HCOG becomes HCG, gets new communications director amid image woes

Published: 8/15/2017 9:36:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The Hampshire Council of Governments has hired a former White House staffer to field communications from its office.

The quasi-governmental nonprofit has struggled in recent years to convey its day-to-day dealings and its role in the community.

“This spring we hired Mitch Anthony and his company Clarity to talk to our constituents about their perceptions of HCG,” Todd Ford, executive director for the agency, said in a press release. “The people we serve reported high satisfaction with our performance, but they also indicated that we have an image problem. So, with Clarity’s help, we are going to focus attention on telling our story more clearly.”

That burden will fall largely on the shoulders of Catherine Welker, the organization’s new marketing and communications coordinator, who started July 31.

“Catherine Welker’s experience will be a tremendous asset to the work we have already begun,” Ford said. “Her hire is a renewed commitment to HCG’s crystal clear communications with the communities we serve.”

Step one, she told the Gazette on Tuesday, is to rebrand the council as HCG. She said the former acronym, HCOG, compounds confusion surrounding the agency’s image.

“A lot of people don’t know what a council of governments does,” she said, adding even those who do won’t get an accurate idea of what HCG is by knowing that it is a COG. “Anybody that has an idea of what a COG does — we don’t really fit into that box.”

The COG, with a budget of approximately $12 million, specializes in bulk procurement and purchasing of items such as sand and asphalt for member towns, and also has tried to set up a bulk power purchasing plan. Member towns pay fees to the organization, which it uses to address regional issues within the county. The organization isn’t eligible for state planning funds, but instead makes money from supplying power to private companies and municipal governments.

Welker said HCG is a unique organization with many facets that should be better understood.

“It needs to be explained in a more clear and concise way,” she said.

Welker worked in the White House for two years, helping coordinate public events under former President Barack Obama, and more recently served as a press officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Asked if Obama and Joe Biden are everything they seem to be, Welker said they are.

“Vice President Biden really does love ice cream!” she said, laughing. “I love them both.”

For her new role at HCG Welker will earn an annual salary of $55,000.

“I’m looking forward to the work,” she said. “I think this organization does fantastic work, and I’m looking forward to amplifying their message.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.

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