City’s PR department has budget of $478,000

Daniel MacEachern
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Communications branch is growing

The City of St. John’s communications department — which didn’t formally exist prior to 2010 — now comprises five full-time employees and has a budget of nearly half a million dollars.

The growth of the department — which was born in November 2010 when the city’s first public-relations employee was hired — is part of the city’s efforts to improve its internal and external communications, said the department’s newly hired manager, Susan Bonnell, formerly communications director for Eastern Health.

Although that line item has taken a big jump in the 2014 budget — from $109,950 budgeted in 2013 to $478,075 for this year — Bonnell explained in an email to The Tele­gram that funds and positions scattered among other departments have now been consolidated in one unit aiming for “improved communications and citizen engagement.”

“Previously, there was one individual identified to provide communications support under the ‘corporate communications’ line item,” Bonnell, who declined to be interviewed, wrote in an email.

“However, there were in fact three other individuals providing communications and marketing support who were working in other departments that are now consolidated in the new Office of Strategy and Engagement.”

The department’s budget breaks down to $425,415 for the five employees, $38,500 for contractual services, $2,960 in materials and supplies, and $11,200 in capital out of revenue.

The budget puts the fledgling department somewhere between Halifax’s $3.2 million for corporate communications and the much smaller departments in cities in the other Atlantic provinces.

Halifax’s budget includes all postage and internal communications costs ($607,000) and printing costs ($97,000) for the entire Halifax regional municipality, and comprises 25 full-time positions, including 13 in marketing communications and design, four in public affairs, four in the print centre, three in internal communications, and one managing director for all corporate communications.

Halifax’s expenditure represents a greater proportion of the operating budget than St. John’s communications does. Halifax’s overall operating budget for 2013-14 is $824 million, compared with $205.4 million for the City of St. John’s.

By contrast, the other Atlantic provincial capitals spend much less. Fredericton, N.B., employs one person in corporate communications, with a budget of $149,529 (out of an operating budget of $104.1 million), which includes salary, benefits and funds for professional services, promotional materials, memberships, phones and computer.

Charlottetown, P.E.I., also employs one person — who recently went on maternity leave. Her temporary replacement, who started last week, told The Telegram there isn’t a line item dedicated to corporate communications, but funds for various communications needs are spread out among several city departments.

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

Organizations: Office of Strategy and Engagement, The Telegram

Geographic location: Atlantic, Fredericton, Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • AKav
    February 20, 2014 - 18:08

    A PR Manager who makes over $100K salary DECLINES an interview to discuss her department... Oxymoron!!!!!

  • AKav
    February 20, 2014 - 18:06

    Our tax dollars going to PR that has tripled over the previous year. Shameful! We should be having this go to improving snow clearing services. You can tell where St. John's ends and Mount Pearl begins. This is absolutely ridiculous. So the City of St. John's can now have a big PR about how great they preform.

  • Duffy
    February 20, 2014 - 16:12

    O'Keefe should have used them when the sea gull was impalled on the church roof lightning rod and no one would respond. SPCA (not my job) fire department (not my job) town hall (not my job). It finally died after three days of suffering....the PR Boys & Gals should have been there and blamed it on Terroists! What a waste of $$$$$ but just raise taxes.

  • Guy Incognito
    February 20, 2014 - 13:51

    So we have 5 people making $100,000 a year for PR??? This council, under "bike lane" O'keefe is the worst ever. Half a million dollars on PR, a harbour fence nobodyy wants, cruise ships that only benefit a few people, bike lanes on roads that barely have room for cars, pitiful snow clearing. Doc O'keefe is the worst thing that ever happened to St. John's.

    February 20, 2014 - 09:41

    I have no faith in this council , under O'Keefe, he wants to leave a legacy of the most wasted money ever by a city council. Tax Tax Tax is his policy. And now a $30,000 study to see where to dump snow other than the harbour, is there anyone with a brain at council, or do they think the tax payers will just keep on shelling out money.

  • Anna
    February 20, 2014 - 08:29

    Isn't it wild that the new communications manager, Ms. Bonnell, declined an interview? I heard there is a documentary being prepared by a MUN group that outlines what impact the lack of sidewalk clearing has on the citizens of St. John's, there was a discussion with the person in charge on CBC. Hopefully, when this film is produced, Ms. Bonnell will answer a few questions then. Another waste of taxpayers money.

    • W Bagg
      February 20, 2014 - 14:56

      That would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Glad I'm helping pay half a mil for some missus to communicate and turn down press interviews. Aren't politicians supposed to communicate the cities business

  • PR Instead of Solutions
    February 20, 2014 - 08:22

    478 thousand could clear a lot of sidewalks and cause more goodwill towards Council than Ms. Bonnell's tripe.

  • Joe
    February 20, 2014 - 07:10

    To bad they can't use some of this money to communicate the financial position of the City to the taxpayers.