Planning to Succeed:
APEGS Strategic Communications
If there is one thing you can say in general about engineers and geoscientists, they are not comfortable in the spotlight. They prefer to be the diligent experts working in the background.
his is the experience APEGS’s Communications Manager Sheena August had when she first started to introduce the association to the concept of strategic communications.
“Self-promotion is not something that engineers and geoscientists spend a lot of time doing. They laugh when I tell them that I think they are modest. But I think it is true. They are more interested in solving a problem to make people’s lives better than telling people about what they have done. I admire them for that, and I am happy to get the chance to celebrate them on their behalf,” August said.
“In the beginning, I spent some time to ensure that staff and committees really understood strategic communications planning and what it could do for them. It is tempting for every organization to just toss you the reins without a real plan for what to do or even if we should be doing it. I have worked at a lot of places that never really understood strategic communications planning, so it was amazing how quickly everyone caught on at APEGS.”
Ultimately, August found that strategic communications had a strong appeal to the most basic instinct of APEGS professionals – to follow a very similar process to plan every project.
“In the beginning, some committees wanted tools and tactics without strategy, without knowing what they were actually going to use them for and what they were trying to achieve with them. Other committees were excited about the new ideas that were being formed through the process and eager to skip steps, driven by the expectation of better results. But people patiently allowed me to ask question after question to reinforce the nine steps of strategic communications planning. Now we are all on the same page about what we need to focus on for strategy and tactics and have even moved beyond from the tactical ‘are we doing things right?’ to the strategic, ‘are we doing the right things?’”
In this, she enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Danae Lemieux, P.Eng., the new chair of the APEGS Communications and Public Relations committee.
“I wanted APEGS to practise what we preach as professions—innovation and forward movement. I felt that APEGS was kind of stuck in the ways we communicate. I wanted APEGS to be on social media to reach a larger variety of people and increase the awareness of APEGS and its activities among members and the public. I think we can do a better job of telling them about us,” Lemieux said.
Doing a Deep Dive
Beginning in 2017, August began an extensive process of consultation to develop a strategic communications plan for the association.
“The Communications Manager position was brand new, and Council and management allowed me the time to really get to know APEGS,” said August. “I attended numerous committee meetings and did a lot of research as well as analyzed the research we already had. This allowed me to get my head around how the committees work together and where they may need more connection to increase consistency and continuity in the way we communicate, with whom, and how.”
At the time, the centrepiece of the association’s public awareness efforts was a multi-year television ad campaign which was monitored by regular polling. In assessing this initiative, August found mixed results.
“In working with the Communications and Public Relations Committee, we realized that while 89 per cent of people liked our commercials, only 17 per cent of the public was actually aware of APEGS. And they didn’t actually know anything about APEGS or what we do. If we want people to think of APEGS as a good regulator that is able to ensure public safety, then they need to know that this is what we do. Of course, to know what APEGS is and does, people first need to know about engineers and geoscientists. You cannot talk about regulation without talking about the professions.”
“Other issues we identified were that people are unaware of the ethical obligations of engineers and geoscientists to ensure public safety, and they don’t think that engineers and geoscientists are involved in the community. But once people know an engineer or geoscientist, their positive impressions of them markedly improve.”
Making a Plan
To adjust for these issues, August launched the APEGS strategic communications planning initiative.
What is Strategic Communications Planning?
“Strategic communications planning is a process to increase or maintain an organization’s reputation and relationships, manage issues and support the achievement of business goals. The process involves three phases: Using research to analyze a situation. Creating a plan to respond to the situation. Evaluating the plan to measure success,” August says.
What is the Plan
According to August, the plan consists of implementing new best practices in communications and delivering some special projects using the new best practices:
- Improve organizational performance by providing more structure and support around communications and public relations.
- Use more current communications media, like digital, social, web and mobile platforms.
- Get publicity (“earned media” news coverage versus “paid media” advertising);
- Be more visible at events hosted, sponsored and attended by APEGS representatives;
- Use more face-to-face interpersonal communication between members and the public;
- Engage more with rural Saskatchewan.
To achieve these best practices, APEGS has launched a range of initiatives:
- Getting the movie Dream Big: Engineering Our World. into every school for Engineering and Geoscience Week 2019.
- Creating new awareness campaign ads that focus on the role of APEGS to safeguard the public.
- Renewing the annual meeting format and proceedings
to make it a celebration of the past year that appeals to our diverse membership.
- Implementing a social media program.
- Reviewing and redesigning the website.
- Reviewing and updating The Professional Edge.
- Updating visual identity standards.
- Creating a communications planning guide for committees.
“The cornerstone of the 2019 plan is to let people get to know engineers and geoscientists while also underscoring that self-regulation helps ensure public safety. We have not been that forthcoming with the latter part in our messaging in the past several years. It was time to make that message stronger,” August said.
Launching the Dream Big campaign to the schools in Saskatchewan demonstrated the success of communications planning. APEGS reached and engaged over 300 volunteers, 100 schools and over 23,000 students in Saskatchewan. The audience at these schools, including students, teachers and parents, learned the significance of APEGS in safeguarding the public while being introduced to the fun problem-solving techniques of engineers and geoscientists.
The new initiatives are aggressive ones which may take several years to fully implement. Even so, August is looking down the road to ways to enhance and expand the current plans.
“With the Dream Big initiative, we had the opportunity to focus on engineering, so 2020 will be about geoscience. We are just starting the planning process for 2020, but we hope to get something to the schools to celebrate geoscience for Engineering and Geoscience Week next year.”