Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A look back as we look ahead to 2015

A retrospective from NAGC President John Verrico

Six months ago, when I took the oath of office as president of the National Association of Government Communicators, I promised to work toward the betterment of the government communication professions. When I first learned of the existence of NAGC nearly 10 years ago, I immediately saw the benefit of being part of such an organization where I could network with and learn from my fellow professionals, and also to share some of the things I experienced in my own career.
Perhaps I found this so valuable because of my prior experience as a military public affairs specialist. For my entire 9+ years on active duty and my first Navy Reserve assignment, I was the only public affairs professional for my organization.  I did not work with another person in my career field, had no one to ask for advice when faced with a challenging issue, and had nothing to measure my performance against. I had no idea if I was doing things correctly, if I could improve what I was doing or if I was making major mistakes. It was nearly 12 years before I worked in a Navy organization that had more than a one-person public affairs shop.  My first civilian public affairs position was with state government in Maryland, and even though there was a small communications team, I had an independent duty assignment in a field office for the first couple of years. 
Always seeking some form of continued professional development, metrics and networking opportunities, I would put in for training offered by other organizations and attend communication-related conferences, but found that most of the material was not applicable to what I could do in my government job. The majority of the courses were focused on types of organizations with much larger “marketing” budgets, larger staffs, and dedicated to generating leads for sales. Simply not applicable to a government organization.
I finally stumbled upon a NAGC Communications School event and was instantly enamored. Everyone there was a government communicator of some type. They all understood the issues I faced on a daily basis, had the same budgetary and staffing limitations, the same ethics regulations to comply with, the same goals.  The quality of the training was excellent, and, because it was so much more applicable to me and my job, I found it incredibly valuable and was able to put what I learned to use right away.
I signed up to become a member on the spot and have continued to get more and more involved with the organization ever since.
I am proud to now be the president of this fantastic organization and am supremely fortunate to be working with the best, most dedicated Board of Directors I have ever met. As you may know, NAGC board members are volunteers, serving in various government agencies in a variety of communication disciplines by day, and dedicating off-duty time to helping our overall community.
In the past couple of months, your board has been working on many new ways to improve the overall NAGC experience and benefits of membership.
Our website has been somewhat redesigned and has been updated much more frequently, and with a broader array of useful information and announcements, including a member-of-the-month feature.  Software limitations have limited what NAGC could do with our current website, so our board members, working with our management company ASMII, have found a cost-effective way to upgrade to a new state-of-the-art website that we’re hoping to launch soon. By the way, we’re looking for volunteers to help with the transition (hint, hint, wink, wink). Interested in helping out? Please contact our committee chairs: Kathryn Stokes or Chris O’Neil 
If you haven’t already done so, you really should check out NAGC’s social media presence on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Chris and other Board members have been managing lots of great conversations there, and we’ve been cross-posting with other peer organizations. Agencies are also sharing job announcements on our Facebook and LinkedIn discussion groups. We’ll be working to enhance this benefit for members in the future, so if your agency has a vacancy in any communicator discipline, or if you know of one, please send us the info and post the link.

