our residents in regards to where it is going. Refreshing the OCP, establishing council priorities and creating an effective message mechanism are essential if we are to take the reins to our community’s future.”
The report identified a lack of brand strategy and vision as another issue. The city has a dated logo and little coherence in its branding and messaging. When reports, media releases, statements or larger communications programs are put to the public, there is no consistent branding or visual identity, which causes confusion in the public.
“Almost all interviewees echoed the lack of brand strategy and vision,” Flowden wrote in the report.
She recommended that the city embarks on a brand vision process to “determine Revelstoke’s story, what the community has to offer and ensure the vision conveys that story.”
The report also recommends the city establishes a plain writing style and standard templates for things like advertising, media releases and other communications.
It noted the much of the city’s written output is at a “grade 11–12” level, and it recommended using plain language and “to keep the reading level to grade 6–8.”
Staff training recommended
“Most staff indicate they are comfortable providing routine information to media on topics relevant to their department, however they are less comfortable responding to questions on evolving or sensitive issues,” the report notes.
Flowden said that when issues arise, it is important that staff is trained and able to speak to the issues in the community and with media.
The report recommends a series of improvements to the city website, including reviewing the site for best practices, developing guidelines that describe writing, graphics and documents standards and moving away from posting PDFs in favour of live text that is searchable.
Social media plans
The report reviews existing practices, and, in general, recommends tightening up procedures, including developing a calendar, creating posting guidelines, reviewing analytics and establishing guidelines for addressing issues and misinformation on community social channels.
Staff position recommended
In the end, the report recommends creating a staff position that is “fully responsible for the communications function.” It also recommends strengthening communications through partnerships within city staff and with external groups like tourism stakeholders and organizations, and business groups. Finally, it recommends providing a budget for communications for each project, program and issue.
With the direct-award contract approved by council, Flowden Communications will develop a communications plan for the city. The communications position is currently included in the draft budget, but if it were to be removed, city plans to improve communications would be set back.
Mar. 18 Update:
The communications staff position was a hot topic in community feedback on the budget. For details, see the link in our tweet below:
36 comments on city of @Revelstoke_BC budget. 13 pro-golf course funding. 12 anti-communications staff person. 4 anti-more city hall staff. About 14 with miscellaneous comments. Next budget committee meeting Thurs. at 3 p.m. Link to budget comments here: https://t.co/q1R6Bst9ts
— Revelstoke Mtneer (@RevelstokeMTNR) March 18, 2019
Read the communications survey report to Revelstoke’s city council here: