The Canadian Public Relations Society

Guest Post: Fort McMurray Community Image Summit

In CPRS on February 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm

The following is a guest post by Tyran Ault, a CPRS member from Fort McMurray:

“Fort McMurray… the Alberta town at the centre of Canada’s oil boom is cold, expensive, and has the nation’s highest rate of syphilis.”

With those words, the inaugural Fort McMurray Community Image Summit, a gathering of local public relations practitioners from government, industry, and the non-profit sector, kicked off.

Those words come from a national publication called Sharp Magazine. While the majority of the more than 90 people in the room had never heard of Sharp Magazine, we all had heard similar words about the community we love – and we’ve heard them too many times. Drive-by journalism is a common thing in Fort McMurray. Out-of-town media comes in with an agenda to bash industry and paint the region as a crime-ridden, money-hungry boomtown. And unfortunately, despite our greatest efforts to show them the real side of our community, the same stories are usually printed.

The Community Image Summit was a chance for all of the communicators in our region to come together to discuss the perception of Fort McMurray, both here in our region and outside of our community. What is Fort McMurray? What is our personality? How do we want to show our personality to the outside world?

One of the things discussed was that we don’t promote ourselves enough, as we are constantly on the defensive instead. Defending can be exhausting, is very reactionary and often doesn’t allow us to say the things we want to say. Instead, we must start to promote the community that we all love and call home.

Did you know that Fort McMurray has been the most giving community in Canada for the last five years? Did you know that Wood Buffalo (the region as a whole) has received a perfect Five Bloom score for five years in a row in the National Communities in Bloom competition? Did you know that Fort McMurray is a leading research centre for environmental reclamation? Did you know that Fort McMurray is one of the most culturally-diverse communities in Canada, with more than 100 different countries represented here?

There are so many things that we don’t get to tell the world because we are constantly defending. We must seize these opportunities and start to boast. Just like the Transformers, there is more than meets the eye about Fort McMurray.

While there was no master strategy created for the entire region to use as a result of the Community Image Summit, there was a renewed sense of pride in our region and a sense of urgency to show the world who we truly are. Whether you work for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Syncrude, Suncor, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, or the local Food Bank… everyone in attendance was proud of the discussions that took place over eight hours and went back to their own organizations with a new appreciation for our peers and for the work that needs to be done.

We need to change the perception locally of what Fort McMurray is. We need to show our shadow population, or our “guest workers,” that they can take pride in their temporary home. We need to tell our young people why “Fort Mac is awesome.” We need to showcase our greatest strengths and our hidden talents. We need to showcase our Big Spirit!

Due to the success of the first Fort McMurray Community Image Summit, there will almost assuredly be more in the future. It would be fantastic to see other public relations practitioners from outside of our region attend and shed some insight as to how the rest of Alberta views Fort McMurray.

For a quick look at the inaugural Fort McMurray Community Image Summit, please watch the video below.

Tyran Ault is a Senior Public Affairs Advisor with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Comments about the image of Fort McMurray would be gladly accepted. Email tyran.ault@woodbuffalo.ab.ca.

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  1. I blush to admit that my image of The Big Mac is that it is a “wild west”, high cost, poorly serviced, transient northern outpost. Does it really have the highest population of Newfoundlanders outside of Newfoundland? I’m impressed that the PR folks are getting together to proactively tackle the negative image. We’ve been wrestling with our own branding in Calgary for quite some time and what’s evident is that it is no easy task to change a community’s image. I’m also pleased to see you blogging to us “down here” in “the heart of the new West”.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew McIntyre, CPRS Calgary. CPRS Calgary said: A very readable guest post on the perceptions of Fort McMurray and the recent Fort McMurray Community Image Summit http://bit.ly/ghzJs2 […]

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