Our blog, Adventures in Government Communication, has also seen more frequent postings, including occasional guest posts by some of our international counterparts.  
Speaking of international partnerships, NAGC has been continuing to draw interest around the globe. Our counterparts want to learn from us and also want to share their own unique experiences. It’s amazing how many similarities there are between us and how much there is to learn from the unique challenges faced in other environments. Thanks to a special arrangement with the European Union’s Club of Venicethe informal organization of Europe’s top communication directors – NAGC members now have access to the EU’s professional government communication magazine, Convergences. All issues of the magazine are now posted under Resources in the Members Only section of the NAGC website. We've also continued our partnership with our counterparts in South East Europe.
Those of you who renewed your membership this year received a new member package, complete with wallet ID card that also provides the password to access the Members Only resources. You also should have received a special member appreciation thank you gift from our Membership Director Marisa Ellison.
Our Professional Development Director Maria Vanderkolk has coordinated several webinars in recent months that were free to NAGC members. Be sure to check out our next one on January 13, “Dealing with Difficult Audiences” with the inimitable Larry Tracy. It is our intent to offer more frequent webinars and training opportunities on a variety of topics throughout the year.
Our annual Communication School is finally going back on the road. After several years of homesteading in the Washington, DC area, the 2015 School will be held in Memphis, June 2-4. We’re planning some surprises for the School this year. Keep your ears tuned as more info becomes available about some of the interesting workshops, plenary and break-out sessions. There’s a call for speakers still out there so we can fill up the rest of the program, so if you know of any good topics or presenters, or if you would like to be part of the program committee, please contact Education Director Sheryl Walsh.
We’ve also been partnering with other organizations for NAGC members to attend training events at a discount. The next one is the Strategic Internal Communications for Government, Associations, Universities and Non-Profits, put on by the Advanced Learning Institute, Feb. 2-4, in Washington, DC. Because I will be speaking at this conference, ALI has offered a special discount – 50% off registration if you use the code SPK and enter my name!  

The Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards program has also undergone some changes, with new categories to be sure to reflect current communication tools and tactics. Final deadline for entries is January 12. We are currently recruiting judges, so if you would like to be part of this extremely rewarding program, please contact Competitions Director Cheryl Chambers.
By the way, our Marketing Director, Wendy Wagner-Smith, has been responsible for the design of the fantastic graphics on the membership materials, the note cards, the website, the program for last year’s communications school, and the new promotional materials.

NAGC is doing more work in helping to define our profession. In the past year, we’ve conducted surveys and issued reports on a variety of topics, such as the Trends and Salary Report published earlier this year, and the survey on electronic communications in the United States and Canada. Some additional research is currently underway to get perspective on polices impacting government communicators’ access to online and social media tools. 
We’re doing a bit more advocacy too. You may be aware that NAGC has been called upon in the past couple of years to defend the reputation of the government spokesperson role. This was the result of surveys led by the Society for Professional Journalists and NAGC. Among other forums, I participated in an August 2013 National Press Club debate (archived on C-SPAN) that pitted government spokespersons against reporters about access to government people and information.  There have been additional queries to NAGC along these lines, and about the government communication profession in general, so we are becoming known as a go-to resource for media about these issues.

NAGC has also been hosting networking happy hour events in recent months, mostly in Washington, DC, but starting to have some in different communities across the country. The next one on the schedule is January 29, 5-7 p.m. at Mio’s Restaurant, 1110 Vermont Ave NW, Washington DC. If you’re in the DC area, you don’t want to miss this one because we actually have a rare opportunity for all of the NAGC board members to be in attendance! 
The Board will hold its annual retreat on January 30 to discuss current and future direction of the Association. We’ll report out to the membership shortly afterward.
Treasurer Derrick Silas and I have been working with Executive Director Beth Armstrong and her ASMII team to keep the Association’s finances stable despite the tight budgetary constraints we are under, while simultaneously trying to increase member benefits. Our former Treasurer (and currently President-Elect) Kathryn Stokes recently published a blog post about the unique challenges of being a non-profit with limited sources of income, and relying on volunteers to do the work of putting together the various offerings and services.
If you have not yet renewed your membership, please do so soon to take advantage of all of the benefits NAGC has to offer, the free webinars, the training resources and reports, and discounts on the Communications School and the Blue Pencil Gold Screen Awards program and other activities.

If you are not yet a member, take advantage of our special first-time member discount. Enter discount code FIRST on your membership application, and your first year is only $100. As a special incentive for our compatriots in uniform, membership for all active duty and active reserve military communicators is only $60 – less than HALF of the regular membership rate.
NAGC is dedicated to providing the best professional development and resources to our members to continuously improve the quality, reputation, and growth opportunities for communication professionals across government. The most rewarding part of my 33-year career is the opportunity to help lead these efforts.

