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.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Five Reasons to Serve as a Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Competition Judge

By Chris O'Neil
Communications Director

White wigged,black robed, gavel holding judgeWe’ve all heard the phrase, “It’s good to be the king.” (Thank you Mel Brooks)  But I’m here to tell you that it’s good to be the judge – well at least a judge.

That’s right, it’s good to be a judge, specifically, a judge for the National Association of Government Communicators’ Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards.

Ok, so there’s no crown jewels, court jesters, powdered wigs, black robes or cool gavels, but there still some good perks to serving as a judge for the annual competition that recognizes excellence in government communications in more than 40 categories (including the newest for Infographics).

What’s in it for me you may ask?  Here are five solid perks:

1.  Resume building creds.  We all work.  We all work hard.  We all work hard at communicating about our agencies.  Not every one gets the chance to work hard at evaluating competition submissions, providing insightful feedback and determining, sometimes by the narrowest of margins, who goes home with the plaque or trophy.  Truth.  Serving as a judge sets you apart from your contemporaries – it establishes you as a regarded subject matter expert with valuable experience from which others seek to learn.

2.  Insight.  Remember when you were learning to write news copy?  What did your instructor or professor tell you?  They told you to read, and then read some more.  When you serve as a judge you read a lot of submissions, which gives you insight.  You get to see what other teams are producing, how they are evaluating effort and success.  You get to see how they addressed an issue, developed a strategy, set goals and implemented tactics.  You get to see some good ideas.  Chances are some of that is bound to rub off and maybe help you with an issue or project you’ve been struggling with.

3.  Professional Development.  Judges don’t get away with simply giving a numeric value.  Our judges provide insightful remarks – they mentor folks who entered submissions.  Serving as a judge is a great way to sharpen your saw as a mentor, and to reinvigorate your commitment to the professional development of the communicators you supervise. 

4.  Bling.  If you attend the 2015 school, your name badge gets emblazoned with one of those wicked-cool ribbons that say you were a judge.  Hang that with your other event credentials.  Sweet.

5.  Sense of Pride.  Yeah, it’s pretty satisfying to know you had a hand in making someone else’s day, maybe even their career.  You’re the one.  Go you (cue Joy Zipper tune "One").

So there you have it, five solid reasons for becoming an NAGC Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards Competition judge.  So what are you waiting for?  Go to our website at, download the judge’s application form, fill it out, and take your first step to greater professional fulfillment.  It’s good to be a judge.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Being thankful for government communicators

Fellow communicators,

On Thanksgiving Day, I had a chance to reflect on my 33 years in government communications. It never fails to astound me just how broadly impactful our profession is to society.

All across the nation, and around the world, there are government communicators tirelessly working throughout the year to provide important information to the public. Webmasters ensuring that government websites are functioning to accept service applications from citizens. Speechwriters crafting the all-important words a public official needs to address a crisis. Graphic artists creating signage and promotional campaigns for safety initiatives. Media relations officers helping news reporters understand technical or complex issues and facilitating access to subject matter experts. Social media managers monitoring Twitter during a disaster and helping to direct emergency services to the areas that need them most. And I'm just scratching the surface.

There really is not an aspect of society that does not bear the mark of a government communicator. At all levels – federal, state, provincial, municipal, local, tribal – communication professionals are the shining light of government service.

Although too often unnoticed or unrecognized, what you do is vital and tremendously appreciated. So, on behalf of a grateful population, my fellow board members and I at the National Association of Government Communicators express our gratitude for your service and commitment

Revel in this day of thanks, and may you find much to be grateful for in your life.
John Verrico
National Association of Government Communicators
Good Communication … Good Government


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Get in those Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Entries Soon

By Cheryl V. Chambers, Competitions Director

It really is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”  That song is stuck in my head, and I could not agree more.  What you may be thinking is, “Are you kidding?  We haven’t yet celebrated Thanksgiving.” 

