Spreading Wilmot’s messages during COVID-19

'It’s from one thing to another and turnarounds are incredibly tight,' says communications specialist

With frequently changing rules and recommendations from various levels of government, it’s Kelly Baird’s job as the Township of Wilmot’s first communications specialist to clarify the deluge of information.

“I’m painfully aware of other things that need to be done, but pandemic messaging takes priority at the moment,” she said.

Baird initially worked three days a week when she joined the township in April of 2019, focusing on sharing the municipality’s daily activities. Council approved making her position full time, which came into effect this March, just before COVID-19 began to take its toll locally.

As part of the Information and Legislative Services department, Baird works under clerk Dawn Mittelholz and deputy clerk Tracey Murray. Their workload now includes consolidating information from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Region of Waterloo.

“Yesterday, I was sitting here at my desk by 6 a.m., starting to cobble together a (news) release. There was an accompanying internal document that I edited immediately after that. It’s from one thing to another and turnarounds are incredibly tight,” said Baird.

“I’ve had two full weekends off, and I work six days a week. Dawn or Tracey pick up a day to cover the weekend.”

She consults the other area townships because “the challenges are similar,” and also represents Wilmot as a member of the region’s communications group.

Baird has a strong communications pedigree, having worked for the Royal Conservatory of Music and the Canadian Coast Guard, as well as the City of Brantford, County of Perth, Town of St. Marys and Stratford Tourism.

Her work for non-profits taught her how to work quickly and broadened her skill set, she said. “You have to do everything. If there’s a deadline, you have to meet it.”

Other than the township’s website, Twitter is its primary day-to-day communication tool, where the number of followers has increased more than 20 per cent to 3,270 on Baird’s watch.

During an ad hoc budget committee meeting in December 2019, Coun. Angie Hallman mentioned that several residents had contacted her to request a township Facebook page. Councillors Jennifer Pfenning and Cheryl Gordijk added that they’d received similar appeals.

Mittelholz replied that a township communications strategy review will be coming to determine how to connect with residents more effectively.

Baird is eager to explore options, but she observed that a Facebook page might require additional resources to maintain it. “If I don’t have the time to look after something properly, should we even be doing it? As much as we would like to, can we sustain it?”

Brian Lambie is president of Redbrick Communications, a Mississauga-based public relations agency that is known for its work with municipal governments. He thinks each social media platform requires a separate plan.

“You get far more community discussions going on on Facebook, exchanges back and forth, which is something you don’t see on Twitter nearly as much. So, there are differences there. I think people really underestimate that each platform does have its own commitment of time, so that time has to be budgeted out by municipal governments when they do it,” Lambie told the Independent.

When Baird began working for the township, she travelled around Wilmot and took about 500 photos that she uses to accompany her messages. “A lot of this I did on my own time. I wanted to see each community. They’re all different, but they’re all equally important.”

Baird curates all of the township’s original corporate content for social media. Castle Kilbride staff provides three posts a week about the Baden tourist destination, and other township departments occasionally submit content, too.

“I love collaboration. We’re so much smarter together.”