Thursday, March 19, 2015

We Cannot Overlook Ethics

A guest post from Vincenzo Le Voci, Secretary General of Europe’s Club of Venice, and Administrator for Press & Communication, Directorate of Communication & Transparency, Council of the European Union.

As government communicators, we know it is difficult enough to build winning communication strategies with content and tools that get through to broadly varied audiences and perceptions. But if we lack or overlook ethics, we should consider a career change NOW!

Governmental and institutional communication has traditionally been tough work. In Europe, we may sometimes call public sector communication "mission impossible." Multi-culturally diverse audiences in each country and locality, cross-border communication considerations, economic stagnation, security concerns and perceptions of threats to sovereignty all contribute to the challenges in the European Union.

How to take into account the variety of audiences in each country? How to build cross-border communication synergies in times of economic stagnation, high unemployment rates, and threats to security? How to better inform citizens about policies having an impact on their habits without running the risk of misperceptions (solidarity v s. loss of sovereignty)?

But in all societies, the communicators’ abilities and willingness to root their advice and statements in honesty – and firmly grounded in the complexities of the real world – can make the difference.

If ethics are driving our steps, all the rest comes naturally. Ethics drive our ability to develop mutual respect and trusted relationships, allow for the willing exchange of best practices and winning models among peers, and having courage and determination in the pursuit of common ground,

This is the only way to break through barriers (differing languages, cultures, socioeconomic factors, and historical prejudices and mistrust).

Without communication ethics, we can expect the smallest incidents to compound into major crises, increasingly affecting all sectors of society. Without communication ethics, anything and everything could take a turn for the worst.

So what happens when we’re asked to defend the positions of political masters who may ignore ethical values or are guided by other interests? 
Attend my keynote session on Thursday, June 4 at the NAGC Communication School in Memphis and learn about how we’re trying to establish clear ethical rules or a code of conduct to address the unique challenges and responsibilities of government communications in Europe.

Hope to see you there!

Vincenzo Le Voci is Secretary-General of the Club of Venice (network of communications directors from the European Union Member States, institutions and countries candidate to the EU membership) and has been a EU Council official since 1992. He has worked on Transparency and Information Policy issues since 2001. He works for the "Public Relations" Unit and is coordinating the communication agenda of the Council Working Party on Information. He consolidated his experience within the Council by working in the Linguistic Division, Research and Technological Development, Education and Culture and Staff Training Departments. Before reaching the EU framework in 1992 he worked in the NATO as Housing Manager for the US Air Force (1985-1991) in a Tactical Air Training Installation in Sardinia, which he joined after serving the Italian Army. He is a native of Calabria (South Italy) and speaks Italian, English, French, Spanish and some German. He holds a Master Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures (University of Cagliari) and has followed Modern History, European Integration and management courses in Belgium and with US Universities. He has written articles for communications books and magazines and lectured at universities in Lille (France) and Milan (Italy). He has a rich home library with over two-thousands books (literature and theatre) and writes poetry in Italian, English and French.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day from NAGC President John Verrico

St. Patrick’s Day has special significance for communicators, as it celebrates one of the most amazing motivators in history.

Imagine communication skills so extraordinary as to be able to lead all the snakes out of Ireland!


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reflections from March's Featured Member of the Month

By Erin Vader
Communication and Public Engagement Manager, City of Olathe, KS
NAGC Featured Member of the Month

Why NAGC?   NAGC Communication School was my first foray into the world of government communications.  The session content and the networking were invaluable to a then rookie. Most importantly, as a one-person shop, I loved the camaraderie between members.  Those connections have proven invaluable over the years and I’ve received guidance and support on a number of endeavors ranging from website vendor selection to social media management.

About Olathe:  Olathe “the city beautiful” is the fourth largest city in the state of Kansas and is one of the fastest growing cities in the Midwest.  Olathe is located just 20 miles southwest of downtown Kansas City, offering a lifestyle of exceptional quality. A drive through Olathe's attractive neighborhoods shows a well-planned, pleasing community. Olathe's Fire and Police Departments are among the finest in the state. The award winning Olathe Public Schools is one of the best in the nation. Olathe has been named a “best place to live” from Money magazine and was recognized as a Fast City by Fast Company magazine.

