Staff Spotlight: Alison Kirkland, Master Communicator

You’ve worked at the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba for 13 years. What has been your favourite marketing or communications project to date?
Over the years I have had the opportunity to work on some really interesting communications projects. The most memorable and comprehensive one began not long after I started when it was decided that the Centre’s brand needed an update. Given that I was still learning about the organization’s history, goals and priorities, I was able to tackle the assignment from a unique position.

The first step in the process was to understand where and why the Centre started, what had changed over the years and where it was heading. There were lots of conversations with clients, staff, Board and stakeholders to gain their perspectives. The information gathering stage was followed by a search for a local communications/advertising firm that had the skill and expertise to convert our ideas into concrete tools. Over the years these tools have included print, radio and online advertising, website and electronic newsletter, promotional tools, trade show displays, signage, banners, event promotions, direct mail, training materials, and tools used in the delivery of our services.

Our brand is the foundation for all of our efforts. It guides the way we interact with our clients, promote and deliver our services, and connect with our stakeholders. While this project began more than a decade ago, it continues to be a work in progress. It isn’t something that can be crossed off the To Do List. Not only do the awareness building tools change, our clients grow and change and our team evolves. All of that factors into the tools we use and the messages we deliver. Our ongoing challenge is to ensure that we remain relevant to our clients by communicating with them in the most effective way.

How has communicating with the community of women entrepreneurs in Manitoba changed over the last 13 years?
Technology has played a huge role in the way we communicate with women entrepreneurs in Manitoba. When I started in 2002, print and radio advertising were a large part of our efforts to let women around the province know we existed. It was a mass market, one-way communication approach to raising awareness.

Today, communicating with women entrepreneurs is about dialogue. It isn’t about sending out generalized messages and hoping that something resonates with a woman somewhere and inspires her to take action. It is about having an exchange either in-person, over the telephone, via video conferencing, by Skype or through social media to assess the best ways for us to work together.

What has been your greatest opportunity or experience while working at the Centre?
Working at the Centre has provided so many opportunities and experiences that it is difficult (impossible) to note just one. I’m taking the liberty of sharing the top three!

  1. I have met and been inspired by hundreds of amazing women entrepreneurs who have taken an idea and through hard work and perseverance have created a business that fulfills their definition of success.
  2. There have been many opportunities to travel around Manitoba and discover the economic opportunities and challenges that impact the success of entrepreneurs.
  3. I have been invited to speak at conferences in Ukraine and Vietnam to share the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba story. Many developing economies see the benefit of supporting women entrepreneurs and it has been a privilege to talk about our experiences and best practices.

Our last Staff Spotlight, Janis, asks: How has working at the Women’s Enterprise Centre helped to boost your confidence and make you a better person?
Learning boosts confidence and there are so many opportunities to learn at the Centre. My colleagues, our clients, seminars and conferences have all been rich sources of professional development. For me, that learning has resulted in a much greater understanding of the broader issues related to economic development, the challenges that many entrepreneurs experience, and my desire to support and advance them wherever possible.