What did we learn in 2016? Engaging against the backdrop of reduced budgets
2016 was a tough year. Few would disagree. We lost some of the world’s greatest music icons, a united European Union and certainty for Canada’s trade relationships under the new Trump administration. We also lost CapEx, and a lot of it. Canada’s oil industry reportedly lost an estimated $10billion. The economy dipped and many companies, and projects alike moved into survival mode. Jobs were slashed, budgets squeezed and energy proponents became increasingly apprehensive about spending at the local level on engagement and communication initiatives. We can’t blame them, after all, with all the uncertainty what if something changed and their project was shelved? Our clients know better than to over-promise and under-deliver.
From our perspective, adaptation became the name of the consultation game. At Communica, we know you can’t shelve relationships because a project slows down or a budget is cut. In fact, in the somber financial forecast for many of the projects that came across our collective ‘desk’, we saw opportunities to strengthen relationships with stakeholders. Open houses, workshops and the suite of innovative communication tools that our team delivers on a regular basis didn’t fit within some of our budgets. So we asked ourselves: how can we meaningfully engage on a project and enhance our clients’ relationships with stakeholders while operating with minimal financing? Here’s a few engagement tools and tactics we found to be effective:
Piggy-Back on the Initiatives of Local Community Organizations
Keeping up a community presence and remaining accessible to stakeholders is crucial in a ‘lull’ period of a project. Local organizations and their events in the community offer great avenues to ensure people are informed of a project and allow for informal engagement and relationship building. Communica and our clients have volunteered at local festivals and food-drives, sat on committees, and have provided boardrooms and venue space for community organizations and helped out at their events.
People have routines and busy lives, so why not go to them instead of inviting stakeholders to your event? We see value in making it easy for people to engage on a project. In Prince Rupert alone, we hosted numerous pop-up coffee chats at the local cafes frequented by First Nation community members and Rupertites alike. To target marine users, we even handed out coffee and muffins to local fisherman at 5:00am on the docks. This engagement is inexpensive, unexpected and effective in reaching the traditionally hard-to-reach.
Surveying individuals can be challenging outside of an open house setting or a door-to-door campaign. Last year, we leaned on online polling on existing project websites as a great tool to gather feedback about project details, what topics stakeholders would like to know more about, or how they wish to be engaged in the future. Polling is also handy because it can be sent out to stakeholders via e-blasts.