Sorry to mislead you…it’s the time of year for entering the National Association of Government Communicators’ Blue Pencil and Gold Screen (BP&GS) competition.  (That song really is stuck in my head, though.) 

The awards competition is a terrific way to validate your work and compare it to what your peers are doing. Every entry receives written feedback from the judges who are fellow government communicators or subject matter experts in the award category.

Grant Kaiser, communication manager for Rocky View County in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and winner of last year’s Best in Show award, said, “[The awards program] helps bring credibility to the profession, and strengthens the case for the clear, open communication that I believe we all strive to provide citizens.  For my own organization, winning a NAGC award has been terrific for staff morale.  But most importantly, it has already helped me strengthen the idea that communicators belong at the table when decisions are made, and not just called in to ‘sell’ those decisions afterwards.”

In case you missed it, the National Association of Government Communicators hosted the Webinar, “How to Win a Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Award,” featuring former and current judges, and the multiple award-winning Fairfax (Va.) County Park Authority.  The Webinar is archived on NAGC’s website ( and highlights the DOs and Don’ts of entering NAGC’s highly-acclaimed competition.

The deadline for early submissions (Dec. 12) is fast approaching.  And don’t forget, it pays to enter early—who doesn’t love a discount for getting ahead of the game?  That holds true for becoming a member as well! (more discounts if you join NAGC).

With more than 40 categories and the chance to compete for “Best in Show,” the BP&GS Awards Competition, is truly a winner.  Check out the NAGC website or look for us on Facebook and LinkedIn for all the details and a chance to connect with other NAGC colleagues.  

Grab a “Call for Entries,” make your list and check it twice!  And with any luck, we’ll see you in next June in Memphis for “Blues, BBQs, and Government News.”

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Congratulations to latest DINFOS PAQC graduates

Posted by John Verrico, NAGC President

I had the distinct pleasure to attend the graduation ceremony yesterday at the Defense Information School for the latest iteration of the Public Affairs Qualification Course, class 050-14. Those of you who have experienced DINFOS training know that it is the best of the best for public affairs, journalism, broadcasting, and related fields. Yesterday, 58 students from all branches of the military service and federal government agencies -- including three international students... from Nepal, Estonia, and Pakistan -- were recognized for their completion of the intensive program. In just 10 short weeks, they covered public affairs theory and doctrine, community relations, internal information, media relations, multimedia, communication skills, and public affairs operations, all culminating in a capstone operational exercise. It is described as a public affairs associates degree in 10-weeks.

By the way, DINFOS is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and this month's American Legion magazine features an article on its history and students.

For this retired Navy Master Chief Journalist, it was great being back on the DIINFOS campus again, especially running into some old friends that I knew from my Navy days. But the real highlight for me was witnessing the graduation of my friend, mentee and fellow NAGC member Tamara Blount -- one of the first three Department of Homeland Security civilians to be admitted to DINFOS.
Congratulations to Tamara and all of her classmates

Newest European NAGC member describes challenge of Public vs. Political Communication

Posted by John Verrico, NAGC President

Meet one of NAGC’s newest members -- Eleonora Gavrielides, Director of the Press and Information Office for the Republic of Cyprus. I have had the pleasure of meeting this brilliant and extremely talented communication professional on several occasions. Below is an excerpt of an insightful article she wrote for the European Union’s professional government communication magazine, Convergences, about the unique and challenging relationships between civil servant public affairs professionals and the political staffs. You should note that her reference to “politicians” includes political appointees.

The entire article appears in Convergences 3. NAGC members may now access copies of all of the issues of Convergences under Resources in the Members-Only section of the NAGC website
Public communication vs. political communication: The relationship between public communicators and politicians

 by Eleonora Gavrielides

It is a fact that communicators in the public sphere have political bosses. In order to be useful to them and to that extent not become irrelevant, they need to cater to the politicians’ legitimate needs. If on the other hand, they cater only to the political needs and desires of their political masters, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant and possibly dangerous to the public, who are their real bosses and whom they are duty bound to serve.

