Image Change

I've been thinking a lot about the language we use to describe things.  What words do we use?  What is our facial expression, body language?  Are we animated or are we inexpressive? Does our description seem canned or compelling?

I would posit that how you describe something, using (or not) all the faculties available to you, completely determines how it will be perceived, remembered, and shared (or not).  Whether you are talking about a product you are trying to sell, an event you are promoting, or a community you desire to be better understood and appreciated.

Later this week, a group of community members will gather for the Community Image Summit 3.0 and spend an afternoon discussing our image and whether or not - after six years of trying - we have moved the meter in terms of  how we are seen and understood within and outside of our borders. Intrinsically linked to the oil sands industry that surrounds us, our region's image is inexorably affected when traditional and social media decides to bear down on emerging issues or incidents that are far beyond our control.  Dead ducks or toxin levels in surrounding lakes are going to affect automatic associations that people make when they hear "Fort McMurray" or "Wood Buffalo".  I'm not sure this is ever going to change.

Statistics, skewed by the disparity between federal, provincial and local tallies of how many people call this place home or who spend the bulk of their time here, result in unfair presumptions that penetrate the psyche of unwitting people exposed to stories like our recent national crime ranking in Maclean's.

An artist traveling here for a concert last year felt compelled to reach out to me to find out whether or not he should bring his girlfriend along.  "She is freaking out about coming up there," he wrote.  "Is it dangerous? Honestly, I need to know."

A few messages with nuggets of the real picture settled him and his girlfriend down, and they ended up having a marvelous time when they came to our community.  In this instance, I was able to circumvent a negative perception that had been implanted.  Lord knows that we can't possibly reach everyone who has been innocently infected with poisonous images, stats, headlines, and conclusions.

The question begged by this unalterable reality is what can we do to counteract that which we cannot control?

Three luminaries will have this rich dialogue on stage at the conclusion of the Community Image Summit on Thursday with The Global Address: Changing the Climate.  Joining Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake will be Alan Doyle, lead singer of Great Big Sea and Seamus O' Regan, correspondent with the CTV National News.  

Using their celebrity, both Doyle and O'Regan have become effective ambassadors for Newfoundland and Labrador.  They love their home province and take every opportunity to share that fact through their words, facial expressions and body language.  With access to hundreds of thousands of fans and followers, they have been influential in their resolve to inspire a positive, authentic understanding about a former have-not province that struggled with its reputation.

It will be utterly fascinating to hear their thoughts on Wood Buffalo, Fort McMurray, and invariably - oil sands.  Within their responses and perspectives could lie seeds of ideas that might potentially be game changers.

But, why does it matter?  Why is our image so important and why should you care?

How we are seen and understood impacts our ability to recruit and retain people.  Tired of having to work overtime because your company can't find enough quality employees?

It affects how companies chose to invest - or not - in our region. Wouldn't it be nice to have a few more box stores, shopping amenities and movie complexes?

Whether you realize it or not, it peppers the thoughts and feelings of friends and family from afar.  Does your mother deserve to worry about whether or not you make it safely home from a downtown meeting on a Friday night?

I've suggested in previous blog posts that I believe we've made progress, that we're changing minds one conversation at a time.  Frankly, that one-on-one approach is a slow boat to China when it comes to community brand change.  I believe there is a BIG IDEA out there that will speed things along to the point where, when "Fort McMurray" or "Wood Buffalo" get dropped into conversation that their mere mention will invoke automatic thoughts of opportunity, unparalleled quality of life, great natural beauty, and a can-do attitude unlike anywhere else on earth, all things we know and love about our community and region that people around the world deserve to know and appreciate, too.

Long story short, the conversation between Mayor Blake, Alan Doyle and Seamus O'Regan is important to hear, distill and share.  Within their interactions, questions and responses could lie the holy grail of image solutions that has been lurking out there in the ether waiting for someone to grab hold and run with.  Wouldn't it be something if that solution revealed itself to you on Thursday night?

The Community Image Summit 3.0 starts at 1 pm on Thursday (Feb 17) in Elements Meeting Room.  The Global Address is at 7 pm in the Main Theatre at Keyano.  You can buy tickets to the Summit, which includes a seat at the evening discussion.  Or, if you would just like to come for The Global Address, that would be fine, too.  Visit Keyano Box Office to reserve your seat today.


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