by Kate Raven, Communications & PR ’08
Municipal government was the last place Andrea Gonsalves thought she would end up.
When searching out an internship at the end of Centennial’s Corporate Communications program in 1997, Gonsalves was afraid the position with Metro Toronto Works would leave her licking envelopes and filing documents – and she wasn’t alone.
“Everybody wanted Ernst and Young. It was glamourous, and they kept you on after the internship was over,” she says. “With the City, I kind of felt I was taking my last option.”
But 10 years later, she doesn’t regret her decision. Now a Senior Communications Co-ordinator for the City of Toronto, Gonsalves has worked with several divisions, including Solid Waste Management, the Office of Emergency Management and, most recently, Toronto Water. The variety of work available initially surprised her; “it didn’t come across like it would offer all of this,” she says.
Part of this variety stems from the unique challenges presented by government work, one of the most prominent being the frequently changing leadership. “Every time we get a new mayor, they pick the deck up, shuffle it and lay the cards out differently,” she says.
While these changes don’t always have consequences for communications, current mayor David Miller’s most recent budget cuts were felt acutely by Gonsalves’s section. She was forced to scrap the printing and production of Water Watch, a household newsletter typically distributed to all City residents twice a year, and cut an advertising campaign about drinking water quality from the year’s plans.
To overcome this hurdle, Gonsalves engaged her ingenuity. Because city councillors communicate with their constituents on a regular basis, she used their communication vehicles to get her message out. “Stories that would have gone into Water Watch are reconceptualized as pieces for councillors’ newsletters. They’re happy to get the content,” she says.
Gonsalves also places even more emphasis on media relations, using it to supplement Toronto Water’s direct messaging. “Almost everything we do, we communicate to the media. Getting an article in the Star is almost as good as advertising,” she says.
In view of the division’s changing communications needs, Gonsalves relies heavily on a skill learned at Centennial: writing communications plans. “I write a new one about eight times a year,” she says. And while she’s happy to have the skill, she regrets not seeing its full value while in school. “I wish, instead of seeing them as a hindrance, I’d seen them as the strategic tool they are.”
Though she admits that working for the government has its ups and downs, Gonsalves is satisfied with the challenges and variety it provides – and the favourable work-life balance it affords. “I know it’s really rare,” she says, “but I might start and end my career with the same employer.”