Another obvious reality is that politicians are more interested in political rather than public communication. This centers around using the media to gain the public vote and to influence political decisions. This means there is a role for political communication in government operations. Some kind of civil service outfit is usually responsible for releasing information of various kinds to the media.

A good gauge for the success or failure of political communication in an environment with a great expansion of media and technology outlets is whether they deliver what they promise. Critics argue that if voters choose not to engage with the political process, this means that political communication has failed. 

Public communication, on the other hand, is a duty of an administration towards the citizens of the country and, if it can be perceived to be politically neutral, can have credibility among the public.

How do public and political communication interlink?

We cannot discount that politicians have an interest in serving the public. Let us see how bona fide public communication as carried out by public communicators can serve the world of politics and politicians.
  • If the public communication has a beneficial effect on the lives of citizens the current government naturally and legitimately benefits from this
  • Public servants are more credible- some would say with good reason -than politicians. Therefore the messages disseminated by civil service departments tend to be more trusted by the public and these messages are generally messages that the government wishes to disseminate and are part and parcel of the policies it wants to implement.
  • Politicians are generally not public communication experts, however charismatic or talented they may be. Therefore it is worth it for them to rely on professionals whose job is to get the best possible results
  • Sometimes it is better tactics for politicians to allow the communication on difficult or controversial issues, or just difficult or technical issues, or parts of issues to the civil servants. This makes a useful buffer zone available in the sense that it provides a little distance for the politician or prepares the ground for greater involvement when things are clearer or more urgent or when the sh*t hits the fan, as the case may be
  • A good relationship between politicians and public communicators has the best chance of working for the benefit of the public and that in its turn serves both the politicians and the public administration both of which need the consent and the good will of the people to continue to function without serious problems
[This relationship] is not easy and it needs apart from mutual respect, trust and goodwill, constant adjustment and clear boundaries. Also it needs a clear understanding of each other’s function and how the one can complement the other. Thus, when all these ingredients exist, there can be a very beneficial relationship for both parties in it and most of all for the country itself.

Generally, politicians do not know much anything about the ins and outs of the civil service. Their personalities, their background, (educational and social) and their demographic characteristics naturally vary widely, but in the end it is not so much the type of person that makes a difference to the level of cooperation. It is more about both parties being genuinely wishing and striving to achieve the synthesis between the political goals and the public communication goals, understanding that the two are complementary.

What it boils down is that if politicians help public communicators to do their own work well, this will have a very positive impact on the success of their own work. And it helps if they can inspire civil servants with their vision.

This is not something that can be taken for granted, given that -fortunately- at least in most countries, civil servants do not change every time there is a change of government. The fact that they remain enhances the professionalism, independence and credibility of the civil service. It is this experience and professionalism that does not make it necessary that public communicators agree one hundred percent with their political bosses about the essence of their policies. They can still help the politicians with their communications, and in so doing, serve the country and the public.

I do not mean to paint too rosy a picture or to be unrealistic. There are difficulties. Not least because the world of politics is very often a brutal place with parameters that can change drastically without a moment’s notice, and politicians themselves suffer from that as do their associates.

In conclusion, politicians and public communicators may make “strange bedfellows” but they can help each other do their job and they have every reason to try to cooperate to that end. It is a fact that public communicators can provide their professional knowhow and the credibility they enjoy among the public due to their political neutrality and that, equally, politicians are in a position to influence the world of professional communicators through promoting legislation and through putting in place those conditions on the part of government that facilitate the work of the civil servants in general and public communicators in particular.

