© Sherrell Steele, 2013. All rights reserved.
21st of June

Party Planner Turned City Planner


Karen Burgess knows how to plan parties. Big parties. Parties attended by the “who’s who” of the business world. Parties attended by the Mayor, the Premier and other VIPs in both Edmonton and Calgary. The largest party Karen planned had 500 people in attendance. That’s a lot of party power!

Karen Burgess2

In her former role as event and marketing coordinator for Venture Publishing, Karen’s office was party central. Each year Karen managed the logistics for ten events, ranging from luncheons to golf tournaments to professional development conferences.

“I’ve checked the spelling on a lot of name tags!” laughs Karen.

“I learned a lot in my three and a half years at Venture but reached a point where felt I had grown as much as I could in that position and was ready to tackle the next challenge. The thing I miss most about Venture is the people.  It was a small, close knit group of people and it can be harder to achieve that same team dynamic in a larger organization.”

Now in a new role as communications officer with the City of Edmonton, Karen’s parties are now strictly social not work-related and restricted to the weekends. Does she miss event management?

“Four years of catering contracts, tickets and event inquiries is quite enough,” notes Karen, “although I still get a bit nostalgic in banquet halls.”

Currently serving as a communications officer (known internally as a public information officer level 2) with the Information Technology Branch of the City of Edmonton, Karen’s role now is 75% internal communications and 25% external communications (media relations and community relations).  This work seems far from party-like.  Does she miss event management?

“Event management is an important part of public relations. But only a part,” Karen explains. “I enjoy the larger scope of my duties now with the City of Edmonton.

But there were several reasons I moved to the City. It was the opportunity to move from a small, private company to a large public company. The position at the City provided the opportunity to move from the media side to the corporate communications side. The knowledge I gained about how media operates and the relationships I built while at Venture have proven to be very valuable in my new role. My position at Venture was more marketing than communications focused, which is one of the main reasons I moved to the City.  I was looking to gain more pure communications experience.

Some of the things about the position, and the City as whole, that appealed to me were an opportunity to tangibly make a difference in the community.  The IT Branch (which is my client and sole portfolio) drives several programs, such as Open Government (http://edmonton.ca/opengov),  which are geared towards making municipal information more transparent and accessible to citizens. Being the communications lead for innovative initiatives such as Open Gov is very rewarding.

The City is known for being an excellent employer. There are communications professionals that have been with the City for 20 plus years, which is rare in the public relations field. People stay because of the positive corporate culture and the numerous opportunities for both upward and lateral movement within the organization. The City offered me the opportunity to expand my communications skill set in a number of areas, from media relations to internal communications.

But there’s one more thing about the City I like: professional development opportunities. The City offers regular lunch-and-learn sessions on a variety of topics as well as an extensive internally-run employee training program.  The communications branch leadership team also encourages knowledge sharing and networking among the communications officers.”

Her workday at the City involves reading the early morning media monitoring, submitting time reports on her internal client activities and updating her section of the City website. She keeps in regular contact with her supervisor, the director of IT, particularly in these current times of rapid change at the City.

“My direct supervisor has a true open door policy and I learn from his vast communications knowledge and experience on a daily basis.”

Variety in job duties is appealing. “I don’t really have a “typical” day.  Each day is so different, which is one of the things I love about my job.  One day I’m producing a webcast and the next I’m fielding a media call or helping my client draft a communications strategy for a project,” she explains.

Recent budget cuts due to restricted tax levies have necessitated higher work volumes.

“Without a doubt, the workload is demanding but there’s flexibility too.” Karen works an extended work day so she can bank hours for a Friday off every two weeks. “I am lucky that I can bank extra days to add to my holiday time.”

From party planner to City planner, Karen demonstrates the versatility that characterizes public relations and communications professionals.

Karen is a former student of mine. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

About

Sherrell Steele is a consultant in strategic communications and public relations with experience as manager of public relations with the province’s largest professional association. Looking for a communications audit? Communications consulting? Public relations advice? Publication analysis? Website review? Marketing advice? Media relations. Contact her at sherrell.steele@gmail.com Phone (780) 298-6149.

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