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August 15, 2017; The Republican (Springfield, MA)

Former White House communications specialist, Catherine Welker, recently joined the Hampshire Council of Governments (HCG) team in Massachusetts last month to help the organization’s “image problem.” Executive Director Todd Ford said the council plans to “focus attention on telling our story more clearly.”

Welker, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration and on Hillary Clinton’s most recent presidential campaign, is already hard at work building her team. A marketing intern position was just posted on the organization’s Facebook page.

Welker will work with the Connecticut-based marketing company Clarity, hired earlier this year by HCG, on a redesign of the council’s website and communications materials. She will also develop and manage a more comprehensive marketing program.

Clarity had talked to constituents about their perceptions of HCG and found “high satisfaction” but an image problem, stemming from the agency’s name, which doesn’t directly translate to what the agency is about, according to Welker.

Councils of Governments exist throughout the country and provide different services depending on where they are, but are generally regional governing and/or coordinating bodies. They’re usually controlled by their member local governments. The Hampshire Council has 15 member-towns. It offers programs such as bulk purchasing, electricity buying, and a municipal solar program. It also has recently been partnering with other organizations to offer local food to schools in the region.

Welker told a local news outlet, “Council of governments is confusing. We are a nonprofit.” The nearly $5 million organization does not receive any money from taxes, but from more traditional nonprofit sources, including grants and earned revenues.

Welker continued, “Generally, the public doesn’t know what it is that we do, that we are a nonprofit that puts resources back into the local community.” She added that the first step is “educating” the public on what HCG does.

The problem of no reputation or public recognition is not at all uncommon, but is the answer to hire a communications specialist to educate the public about what you do? The problem may very well be connected to a few much larger issues of engagement practices and relevance.—Angie Wierzbicki