12-Sep-2013

By Jonathan Tremblay

In 2012, the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority went through a major facelift to become the new Water Security Agency (WSA). The agency is a Treasury Board crown corporation, headquartered in Moose Jaw, that was created to lead and implement Saskatchewan’s 25-Year Water Security Plan. As Saskatchewan grows demographically and economically, water will be one of our most important resources and the WSA has been tasked with ensuring that it flows.

Hired mere months before the big change, WSA Manager of Corporate Communications Patrick Boyle was ready for a challenge, but had no idea what a sizeable one it would be. Patrick grew up on the family farm near Moose Jaw and following radio, film and communications studies in Alberta and Saskatchewan, settled back in the Jaw to start his family. At not-quite the age of thirty, Boyle now leads strategic direction, planning and implementation for all of the communications activities at WSA. He also serves as the corporate spokesperson and handles all media relations. He does this while raising three young kids with his wife of four years and while sitting in Moose Jaw City Hall as city councillor. Despite what must now be years of sleepless nights, Boyle still enthusiastically brings his A-game to his work in communications.

“It was a really great time to join the organization because it presented me with some big opportunities to create something new and different but at the same time there was also a number of challenges,” shares Boyle. After a crash course in water management for the province, he successfully led the re-branding initiative of the agency, just in time for the spring thaw.

Too much of a good thing

It’s no surprise that spring flooding is an issue in Saskatchewan, especially in the last four years. The snow accumulation of the last winter broke records and accordingly, Patrick Boyle was strategically planning for the worst. “Flooding and water in general is a very difficult thing to predict and plan for. Prevention and mitigation are key,” says Boyle. That being said, Boyle was committed to communicating what the agency did know and already in February, the WSA was hosting a news conference to build awareness about potential flooding (and continuing the branding work of the new agency). “We needed to let communities in high-risk areas start to prepare for what may come in the spring. We continued to give this type of update monthly until we got into a situation where a daily update was needed.”

With April rolling around, Boyle was in full crisis communications mode and with flooding increasingly affecting certain areas of Saskatchewan, media attention came to a head. With more than 100 interviews with local, provincial and national media over a short few months, Boyle became battle-hardened quickly: “I looked at the national media interviews as an opportunity to provide information to the general public on what is happening in our province but also to show that WSA and our experts have been working around the clock to do everything we could to help the people of Saskatchewan.” Then, later in early summer, Boyle had a repeat situation as the torrential rains that gutted Calgary flowed through the Saskatchewan water system and the WSA was once again in the public eye. Thankfully, spring rains were few and far-between and the flooding episodes of 2010 and 2011 did not repeat this year.

One of the key takeaways for the WSA and Patrick Boyle was the importance of two-way communication, especially for something as important as flooding and water supply. One innovative way to communicate saw the advent of a new WSA mobile website.

New tools, new challenges

“I found out when I got to the WSA there was some amazing data on stream flows and lake levels, in real time, that could be used. So, I thought giving access to our clients via a mobile device or tablet would do a lot to help out a person or community that was looking for the most up-to-date information. They are the ones on the ground preparing for what could potentially come,” says Boyle. “Our mobile site really brings that portal into the hands of people as fast and easily as possible. Mobile is taking over in most forms so it was something I felt we needed to do to serve our clients and provide timely and accurate information as fast as possible.” Patrick shares that it was a bit of a technical nightmare, to set-up such a new tool in a time when it was needed urgently. The mobile site necessitated a whole new content management system for the WSA website and not only did the agency have to get used to a new way of managing their website, they had to create a mobile one and make sure everything was compatible for users.

 

It’s been an eventful year for Boyle and he’s thankful it all happened in Saskatchewan’s professional community: “For me, working in communications in Saskatchewan has been very rewarding. Our province is growing and it seems like there are more and more opportunities for communicators like me. And these opportunities include professional development with organizations like IABC. We're still a small community, which is good because you can interact and access a lot of knowledge from other colleagues.”

 

Next spring will undoubtedly bring new challenges but Patrick Boyle and the WSA already feel better prepared for the task at hand. With new tools, an established new brand and a Corporate Communications Manager/father/husband/city councillor with a growing mastery of crisis communications management, Saskatchewan’s water supply will indeed be secure for the near future.

 

For more on change management, best practices and the necessary flexibility that must accompany it all, don’t miss the new digital edition of Communication World Magazine.

Read and download the September CW at http://cw.iabc.com/communicationworld/september_2013/?pg=18&pm=1&u1=friend#pg1.