By Trevor Busch
Not to be ignored in today’s fast-paced technological society, the Town of Taber is placing strong emphasis on its communications as a path forward for the municipality.
With council’s new Strategic Plan focusing on improvements to internal and external communications, a Communications Plan has been drafted in order to implement initiatives to support this goal. Intended as a “road map” that provides details on how a corporation communicates with stakeholders, the plan provides a detailed listing of actions to be taken and the reporting methods utilized so that the progress, success, or failure of each initiative can be tracked and edited.
Considered a living document, the plan is intended to be evaluated annually and contains goals for the next three years.
“Communications is by its very nature very fluid, and therefore I’ve written this Communications Plan to adhere to that feature,” said communications coordinator Meghan Brennan at town council’s July 16 regular meeting. “That means that anytime you want changes, it’s a living, breathing document — you can make those changes.”
Some of the background information that helped inform procedure in the plan was drawn from the town’s 2017 and 2018 communications surveys. The 2017 survey only received 74 responses, or roughly 0.9 per cent of Taber’s population. However, key results showed that 43 per cent of respondents were “satisfied” that they are being well informed about town operations, while the top sources respondents utilized for town information were local print media and the town’s Facebook page. Fifty-six per cent of respondents indicated they read The Corn Husk Chronicles, with 38.6 per cent stating they find it “very informative.”
“In order to support the municipality’s new Strategic Plan, a clear outline of the ways in which external and internal communications will be improved needs to be implemented,” reads a statement in the plan. “A Communications Plan is an essential tool in managing plans, actions and reporting… for a corporation.”
Themes of the draft plan include providing information that is clear and well-timed, using a variety of communication tools, accessibility, collaboration with all departments, protection of privacy, and, “striving to promote a relationship where stakeholders and public alike feel empowered to communicate with the town.”
In 2011, the town implemented its current website, and also added official Facebook and Twitter profiles. Following controversy and public backlash surrounding the implementation of the town’s Community Standards Bylaw in 2015, “council identified a gap in the town’s communications.” This led to the creation of the position and hiring of communications and projects coordinator Meghan Brennan in September 2015.
“Communications is a collaborative effort,” said Brennan. “While this position was created for handling communications, the responsibility and opportunity does not rest solely on one person’s shoulders. Everyone in the organization of the Town of Taber has a part to play. That includes the people behind me, beside me (administration), and in front of me (council) as well. Proper communications requires that we act as one unit.”
In addition to other duties, Brennan creates and maintains communication efforts on behalf of the town, including website maintenance, social media platforms, media releases, speeches, newsletters, ads, brochures, and other methods.
The position also serves as a point of contact for media, and handles issues management and crisis control. Other aspects of the job are providing advice to administration and council, emergency-related duties, and acting as an ad-hoc photographer when required.
“Citizens expect easy access to the government’s information they want, when they want it,” noted administration in the plan. “Communications is no longer a luxury in public service, it is a necessity. No other government level has quite the life-impacting proximity to their citizens as municipalities do. As such, municipal governments have the responsibility to effectively communicate and engage with their citizens in the matters that impact their lives.”
Current tools employed by the municipality include its website (www.taber.ca), Facebook (@TownofTaber), Twitter (@TownofTaber), Instagram (@townoftaber), local print media, publication of The Corn Husk Chronicles, indirectly through Wikipedia, various news releases, and WhatsApp.
“I think that this Communications Plan has been a long time coming,” said Coun. Carly Firth. “I’d like to commend administration on the plan. I appreciate that it talks about a unified message, that’s really important. And that it focuses on two-way communication as well, and that it seems to cover all facets — internal, external.”
“I’d like to echo those words, and also the mission statement — we want to educate, engage, and evolve— and I really like the plan that’s in front of us,” said Coun. Louie Tams.
Key desired outcomes from the plan over the next three years targets making town citizens feel they are well informed about town projects, news, events and initiatives; making administrative staff feel valued and involved in the communications process; becoming a leader in emergency management communications; and marketing the town as a great place to grow for residents and business.
Part of achieving some of these outcomes suggests council and administration provide a unified voice and message to the public, and attempt to foster a positive relationship with media — an area in which recent town councils have often had a checkered history.
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to approve the draft Communications Plan. Coun. Garth Bekkering was absent from the meeting.