This week’s blog is about a discussion I had with a public relations professional. We met and talked about a PR campaign he worked on a few years ago.
When I read first this assignment, I felt overwhelmed – I didn’t know to whom I should talk. I began researching some Winnipeg PR companies. That’s when I came across a photo on the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) website. In the photo, a former president of the society is presenting someone with an accreditation certificate. Imagine my surprise when I recognized him. He was Terry Aseltine from my yoga class. I love it when life shows me the way to follow.
I contacted Terry, explained my assignment, and he agreed to meet for a coffee at his house. Terry told me he worked in corporate communications for many years – at the City of Winnipeg, Great-West Life Assurance Company, Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. At the art gallery, his job was to make art more accessible to the public, encourage the public to become more aware of the art and programs offered by the art gallery, increase gallery membership and visitors, and provide more media coverage of gallery events. In June 2009, Terry joined the University of Manitoba where seeks out non-traditional sources of funding for university programs and projects. He is also a past National President and Fellow of the Canadian Public Relations Society and is accredited in public relations (APR).
Of all the campaigns and projects he has been involved in, Terry talked about a campaign he developed when he was working for the City of Winnipeg. The campaign, named the “New Deal,” was a project of former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray. Its focus was on tax shifting. Nick Ternette best describes the campaign: “The ‘New Deal’ campaign argued that taxes needed to be focused differently. The idea was to use taxes to change behaviour and get different results. The goal of the ‘New Deal’ was to cut property taxes by half, eliminate the business tax, cut bus fares by half and eliminate the amusement tax. Taxes would be shifted from property/business taxes to user taxes and fees.”
In my PR course, I learned that strategy explains “how” an objective will be achieved. It is the foundation upon which a tactical program is built. The strategy of the “New Deal” campaign was to get people involved and approve the proposed new tax system. As for the nuts-and-bolts of the plan – the tactics – the city made the following plans:
- Hold six public consultations, or “town hall meetings.” The idea of these meetings was to present to the public the new system and explain how the public would pay the taxes. Because there was not support from the public, people were happy that the mayor held these public consultations.
- Present media stories to TV and the press
- Place signs about the campaign on city buses
- Work with city hall reporters
- Advertise the “New Deal” in newspapers
The slogan of the campaign was: “Have a Say in What You Pay.”
The target audiences for this campaign were (a) city council, (b) business leaders, and (c) homeowners. Key messages were crafted specifically for each audience.
The campaign was developed in 2003, when electronic communication was not as usual as it is today. However, the city encouraged people to make their inquiries by email. Once or twice a week, the mayor and the PR department answered the queries by email.
Terry told me that the “New Deal” was a difficult campaign to work on. People get upset whenever tax increases are mentioned. Even when the city tried different ways to convince Winnipeggers of the fairness of this new system, it was a difficult battle. In the end, the new tax system was not approved by city council.
Although the result of the campaign, Terry commented that it was interesting to work on. The attempts to win public approval and the size of the campaign were just some of the challenges. In some ways, though, the campaign was highly successful: the public consultations attracted a lot of people who would normally not become involved in civic politics; the media gave the campaign a lot of attention (e.g., Macleans magazine), because the topic was of national interest; Glen Murray was recognized throughout the country as a very progressive mayor with new ideas. The campaign got the recognition from the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS.)
If you are interested in reading more about the “New Deal,” take a look at these two articles: Mayor seeks new deal: Murray launching drive to grab more money, power for cities, from the Winnipeg Free Press, and Riding off in all directions: An examination of Winnipeg’s New Deal written by Hugh Mackenzie and Todd Scarth from The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – MB.
I enjoyed having a coffee with Terry as we shared our experiences – mine as a PR student and his as a PR professional.
Mackenzie, Hugh, and Todd Scarth. Riding off in all directions: An examination of Winnipeg’s New Deal . Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-MB, 01 Feb 2003. Web. 5 Jun 2013.
“Mayor seeks new deal Murray launching drive to grab more money, power for cities.” Winnipeg Free Press [Winnipeg] 16 05 2003, n. pag. Web. 5 Jun. 2013. .