Friday, 21 January 2011

Community Image Summit

Good Morning. What a beautiful pink sky we had this morning! All week my coworkers have been ducking their heads into my workspace to get a look out the window at the beautiful display of a Fort McMurray morning.

 Above image: The Panel - All images in article taken by Matty Flores.

Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the fist annual Community Image Summit, hosted and sponsored by Keyano College, Summers Direct, IABC Edmonton and Wood Buffalo Big Spirit. I have to say I would seem like a fish out of water for this summit as most participants were in communications and marketing, but with the portfolio of the Culture work unit; which includes Public Art, Heritage Designation, Cultural planning, community programming and the overarching focus on quality of life for our residents, I would say that we are intrinsically linked to Community Image and thus having representation at this summit was a great idea.

The afternoon started off with a very humorous welcome by Russell Thomas. He quoted an article titled “the end of Oil in Fort McMurray” from Sharp, Canada’s Magazine for Men. Russell read us the opening line of the article - “Hundreds of kilometres north of nowhere, the city of Fort McMurray rises like a shining El Dorado out of a greasy grey curtain of half-buried Alberta crude.” Ouch, granted this was only a small snip-it of the article. This intro had the group laughing and scoffing as I’m sure there weren’t many among us who were particularly surprised by the article.

This article made a great segue to the major theme of the day – perception.

We started the summit with small pointed group discussions regarding the “Image of Fort McMurray” both internally as residents, and what we perceived outsiders of our community to think of us. We went on to discuss what a balanced image of Fort McMurray would look like. There were some great points raised regarding the defensive stance that many McMurrians find themselves in when discussing our home. We pondered why most of us hesitate to take the proactive approach which focuses on the positives of our Region, the environmental sustainability research which is conducted here, the fact that we have more engineers per capita compared to any other Canadian community, our green initiatives like the BYO Bag campaign, our Beautification Initiatives, our amazing Cultural diversity, our recreational resources such as MacDonald Island Park and the outdoor gym, our trial system etc. We have so many positive platforms to speak from yet we often revert to defence – it was suggested that this was a curiously Canadian stance and one that we should try a little be harder to curb, we know Fort McMurray is great – why not say so. The term “guest workers” was introduced during the discussion sessions, I had never heard it used before. The term guest worker is a positive approach to the “shadow population” or the “transient worker” – great right?!! I thought it was such an easy way to change my perspective of those guest workers, and to change the way I perceive my relationship to them. They are guests of this community, and potential ambassadors as well. This was just one example of how to frame something that is commonly perceived in a negative way as a positive.

Above Image: From left to right - Tim Reid, Mayor Melissa Blake and Terry O'Reilly

This point of shifting from a negative approach to a positive was later elaborated on in the second part of the Summit; the Panel. The panel section was titled Are we Moving the Community image meter? Is a balanced view achieved? On the panel was Mayor Melissa Blake, Terry O’Reilly – Marketing Guru and CBC broadcaster, Janet Annesley – VP Communications of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Tim Reid COO of MacDonald Island Park. The panel touched on many subjects but they often came back to the notion of “spin” in marketing and how a positive approach is only “spin” if it’s not a whole truth. They discussed the necessity of being transparent in the marketing of our region and our image. About ten minutes into the panel Terry mentioned a marketing strategy of searching out the “golden nuggets” of a given product and capitalizing on them as fuel for a campaign. He suggested that as the communicators or ambassadors for our community we need to find the golden nuggets that make Fort McMurray unique, that make it home, and then do our best to sell that nugget internally and externally like it was solid gold.

There were many great points raised and discussed and I had a great time listening to the dialogue. As the close to the Summit Terry O’Reilly gave a talk titled “How Advertising Can Change Perceptions”. What an amazing presenter O’Reilly is – he had the whole crowd laughing and engaging in dialogue. I would suggest to anybody interested in a fun and stimulating evening out to check out the last lecture in the Global Address series, on March 17, 2011 titled, "How Not to Go Crazy in College Tour" featuring award winning author Ned Vizzini.

For more information please:
Call the Keyano Box office at: 780.791.4990

I know I’ll be there! Hope you all have a great weekend.


Connor Buchanan

1 comment:

  1. Thank you SO MUCH for being with us Connor. The strength and the potential of Summit was rooted in the diversity of the participants. Your cultural perspective, the view from the United Way, or the musings of the social media blogger in the room were just as valuable as the seasoned communications professionals. I would argue that your contributions took the summit to a much higher level. We are deeply grateful.

    Russell Thomas