The time is January 2021, and in the thick of month eight of COVID-19 communications, it happened. All of the responsibilities for the City of Bryan’s 150th Anniversary of Incorporation – the largest celebration in the city since the mid-1990s – were bestowed upon my department. Oh, and that official 150th anniversary date was just around the corner.
So, with 10 months and an extremely small budget – in the middle of a pandemic – we set out to plan and execute a year’s worth of historical celebrations and events worthy of a sesquicentennial. Only one small problem: I’ve never been an event planner, and knowing the immense amount of details and skill that go into planning events, I wasn’t sure how we were going to pull this off.
But, just as you do with all “other duties as assigned,” you make it work. So, here’s three lessons I learned while embracing these other duties as assigned.
Use the skills you have to get the job done.
If I could use one word to describe most communications teams, it would be “creative.” Every communications team I have been a part of has thrived when thinking outside the box to solve problems. So, when it came to the City of Bryan’s 150th anniversary celebrations, we set out to solve this problem: How do we plan a yearlong celebration on a small budget, during a pandemic, that appeals to all of our residents?
We knew that one event wasn’t going to be sufficient. Instead, we planned a variety of smaller events and activities that led up to a large community-wide celebration. And these weren’t just any type of smaller events. We had to keep in mind varying levels of our community members’ comfort with crowds and the preferences of different generations.
So what did we do? We switched to creativity mode and came up with several options to present historical information to our community that went beyond bulletin boards and history books:
- An interactive website (150.bryantx.gov) that included videos, audio, photos, maps and a timeline
- A self-guided, mobile-based tour of historic places in the community
- Guided tours of Bryan’s downtown
- A multimedia-integrated museum display featuring items from the local historical societies and items donated by community members
- A time capsule burial
- A free outdoor concert featuring high school, local and regional music acts showcasing the community’s diversity
- A free traditional Thanksgiving meal and historical celebration dinner
- Two months’ worth of curated social media content highlighting the diversity of our community
A big (or small) budget doesn’t determine your success.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that just about everyone in TAMIO knows what it’s like to work miracles on a small budget. When it came to our 150th Anniversary of Incorporation, the City of Bryan was no different.
But we quickly found that our small budget didn’t mean small payoff. By planning a variety of smaller events and relying on free avenues like websites, social media, and printed information, we were able to reach a wide swath of our community – and encourage participation from not only the usual suspects, but also people who hadn’t attended city events before.
In all, after our yearlong celebration, we logged more than 12,000 visits to our website with an average engagement time of more than two minutes and more than 300,000 impressions on social media. We hosted more than 1,000 people at various in-person events. But most importantly, we uncovered the untold stories of our community and celebrated the diversity that built Bryan into the thriving, cultural center it is today.
There’s more to communications than just communications.
Being a Public Information Officer, Communications Specialist, Marketing Manager, or anything in between isn’t just about communications anymore. There’s public engagement, marketing, media relations, and as I learned, event planning, just to name a few.
As non-event planners, my team began to plan everything involved in celebrating our 150th Anniversary of Incorporation. And we learned that although event planning was technically not in our assigned duties, communicating about the importance of our community’s history was. We needed to think big-picture and embrace our task as part of ensuring our residents are informed about everything going on.
If I’m honest, I would say that being given the new responsibility of event planner was a blessing in disguise. Not only did we get an insider’s perspective on what our Facilities, Parks and Recreation, Police and Fire departments do, we were able to better understand how Communications and Marketing fits into the bigger logistical picture for our city’s other events.
So, if I could give anyone tasked with “other duties as assigned” one piece of advice, it would be this: Embrace it. Lean into the challenge and find creative solutions to problem-solving. And learn from the experience, so that next time you’re tasked with being an event planner (or something else far outside your normal duties), you can tell yourself, “You got this.”
Kristen Waggener, CPC
TAMIO Region 5 Director
Communications & Marketing Director
City of Bryan