Eleonora Gavrielides, PhD, has been serving as the Director of the Cyprus Government communication service for the past five years, heading an organization of around 140 people responsible for the internal and international communications strategies of all levels of government in the Republic of Cyprus. She has been part of this organization since 1983.Educated in England at Exeter University and King's College University of London, she holds multiple degrees including a PhD in Philosophy, and a Masters in Public Sector Management from the prestigious business school, Cyprus International Institute of Management. She served as the Communications Director for the Cyprus Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2012. She is a member of the steering committee for the Club of Venice, the informal organization Communication Directors across the EU, and of the steering committee of Media and information Society for the Council of Europe. She speaks Greek, English, French, German, Turkish, and some Italian, writes poetry in English and Greek, and paints. Eleonora was born and lived until the age of 17 at the Cypriot town of Famagusta, which has been occupied by military troops and inaccessible to civilians since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Like the majority of Cypriots of Greek or Turkish ethnic origin, she hopes for a solution of the long-standing political conflicts in Cyprus.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Commitment and professionalism will drive you everywhere

a special guest post by Vincenzo Le Voci, Secretary-General of the European Union's Club of Venice

On the special occasion of the kickstart of its 2014 Communication School, I wish the best of luck to all friends and colleagues of the National Association of US Government Communicators! This is not only an important step in your professional development, but a crucial opportunity to share and experience how you will be increasingly required to cope with the growing challenges in todays information and communication world.

As Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the informal network of the communications directors of EU Member States, EU institutions, and EU candidate countries and bodies, I want first to reflect on the immensity of the task facing civil servants in this role.

Let us first consider the profession, with its twin-track duty of loyalty towards the institutions and towards citizens.  Across the ocean, the European Union is experiencing a very delicate phase in its history with decreasing support from its population; disappearance of the former generation of visionary politicians; a struggle to foster recovery from a devastating financial and economic crisis, and a rise of in nationalist resentment and demands for protectionism.  In this atmosphere, investing in public communication is unlikely to be painless. The golden age of expectations fuelled by great hopes and flourishing economic trends has faded away.  Communicators must now have the capability of explaining to citizens that times have changed and recovery can only be achieved through the efforts of everyone together.

Communication is at a crossroads.  In the midst of this challenging environment, it is essential to dispel any vestige of the taint of propaganda. The European elections a couple of weeks ago again identified a deficit in the engagement of citizens, even though there were a few genuinely interactive public events. And yet again, many analysts have pointed out that communication was embedded in the political debate too late.

In Europe, public service communication more than ever needs standards, both regulatory (public communication legislation, ethical framework) and professional (professional status, training, recruitment policy, profiles structure).  Only a sustainable, comprehensive framework can guarantee the public communicator's role of critical interface between the authorities and citizens. Communication professionals cannot be expected to deliver without structured involvement, the opportunity for effective analysis and evaluation, and the space to build concrete development plans.

Therefore, when focusing on government communication, we need to adopt a multi-faceted approach.  We should look forward in several directions:
  • increasing the effectiveness of services for citizens;
  • optimising resources in public communication;
  • accepting the challenges of modern technology while not forgetting the needs of audiences unable to cope with the new media landscape;
  • seeking the improvement of a two-way communication;
  • and ensuring public authorities' engagement in the social media.

Nor must we forget the education dimension in communication; several Member States are ready to re-invest in the integration of educational services about the EU and cross-border cooperation.

The Club of Venice stays closely engaged in this exercise. We were founded in November 1986 when communication directors from twelve EU Member States decided to reinforce their ties with greater exchanges of best practice, to build trans-national synergies for more effective communication strategies.

Venice, where it all started, is a metaphor for this work, a crossroads of history, culture, and arts, always inclined to broaden horizons, share experiences, instill and export new cultural models; and all with a view to improving the living standards of its citizens and investing in growth.

Throughout the years, as effective communication has become a crucial activity for many governments, the Club family has expanded in tandem with successive waves of European integration. Today, it includes heads of government communication from 28 Member States, five candidate countries, the European Council, the Council of the EU, the European Parliament and European Commission, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Central Bank.

The draft agenda of the two plenary sessions organised every year by the Club has two standing components: government and public communication projects and plans ontopics of trans-national interest; and communication on EU issues.

