Town of NOTL team takes creative approach to communicating with residents during pandemic
“Hello, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Betty Disero here …”
The lord mayor, with her signature sign-on, the fire chief, a town bylaw enforcement officer and even a capeless crusader are among the new “stars” featured in a series of YouTube videos produced by a group of employees from the municipality.
It's all part of a new approach to getting the town's message out, using social media, video and sometimes a bit of humour to keep people calm in the middle of a pandemic.
Led by Lauren Kruitbosch and Beth Audet, the 21st-century communication strategy seems to be paying off – some of Disero’s videos have had hundreds of views and a few have attracted between 1,000 and 3,000 clicks. And the April 25 "Make Some Noise" project for front-line workers had people all over town banging and clanging.
A few months back, the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake set in motion plans to boost its presence on social media, but the COVID-19 pandemic has sent that game plan into overdrive.
It’s a tag-team approach, thanks to Kruitbosch and Audet, who say they feed off one another’s creative and innovative instincts to come up with new approaches to bring the municipality’s message to the masses.
Audet, 35, who until a few months ago was actually covering NOTL council as a reporter for the Niagara Advance newspaper, is a talented photographer who brings a keen eye to the video and image side of the communication strategy, says Kruitbosch.
And Audet credits the creative instincts of Kruitbosch, 28, with inspiring many of the concepts that the duo – with lots of help from a team of colleagues – has brought to life.
Over the past two months or so that team has created literally dozens of online messages for the public: from inspirational notes (“What are you grateful for today?” and a video titled “Not all heroes wear capes”), practical and promotional (#StayHomeNOTL, Make Some Noise, Shop Local), and helpful (Community assistance is available, area businesses that are doing good deeds).
The hardworking team also includes Ashlea Carter, Tara Druzina, Lucie Palka and Colleen Hutt, who work on everything from managing frequently asked questions, to co-ordinating the town’s Community Assistance Program, creating posters, or tracking what’s open, closed or cancelled.
In the midst of the pandemic, with citizens largely locked down and the town trying to keep everyone calm and carrying on, being able to get messages out to residents, visitors and the media has been crucial. Now, with businesses slowly reopening and pandemic protocols changing, it's important to continue getting the word out.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero has been impressed with the efforts of Kruitbosch and Audet, who she notes, work “every day, seven days a week and many more than eight hours a day.”
“Lauren and Beth have worked over and above to keep the community of Niagara-on-the-Lake informed and educated on all events and decisions” being made by the town’s emergency control group, an assembly of key town personnel who have been quarterbacking municipal operations during the pandemic.
And, as active members of that group, Kruitbosch and Audet “come up with ideas to keep up the spirits of our residents during this time of stay home,” Disero says.
It’s been challenging and ever-changing as COVID-19 forced everyone, everywhere to behave differently and reassess priorities. For town employees, that’s meant some hectic, crazy days.
Kruitbosch and Audet says they’ve just taken it “one day at a time, one hour at a time.”
They have embraced the challenge and it seems clear they have a chemistry that enables them to riff off one another creatively, while in conversation they often finish one another’s sentences: When Audet credits Kruitbosch for being a wealth of ideas, Kruitbosch in turn lauds her colleague for bringing “a whole new level of filming ability and editing” to what they do.
“The thing we’re most focused on is making sure the information is consistent, as accurate as possible and timely, too. So, we’re pushing out a lot of information, but it is important we keep everyone up to date on what the town is doing in response” to the pandemic, says Kruitbosch.
The pandemic provided a platform and a chance for the duo to work closely together.
And, while she admits it might seem oddly positive to say so in the midst of a pandemic, Audet notes, “The truth is, in having such focused, consistent messaging it has really given us this opportunity to work collaboratively as a team – and it turned out we work really, really well together.”
One thing that makes their job easier is having the emergency control group, interim CAO Sheldon Randall, the lord mayor and council “all on board with this kind of creative messaging and communication,” says Kruitbosch.
Once the pandemic is a distant memory, they hope to continue the town’s innovative approach to communicating after assessing what formats have been the most effective. “Everyone’s listening right now,” notes Audet. “So, we’re pushing out written messages, audio messages, video messages.”
Thus far, their video vignettes have been capturing a lot of attention, they say.
Making videos with Disero is a snap, says Audet. “Betty is just real. It’s not like we’re doing a thousand takes. We literally put a camera in front of her and in one take the message is out there. She’s just real, ready to go.”
While the lord mayor has become the face and voice in much of the messaging, the ultimate goal is to get information out to Niagara-on-the-Lake residents so everyone knows what is going on.
Disero appreciates what the communication team has accomplished and how NOTLers have responded.
“People can handle anything as long as they have information and are given logical rational reasons,” she says.
“Lauren and Beth have been doing that for the town. We could not have been so decisive without their help.”