Amanda Gibbs, a former radio and print reporter, is a senior associate with the Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society, or IMPACS. Canada’s first nonprofit public relations and media training organization, IMPACS regularly works with large and small conservation and social justice groups to help “turn up the volume” on citizen action, participation, and debate.

Monday, 25 Sep 2000

VICTORIA, British Columbia

If it’s Monday, this must be Victoria. This motel room, though charming with its bolted-down television set and one-of-a-kind mallard watercolor print slung a bit too low over the double bed, isn’t feeling as exotic as it might have three weeks ago. You see, I’ve been on the road, a nine-community, whistle-stop tour of British Columbia delivering interactive workshops on message development, strategic media planning, and the power of great storytelling to dozens of nonprofits in this lovely, albeit bloody huge, province. Williams Lake, Prince George, Terrace, Smithers, Kelowna — we’re hitting them all.

My colleague and co-trainer Donna Barker and I have formed a new appreciation for the melancholy twang of truckin’ tunes (“six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight!”) as have our patient lovers, friends, and wee kiddies waiting at home in Vancouver. However, all bellyachin’ aside, this tour has been a supremely rewarding one.

One of our rockin’ ads.

IMPACS, the organization I work for when I’m not raiding mini-bars or haunting hotel Tiki lounges, is the first full-service, nonprofit public relations and communications training organization in Canada. And one of our primary goals is to strengthen the communications skills of Canadian nonprofits — to help them successfully and economically communicate their messages. This means getting off our duffs and leaving urban centers for smaller communities that may not have access to media skills training. In fact, we’re card-carrying members of the Pacific Northwest Capacity Builders Network, an alliance of groups on both sides of the 49th parallel (yes, it is pronounced “oot” and not “out”) dedicated to providing workshop training to conservation groups throughout the region. In IMPACS’s case, our mandate includes more than just ENGOs (environmental non-governmental organizations), but you get the picture. We like to be with the people. We love to train.

What never ceases to floor me, however, is how creative, sophisticated, and “plugged-in” rural towns and communities are when it comes to media know-how. Most of the groups we’ve talked to can’t afford expensive billboards and print advertising to get their messages out, so they get extra savvy about gaining “earned media” coverage in their local papers and radio stations. They form strong relationships with friendly reporters. They develop innovative events that get entire communities out and schlepping pledges. And they write letters to the editor and opinion pieces with aplomb. What we do is provide them with some strategic tools, share our experiences, offer some new tactics and templates, and encourage networking and relationship building among participants.

After one of our initial workshops on this tour, a group of participants formed an editorial committee. They planned to meet regularly to brainstorm around campaign strategy and potential media hooks. The folks in this circle represented women’s centers, conservation and parks boards, mental health advocates, and child and youth serving orgs, but they were able to build an alliance that seemed to transcend the differences in their issue areas. They rocked the house and taught me a lifetime of lessons about the value of building consensus, support, and networks outside your perceived area of comfort or interest.

For those of you with more prurient tastes, I’ve got to hop in the shower this morning and grab a boot-to-the-head espresso for courage. I’m lead trainer on “Be the Word on the Street,” a message development workshop that asks me and everyone in the session to act like hopped-up ad execs for six or so hours. Fun but exhausting, and frankly a bit sweaty.

But enough about me. If you are looking for some news and facts you can use, check out our website. More on web activism and writing ad copy for the angels tomorrow.