The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has hired a public relations company to help with "strategic communications."

The contract was awarded to the international firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies on Nov. 8 for just under $300,000.

Nobody from the inquiry team was available for an interview. In an email to CBC News, the inquiry team said of the contract, "Meetings are being co-ordinated to discuss the scope of work and supporting work plan which will include the official start date."

According to the tender notice, which was posted by Public Works and Government Services Canada, the inquiry was looking for a contractor that could bring more people to the team to help with public relations, public affairs, crisis management, strategic guidance and social media outreach.

When the tender went up in early October, the inquiry told CBC News it had two in-house communications staff.  

Public Services and Procurement Canada said the deadline for submissions was extended twice and they received five bids.

Working to resolve communication challenges

More than a year into its two-year mandate, the inquiry has been repeatedly criticized for a lack of communication by families, grassroots organizers and groups like the Native Women's Association of Canada.

Marion Buller, chief commissioner for the inquiry, acknowledged the team had been doing poorly at communicating back in May. The inquiry's interim report, released on Nov. 1, stated the team was working on resolving communications and operations challenges.

MMIW Inquiry Smithers 20170926

Families and survivors have shared with the inquiry at five rounds of community hearings so far. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

"We are listening to advice and feedback from families, survivors, communities, partners, and other stakeholders to make the changes we need," the team wrote in its interim report.

It's not clear how many additional staff Hill+Knowlton will add to the inquiry team and the inquiry said in an email that a start date has not yet been established.

In an email to CBC News, Rob Mariani, senior vice-president of Hill+Knowlton's Canadian office, said the company is still working on determining what its role will be.

"We look forward to working with the Inquiry team to define our role and the scope of work that will best support their work and objectives," he wrote.