As the Club President Professor Stefano Rolando indicated, the Club does not meet to focus on constraints, uncertainties and diverging practices.  These are clearly understood, and we explore them within the network between plenary meetings.  We come but together to try to find a common approach to communicator’s profession, for the benefit of our governments and our citizens. This informal approach makes the difference, and facilitates constructive and inspiring dialogue.

The last plenary meeting of the Club took place in Riga, Latvia, on 5/6 June, immediately after the European Parliament elections which were marked by the clash of pro and anti European integration philosophies.  We have good reason to talk about issues with singular technical and political influence, the latter particularly influenced by current democratic trends. This is why it is crucial for the Club of Venice to seek and consolidate synergies with other international organisations.

In this context, during the last decade the Club has established relations with a number of international bodies and held joint meetings with the Information network of EU Member States from the Baltic Area, as well as international conferences such as EuroPCom (organised by the Committee of the Regions), university meetings (Milano IULM, Lille Science Po) and SEECOM, the Association of Southern-Eastern Government Communicators which has operated since its inception in 2012 in Montenegro.

The SEECOM Declaration, signed in Budva in September 2012, and strongly endorsed by John Verrico on behalf of NAGC, contains key orientations with regard to inclusiveness, transparency and participation.  These are also fully reflected in the Club's constitutional principles:
  • accountability, work for citizens, promotion of networking, dialogue and peer support for professional development of government communicators and advancement of government communication profession in general;
  • development of the top contemporary professional standards which are clearly possible through comprehensive training programmes to consolidate our profession (see for instance the respective, enormous investments planned by the UK and The Netherlands);
  • the search for new ways to strengthen communication between governments, including cross-border training opportunities;
  • and encouragement of citizen participation in government policy making, and public interest in government work.

The Club of Venice's twinning with SEECOM, which is continually strengthened, clearly indicates the right approach: sharing good values in outreach to citizens, and tabling new ideas to improve communication. The Club was invited to attend the 1st and 2nd SEECOM conferences held in Montenegro and we were proud to engage pro-actively within the respective programmes, by delivering speeches, making presentations and moderating panels. Collaboration has grown up with our great satisfaction and we are proud to have our Club Coordinator Mike Granatt as an Honorary Member of SEECOM. By the way, NAGC’s John Verrico is also an Honorary Member.

We look forward to continuing pooling forces in view of our two future important events: the 3rd SEECOM conference foreseen in Croatia in late September and the autumn meeting of the Club of Venice in Rome in mid-November.

Communication, dear Colleagues, remains a crucial component of every government’s duty.  Thinking about the economic crisis that has hit in particular South-East Europe, communication has become ever more important.  It is imperative for governments to be connected constantly with their citizens in order to explain what is being done to overcome the present difficulties and foster recovery.

We need to be as informative and transparent as possible towards the public - and only a two-way partnership can help build trust between government and citizens. Hence, the most important role of communication professionals is to foster interaction with citizens, inform them objectively and encourage their engagement in policy-making.  (This is, after all, the only way to ensure that policies fully reflect their needs and interests).

Lets continue to work hard, reinforce know-how and competencies, increase focus on core issues, stay connected, improve internal communication and coordination and seek together excellence.

Quoting from Christian Spahr, Konrad Adenauer Foundation representative and one of the Steering Group members of SEECOM.  He pointed out that for political communication, "good resources and structures are required. But even more important is the professional attitude of PR managers in politics". And this applies to all of us.

-- Vincenzo Le Voci, 12 June 2014

Vincenzo Le Voci has worked on information policy, communication strategies and transparency issues since 2001 and is currently coordinating the agenda of the EU Council’s Working Party on Information (Members States’ press and information officers). In 2011 he was appointed Secretary-General of the Club of Venice, the network of the communication directors from EU member states, candidate countries and institutions. Before joining the EU in 1992, he worked for NATO as Housing Manager for the United States Air Forces in Europe (1985-1991).
This guest blog post is part of NAGC's continuing partnership with our international counterparts. NAGC is dedicated to bringing together and learning from the best minds in government communications around the globe.