AUGUSTA — City councilors’ top proposed goal for the coming year is  improving communications and marketing for the city.

Part of attaining that goal would be accomplished by hiring a public affairs officer who’d be responsible for promoting the virtues of the city and schools to out-of-towners, handling sticky public relations problems and informing residents about what’s going on in Augusta, across all media platforms.

Councilors cited a 2017 controversy involving an online video rant against the city by the owner of the Red Barn restaurant in Augusta — in which the main accusation was erroneous, that spread across the country and received hundreds of thousands of views — as an example of a situation in which having a public relations expert available could have improved the city’s response.

“We got through it, and the mayor played a big role in containing it and making it all work out in the end; but for a couple of days it was a challenge,” City Manager William Bridgeo, speaking to councilors of the 2017 dust-up between the city and popular restaurant. “And had we had somebody who was in our employ or who was good at that and knew how to immediately respond, we probably would have done better.”

Improving marketing and communications is the first goal listed in the proposed council goals for the coming year. The goals are the product of a daylong goal-setting session involving city and school officials last month. Councilors are scheduled to consider adopting their goals at their 7 p.m. meeting Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

Their other proposed goals are: honoring Augusta’s role in Maine history by playing a prominent role in the upcoming 2019-2020 state bicentennial celebrations; supporting the re-establishment of the Capital Riverfront Improvement District, a city-state partnership that went dormant in recent years; supporting the arts; improving the quality of life; supporting high quality development; continuing efforts to manage and reduce the carbon footprint of city government; and keeping councilors informed about city trends.

Bridgeo said the first goal, improving communications and marketing, is a top priority. He said he would put funding to do that in the city budget he is currently preparing and will deliver to councilors at the end of March, though he noted councilors could end up cutting it from the budget if they wish.

Mayor David Rollins said having someone available to the city to improve communications and marketing could mean hiring someone, full  or part time, assigning it to an existing city staff member or hiring a consultant. With the school board also having identified improving communications with the public as a top goal of theirs this year, Rollins noted the city and schools could share in the effort, for the benefit of both.

Councilors said Augusta needs to do a better job selling itself to others.

“I’m excited at the idea of a marketing person who comes in and gets a feel for our culture here and helps us define that culture in representing us to the rest of the state, the rest of New England, the rest of the world,” said At-large Councilor Jennifer Day. “So we’re attracting businesses and residents and visitors and employees. I don’t want to continue to see the population of the capital city be under 20,000 residents. I want to see us grow.”

A written draft of the proposed goals suggests forming a committee to help determine the city’s goals in marketing and communications and how to best address those goals.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind said the effort to improve communications and marketing should include improvements to the city’s website, including more frequent updates and easier-to-navigate options. And expanding the city’s social media presence.

“I think using and manipulating social media will help us quite a bit,” he said. “And I’ve heard from a lot of people there is a lot of great information on the website, but it’s hard to navigate.”


Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]
Twitter: @kedwardskj

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