Keep your eyes open throughout 2015 for more changes, more enhancements, and more opportunities. And feel free to contact me or any of the board members if you have any ideas.
My first six months has been very exciting! I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015: The Year of No Excuses

By Dave Hebert
NAGC Featured Member of the Month

As we stare 2015 in the face, fellow government communicators, there’s one thing I challenge all of us to do (sure, call it a resolution): stop making excuses about how hard our jobs are.

In fact, they are quite difficult, but it’s not because of the obstacles and the I’m-not-allowed-to’s that are easy to roll out when you labor to relate the government mission to the masses. It’s because there are just so many ways to understand and reach people now. Our hard work should be focused on identifying which tools and methods are best for our organizations and honing our ability to use them to a razor’s edge.

First of all, let’s get our measurement game right. Yes, privacy laws and other regulations can be challenging when you’re trying to determine if your efforts are making a difference. But folks here in the U.S. and our colleagues in the Canadian and British government are doing amazing things in measurement. And if you need a refresher on what metrics magic can be made under Federal regs and budgets, DigitalGov will steer you right.

Let’s embrace our loss of control. The only thing you really control are the words that come out of your agency's collective mouth, and with employees' personal social media accounts, even that control is fleeting. Don’t tighten your grip; instead turn your people (or your robots) into great ambassadors for your organization. And let the rest of the world get involved. Help your agency apply citizens’ time, energy, and intelligence to helping solve problems. That’s government of, by, and for the people.

Finally, let’s tell better stories. The problem with our press releases, web content, and tweets is that we often use them to talk about our organizations. Let’s talk about the people we serve, the employees who do the heavy lifting, and the amazing things happening through our mission. Watch this video and tell me it doesn’t say more about the mission than a heavily branded press release touting new procedural or equipment upgrades would.

This is a golden age of communications — step into the light, fair communicator, and make your agency shine.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Managing Resources in a Non-Profit World

By Kathryn Stokes

Managing financial resources is challenging in the private sector, ensuring cash-flow is sufficient to pay bills, fund research and development, market your products or services, reward your employees with a paycheck and maybe a bonus, and have a profit at the end.  Non-profits have limited sources for funding, which include grants, donations or, as in the case of the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC), through membership, award, and communications school registration fees.

Before I joined the board as treasurer a few years ago, the inner workings of a non-profit were very much like the Wizard of Oz to me.  Everything was performed behind a magic curtain and stuff just appeared to get done.  Nothing could be farther from the truth! 

NAGC has committees to deal with many of its operational activities; we have a committee that plans the communications school program, another that plans the BP&GS awards banquet, volunteers who judge the BP&GS entries, we have a marketing committee among others and in a few days we’ll be looking for volunteers for a website redesign committee.   A lot gets done by, already over-extended professionals, committed to ensuring the success of NAGC. 

We cannot do this alone.  To help, we have AMSII, our management team headed by Beth Armstrong.  Beth’s team helps us perform those day-to-day duties that keep NAGC moving forward. 

Beth has managed associations her whole career and her organization has been managing NAGC since I joined.  And, she has committed to not raise her management fee rates at any time since I’ve been on the board, which is about five years.  That commitment is something this former treasurer knows is not easy to do because Beth’s company is not a non-profit.  

Our management firm supplies us with the resources for the operational activities and the financial functions including contract negotiation for the school venue and vendors.  They also collect all the membership dues; collect the BP&GS entries, re-package them and send them to various judges, collect judging forms, order the awards and notify winners where applicable (Communicator of the Year).  Throughout the year they help committee chairs manage meetings, take notes and perform a myriad of follow-ups for the various groups.  They do all this while keeping an eye on the bottom line. 

Our monthly board meeting always includes a financial health-check.  I’ll admit it, there were times I questioned whether or not we would meet our annual projections.  Beth’s experience and counsel has always gone a long way to calm my bottom-line concerns.  We still struggle, but continue to squeak by.

We need your help!

