Since before it became a colonial settlement in 1673, people have been making Manchester, CT, home. Like so many Northeastern states, the Town of Manchester, located in the same county as state capital Hartford, is steeped in history.
When history is in a town’s DNA, change can come slowly.
“Communications is a little bit newer to Connecticut as a whole,” said Brianna Smith, Director of Communications and Civic Engagement for the Town of Manchester. “I think there’s only two or three other communications directors in the state, but I know that it’s growing.”
In the three years since taking on her role, Smith has worked to meet the needs from leadership to improve connections with residents, including establishing an engagement arm.
Key to the success of this new approach would be shifting the way that Manchester connected with residents.
Previous communications efforts focused on print media (“We did a lot of handing out of flyers,” said Smith), so when the COVID pandemic hit, Manchester faced the same difficulties as communicators around the world, looking to connect with residents in a time when personal interaction was not possible.
“We worked closely with the local news media outlets, the journals and the newspapers in town,” she said. “We started growing the office in the peak of the pandemic. It was a big challenge, but also a silver lining opportunity for us to move more digitally.”
With a growing community of over 55,000 residents at a median age of 35, Smith knew that it was time to take a step forward. The key: Finding a way to leverage the town’s legacy website, which Smith cited as being over 20 years old, into a digital hub for communication and, more importantly, engagement.
“We have a lot of different people from different backgrounds, an array of ethnicities, races, micro communities that have a variety of accessibility needs,” she said. “That had always been in the mix, but COVID pushed that faster, the need to really connect in different ways besides just flyers and local news.”