By Kristy Dixon
Before joining National Public Relations as a Director, Alexandra Frison was Director, Communications with the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), where she led a ‘rewallenging’ project recognized as a Gold Quill Merit Award Winner, Publications Category, for CEPA’s 2015 Pipeline Industry Performance Report.
Can you tell us about the project and its objective?
The project was the development of an inaugural transmission pipeline performance report.
It was the first time the pipeline industry was going to transparently share its performance data (e.g. number of incidents, significant incidents, spills, causes). This was very important and somewhat risky due to the spotlight on the industry and the polarized conversation around it.
We knew we had to be honest and transparent but we also knew that data is only as good as the context around it. Our challenge and opportunity was to explain why the numbers are the numbers but also offer context around the data and tell the story of what industry was doing to improve in a way that would be seen as believable, credible and humble.
The ‘full story’ was critical as the media and opponents were not offering that, but rather bits and pieces that fit nicely with their own narratives. In that industry, much data exists that can seem contradictory because there is no context around it. However, that said, the goal was not to change people’s position on the industry with the report, but rather, to give them background they never had to help them make a more informed decision about pipelines.
Visually, we also knew that the report had to be “approachable”. As the inaugural report, there was going to be more content than not, that we all know people would not read. But we needed to offer the full story. Design then, became just as important as content. I wanted to ensure that the design facilitated the ability to get through the copy in an easy way so that the audience would at least get the gist of our story– so there were infographics, summary pages, sub headings, lists etc. It was also designed to not look “corporate” as the audience was not industry.
What did you feel most proud of in this project?
As this was the first time creating this kind of report, naturally there was sensitivity around it. There were a variety of opinions on the report – messaging and design. It can be overwhelming to manage differing expectations, inputs and reactions but overall, the dedication and commitment to this project by so many people, was impressive. I had excellent support from colleagues in getting required information (all on top of our “day jobs”). It was a true collaboration. The team at CEPA and the board believed in the project which made a big difference in getting it where it needed to be.
I’m also proud of all the testing we did before and after the report was launched. We did message and design testing with Canadians before we launched via online focus groups – testing everything from believability and credibility of the messages to how easy the report was to read. We also tested it with CEPA’s External Advisory Panel (non-industry advisors to CEPA that include First Nations representatives, academics and others). All this input helped evolve the report to its final version.
What was a key challenge you faced?
Timelines, the amount of review cycles, and reviewing the reviews! Managing all the comments was extremely time consuming.
Was there anything particularly creative or innovative about your project you can share?
As I mentioned, the visual design was a fresh approach. We also developed a digital press release for the launch with some interesting tools including videos, FAQs and infographics. The launch plan itself was quite comprehensive, including government relations, media relations, mail outs, and speaking engagements. For our members we created a toolkit that would help them understand how they could use the report in their own communications.
If you had to use one word to describe this project what would it be?
I have two words: rewarding and challenging, so maybe ‘rewallenging’?
Why is winning a Gold Quill important/significant for your communications career?
Everybody likes and needs affirmation. As communicators, we regularly face a lot of unsolicited input from non-communicators that can be frustrating. The Gold Quill Awards are judged by the best of the best in our profession. It’s an honor to be recognized by them.
Big thanks to Alexandra for her time responding to our questions and, on behalf of everyone involved in IABC/Calgary, congratulations!
Find out more about IABC’s Gold Quill Awards.