The Nugget


I had been formulating my opening remarks to the gathered masses at the first annual Community Image Summit for several days. In my moments of solitude, in the bathtub, on the short commute to work, anywhere I could find a slice of privacy, I began to vocalize what I was going to say.

My good friend Alan Roberts had sent a link to a story by Todd Coyne that had run in Sharp: Canada's Magazine for Men titled The End of Oil in Fort McMurray. It was a typical and current example of the drive-by journalism we are subjected to on a regular basis. I decided to use the story to punctuate our purpose.

The opening salvo pretty much set the scene:

The Alberta town at the centre of Canada's oil boom is cold, expensive, and has the nation's highest rate of syphilis.

"Is that how we define ourselves?" I asked.

Second paragraph (in a decidely BOLD font):

Hundreds of kilometres north of nowhere, the city of Fort McMurray rises like a shining El Dorado out of a greasy grey curtain of half-buried Alberta crude.

I had not heard Edmonton referred to as "nowhere" before, but there it is.

"Greasy grey curtain," I said.

"Wow, that's paints quite a picture."

My point was not to incite the gathered, but rather to illustrate the impact and the subsequent challenge that this incessant hail of negative coverage provides to all of us.

If you knew absolutely nothing about Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo or oil sands and you read a piece like this, you would automatically be implanted with a net negative brand for all three entities, without even realizing it. Multiply this effect several thousand times and multiply that number by the total readership and you might begin to quantify the challenge of how to achieve a balanced view.

"This gathering of communicators from all sectors is the first of its kind in Wood Buffalo," I shared.

"The one thing we need to ask ourselves is: Are we singing from the same song sheet? I would argue that if we're all singing the same tune, in the same key, and we do it consistently over time, eventually others will start humming along. Conversely, if we're singing slightly different tunes, in different keys, it'll only result in chaos and confusion."

As I looked out over the 90-plus guests participating I saw representatives from Suncor Energy, Syncrude, Shell, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray Public School District, Keyano College, Oil Sands Developers Group, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), and many others. We had folks from the faith community, the social mediasphere and the nonprofit sector. We had long time and short time residents, former residents who had moved away, and others who only fly in from time to time. It was an outstanding collection of people who were motivated and well-armed to launch into a vigorous discussion about image, perceptions and truth.

Jan Fox from the Robcan Group facilitated the day and did an excellent job in keeping us on schedule and sewing a thread through the various discussions and activities. She had received a call late the night before from Brenda Robinson who was supposed to be with us, but had to fly off to Manitoba to be with her ailing mother. Jan rose to the challenge and contributed in a substantive way to the success of the day.

I found it fascinating to watch the marketing heads at the tables when "nuggets" began dropping in the conversations. Our respective radars snapped to attention and our pens dove to paper to capture ideas, notions, questions, slogans, and mantras:

Good is the enemy of great. I love this one as it challenges us to always strive for better. Good just isn't good enough.

We need to work together, differently, and better. I've been saying variations of this for the past couple of years. The great news is that I believe this is happening more and more every day in Wood Buffalo.

Adventure. How do we shift from the idea of being a frontier boomtown to being a place of adventure. There is a significant itch there we need to scratch.

Seize the threat. We have been in the cross hairs of the environmental lobby for several years. What if we turn this dynamic on its head and become a centre of environmental excellence complete with research facilities and leading edge environmental/recycling practices?

Curiosity. One of our greatest strengths that many other communities don't have is the level of curiosity about Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo and oil sands. We need to leverage this to our advantage.

Diversity. We have an army of potential ambassadors who have come here from all over the globe. How can we engage new Canadians to help us communicate truth? We also need to inspire our youth to begin telling our story. Their influence through social media channels cannot be under-estimated.

The New Hawaii. We have more air conditioners per capita and one of the largest sand dunes in North America. We are the BEST KEPT SECRET. (Thank you Kelly Kloss!)

Shadow Population vs. Guest Worker. We need to change how we view the 26,000 members of the shadow population much like the Paris Metro changed how they viewed their ridership. The started at looking at their patrons as CUSTOMERS, and it changed everything. We need to stop thinking of the many people who fly-in, fly-out as the enemy and start thinking of them as our valuable GUESTS.

Work Hard, Play Hard and Live Large. Paul Manuel from Syncrude was playing with this notion of articulating the dynamic of life in Wood Buffalo and what makes it special. I know I don't have it as well written as Paul did....but he was on to something important.

What is our Personality? Every city has a personality....what is ours? Paris - romantic, Edmonton - festival and arts, Toronto - cultural melting pot, New York - Broadway, etc. Can we we use our desired personality to set us on the right course?

What is the relationship between the personality and the resource? I think this is a key question. We need to reconcile how we connect with the trillion barrels of oil sand that we sit on.

We're powering the world. This idea really stuck with me. Let's stop apologizing for what we do and focus on what we mean to people around the world. How does what we do 24/7 impact the lives of people and juxtapose that reality with images that we want to plant in peoples' minds about our genuine truths. I'm seeing a TV spot that airs on the Discovery Channel.

More than meets the eye. I think it was Philip Cooper that drew attention to an old slogan from the Transformers. I like it. I also like the one from Red Deer College: When you get here you'll understand. They both suggest an inevitability that if you give Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo and oil sands a chance, your life will change.....for the better.

It's not the product, it's the experience. Janet Annesley from CAPP shared this nugget. If we move from focusing on the product (Fort McMurray, Wood Buffalo and oil sands) to honing in on the experience of living and visiting here, we will be more successful in moving the meter.

A great idea changes the world. This simple truth shared by our keynote speaker Terry O'Reilly, host of CBC Radio's The Age of Persuasion, resonates with hope and possibility.

For a period about 8 hours we danced and played with tiny nuggets of ideas and questions that drew us closer to that great idea that will change our world. Swirling within the questions, ideas, statements, assumptions, and perceptions were words, and within the words are the seeds of change.


The first annual Community Image Summit was produced by Keyano College and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo with support from Big Spirit, Summers Direct and the International Association of Business Communicators, Edmonton Chapter.


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