Your NAGC board wants to hear any ideas and suggestions that bring value to our members.  Do you have ideas about how we can save money or generate income? We want your suggestions about presenters and topics for the annual school so that you find value in attending each year.  BTW, next year in Memphis looks to be another great school.  (SHAMELESS PLUG!)

When you attend the annual Communications School, be sure to listen for the financial report during the business meeting.  It is our account to you about the monies we collect throughout the year, how those monies are spent, and what our current financial health looks like going into the next year. 

Managing money is never easy.  But the challenges of managing money in a non-profit world, while stressful, are also rewarding every time someone says they loved the school, the award banquet or gives great feedback on their NAGC experience!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Response to Query - Forwarded For Your Use

[Some holiday levity, posted by NAGC President John Verrico]

Fellow communicators. It has come to our attention that there have been queries from investigative reporters concerning the implementation of holiday plans across government agencies.
We are proposing this response to any query you may receive, including an official statement and additional details which may be provided "on background - not for attribution."
I hope you will find this information helpful in explaining how government agencies are responding to recent criticisms from the political and private sectors.
On behalf of the National Association of Government Communicators, I hope you get some time off to relax and spend with family and friends this holiday season. To our fellows in uniform serving in deployed status away from loved ones, we send our best wishes for as happy a holiday as possible, a happy and healthy New Year, and a safe return.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Making the List - Government blogs recognized as 'must-read'

Posted by NAGC President John Verrico
Government agencies at all levels provide essential services to their communities and constituents. We communicators are charged, of course, with telling people about the important work of our agencies, and we produce a great deal of communication products to spread the word. We use websites, newsletters, promotional campaigns, and social media outlets, among other tools, but of course, none of these are of any value if people aren’t paying attention to them.

Of all the products that government agencies develop, blogs are perhaps the most challenging. Keeping them fresh and interesting can be quite a task. Once we’ve got the thing going and get followers, we’ve got to continuously feed the beast with new content or we quickly lose our audience. 

That’s why I was so thrilled recently when I saw so many government agencies listed as having “must-read” blogs in the technology realm.

Last week, FedTech magazine posted their picks for the 50 Must-Read Federal I.T. Blogs for 2014, and earlier this month its counterpart StateTech magazine posted the 50 Must-Read State and Local I.T. Blogs for 2014. While there are many non-government organizations, think tanks, and media outlets producing blogs in the government technology space, it was wonderful to see government agencies making the list.

Congratulations to the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and Seattle, and state agencies in California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nebraska, and North Carolina. On the federal side, congratulations go to the White House for both their Office of Science and Technology Policy and their Open Government blog, Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (which also had two blogs on the list, including FirstResponder.gov), the Department of Health and Human Resources (also with two blogs), General Services Administration (also with two blogs), Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the federal CIO Council.  

Also, a shout-out goes to our friends in the National Association of Counties, and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers for also making the list.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Meet NAGC's Featured Member of the Month for December: Judy Pedersen

By JudyPedersen 

Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life.” Those are the words of motivational speaker Harvey MacKay, and they ring true for me.  

In my role as Public Information Officer for the Fairfax County Park Authority I work closely with the media, promote popular programs and environmental initiatives, ensure public access and participation in our planning efforts, and engage in event management on a regular basis.  I have lots of fun and constant deadlines, but you won’t hear any complaints from me.  Which is not to say that over the past 25 years of communications work in government there have not been moments that felt overwhelming and frustrating, or that there were not times when I wisely moved on to another position that was a better fit.  In this field, you have to own it.  Less than total commitment just doesn’t work.

I wake up and feel lucky that every day is different; new challenges, intriguing situations and multiple communications options.  They key to success is to surround yourself with talented, dedicated people and stay open-minded as new technology, new issues and ever changing communications tools.  Staying current can be challenging for those of us over 50, but ask yourself if you really need that additional platform and remember that the “old” ways are still effective. 

My job is to distribute accurate information, tell a compelling story, and get the message to the right folks. Even after nearly three decades, it still feels right to me.