NAGC Member Spotlight
About Erin: Erin Vader is the Communication and Public Engagement Manager for the City of Olathe, KS.  Erin oversees public and media relations, digital/social media, video production, web content, and internal communications.  Erin has been in her current role for five years and with the City of Olathe since 2004.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska.  Erin is also a Certified Public Manager. 

Maximize Your NAGC Experience, Serve on the Board of Directors

By Kathryn Stokes

Let me say, up front, that I love being a part of the National Association of Government Communicators!  I have loved it since attending my first Communications School in 2008.  I enjoy being around people who are creative and interesting and who love sharing their lessons learned.

So when the opportunity came up for me to serve on the Board of Directors, I accepted the challenge.   That’s when I really began to appreciate the wonderful opportunities available to our members. 

Serving on the NAGC Board of Directors is not for the faint of heart.  Anyone who works in government knows that a call to serve the public is challenging and rewarding at the same time.  The same can be said for serving on the NAGC board.  It is challenging and hard work that can take up a lot of time depending on the position held.  But the rewards more than make up for any hardships along the way.

First and foremost, I have met some incredible people through NAGC and some of my favorites are on the board or have been on the board.  I have had the opportunity to learn from the best…my peers.  Most of them have been in government communications a lot longer than I have, which has been a boon to my learning curve! 

Another great benefit to being a member of the NAGC board is the opportunity to network with so many leaders in the communications field.  As a member of the board I am expected to serve on various committees or head up committees, through which I get to meet even more talented individuals.  These committees provide the framework through which NAGC operates.  They share ideas about better government communications and look for ways to enhance the value of NAGC membership.  They determine the program for the annual Communications School, plan the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards competition and ceremony, tackle tasks such as redesigning the NAGC website (which is currently in progress) and they identify potential leaders for the organization.  That brings me to the purpose of this missive. 

I want to challenge you, the members of NAGC, to consider running for one of the open positions on the board.  The following positions are available: Treasurer, Education Director, Communications Director, Professional Development Director and Marketing Director.

Share your experience with your fellow government communicators and make a difference in our organization.  Yes, it can be demanding, but it is also extremely rewarding.  For me it is an honor to serve my fellow government communicators.  Being a member of this board provides the opportunity to enhance to benefits for all NAGC members.  This is your opportunity to do the same. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Featured Member of the Month Challenges Members to Get Involved

By Donna Harris
Featured Member of the Month

When I first sat down to write this blog, my mind was as blank as an artist’s new canvas.  But one month into the New Year, and two weeks from Martin Luther King’s birthday and day of service, a spark was ignited.

As communicators we are often challenged with building, growing or saving a brand.  That’s what we do.  Our jobs are busy, stressful and fulfilling at the same time. It’s done so often it becomes second nature and all encompassing.  So with all the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I wondered how many of us take the time to get involved and build our own brand. Or, what I call BRAND YOU!

Every time you volunteer-- whether it is with your Agency or an outside group--you learn something new.  And that new experience can be the start of building on your successes, or things you didn’t know about the person sitting next to you.

Take NAGC, when I went to my very first Communications School last year, on the table were cards asking if we wanted to “get involved.”  My immediate reactions or questions were—I don’t want any more work and why would they need me.  But I took a chance and to my surprise, they called and now I am a participant on the membership committee!  And really it doesn’t take much time, and I feel good every time I lend a hand in growing not only their brand, but my next communications masterpiece.

So I challenge each of year to “get involved” and lend a hand.  It doesn’t take much time and you will be all the better and wiser for it!

Donna Harris is currently the Public Information Representative for the US Postal Inspection Service in New York.  Donna has been in her current position for more than three years, and has worked at the United States Postal Service and its law enforcement agencies for almost 29 years.  

Did You KnowThe United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service.  Their agency has been around since the early 1700s, its mission is to ensure the integrity of the mail and the Postal Service by providing investigative, security, and preventive services, and by enforcing federal statutes that protect the mail, postal employees, customers, and assets.

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.