Comms professionals reimagine the future of local government

05 Jul 2022

Waikato Management School (WMS) welcomed around 100 local government communications professionals from throughout New Zealand to the first-ever ‘Talk it Up’ conference on 4 July.

Waikato Management School communications alumni and staff (left to right): Nicole Nooyen (BCS(Hons), 2011), Natasha Stubbing (BMS(Hons), 2012), Kate Stace (BMS(Hons), 1998), Anna McLaughlin, Prof. David McKie, Daynah Eriepa (BMS, 2018), Lavenia Toronibau (BCS, 2020), Jenni Cochrane (BCS, 2007), ad Prof. Debashish Munshi.

The event was originally scheduled to happen in November 2021, but had to be postponed twice due to Covid-19 restrictions, so organisers were keen to ensure it was a case of ‘third time lucky’.

Event co-organiser Jenni Cochrane, who graduated from WMS with a Bachelor of Communication Studies in 2006, says it was important to provide a national forum for comms people working in the local government sector to come together and share ideas on innovative new ways of engaging with their local communities.

Jenni is now the communications manager for Matamata-Piako District Council, having landed her first job there as a communications officer in 2007, straight after finishing university.

“The world is changing, and people’s expectations of local government are also changing,” she says. “Council isn’t just about building infrastructure, it’s about building communities. The public service is full of hugely passionate people who want to bring about that change.”

Associate Professor of Management Communication Dr Margalit Toledano says Waikato Management School was excited to host this conference and come on board as a sponsor. Waikato is the only university in New Zealand whose public relations programme is certified by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA); the gold standard for excellence in PR education.

“Today’s local government communicators are essential for helping to build community trust, engaging with diverse interest groups in the process of decision-making, and enabling public understanding of challenging problems, such as climate change,” says Dr Toledano.

“You are expected to take responsibility for your council’s social licence to operate, and be heard in an environment that is plagued with distrust and fake news.”

There was no set agenda for the ‘Talk it Up’ event. Instead, topics of discussion were pitched and then chosen by attendees themselves at the start of the day.  Chosen topics included how to reach and engage with tangata whenua and young people, how to drive sustainability efforts and behaviour change, use of participatory democracy and community-led solutions, and measuring the true impact of communication and engagement.

Among those attending the event were some of Waikato’s very own public relations and marketing graduates, who have all gone on to lead successful careers in communication. They include Nicole Nooyen (BCS(Hons), 2011), head of communication and engagement at Hamilton City Council; Lavenia Toronibau (BCS, 2020), communications officer at Matamata-Piako District Council; and Daynah Eriepa (BMS, 2018), civic engagement advisor at Hamilton City Council.

Another WMS alumna who attended the event was Natasha Stubbing (BMS(Hons), 2012), who is now the Community Engagement Manager for Northland Regional Council. Earlier this year, Natasha was named winner of the Taituara Local Government Emerging Leader Award, and in 2018 she won the Public Relations Institute of NZ Young Practitioner of the Year Award.

Natasha says she viewed the conference as a great opportunity to “learn from other people in the sector who are experiencing similar challenges and opportunities that they might be able to shed light on, and share tools and techniques they are using.”

WMS Professor of Management Communication Debashish Munshi adds, “It’s about creating a climate of hope; it’s incredibly important for the communications profession to instil that sense of hope within the community that we can work towards creating a better future.”

His recently retired colleague, Professor of Management Communication David McKie, says the conference was about “the future of ethical PR for the planet, for the local and the global.”

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