Friday, May 9, 2008

Name This Blog!

Help us name this blog, and you could find you or your agency with a free entry to NAGC's Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards competition next year!

For the last two years, NAGC’s Board of Directors has dedicated itself to providing better member services and outreach. The creation of the blog is another networking tool we are providing to government communicators across the nation. While we will search for articles and items of interest, the blog is set up so you can comment, exchange ideas, and even submit article ideas and questions to ask your colleagues.

Entering this blog naming competition is easy. Either leave a comment in the "comments" section below this posting (you'll have to leave an email address so we can contact you if you win) or send us an email at nagconline@gmail.com if you want a little more privacy.

We look forward to your creative ideas! And don't stop there. If there are other things you would like to see on this blog to make it more useful to you, let us know. We are here for you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Karen Hughes Addresses Government Communicators

Being taken from relative obscurity as Texas Gov. George W. Bush's press secretary to being analyzed by the national press was a shock to Karen Hughes. And while the stage she worked in changed when Bush became president and later when she worked on international relations for the State Department, she says her understanding and use of effective communications served her well.

“It’s great to be with government communicators who share my passion,” she told NAGC members attending the Communications School in Albuquerque. She says she is enjoying her time not being in the daily gossip columns and being at home with her husband.

Nicknamed the "Prophet," by the president, Hughes says the scrutiny on the American president is intense, not just in America but throughout the world. She said she made a mistake by focusing so much on the American public early in the Bush presidency. “In the aftermath of 9-11, that had to change," she said. She quickly set up coalition information centers across the globe, so spokespersons in those centers could respond quickly while it was nighttime in America.

Government communicators not only have to learn to work in a global environment, she said, but also need to be aware they are working in a time when government communications is often misunderstood.

"There is an expectation on us that we should deal with facts and truth," she said. "Facts conflict," she added, noting that government communicators not only have to deal with facts but also the broad context in which facts are being used. This is further complicated, she said, since facts and truth are not always the prism through which the media looks at government.

For example, if statistics come out saying crime is down, it would be very truthful for an official to publicly say that. However, victims of crimes or people living in areas where crime has not gone down, those statistics will not resonate to those people. Consequently, it's better for the official to say, "any amount of crime is too much and while we're making progress, more needs to be done."

That's one reason why it is critical for government communicators to be at the table when public policy is being discussed, Hughes says. Communicators can provide the perspective of the public and provide insight on how the media will react. They also understand the core values of the officeholder, candidate, agency or issue involved.

Hughes shared the five C's of communications that she says has helped her throughout her career. Those are clarity, conviction, compassion, credibility and consistency.

She encouraged the audience to be proactive, rather than reactive. "The times you want to hide under the desk are the times you really need to talk."

The goal of government communicators should be to create "a dialogue, not a monologue," she said. “Our efforts are especially vital in this era of dramatic time and change.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Murrow's PR Advice

Two of our more high-profile speakers at NAGC's Communications School in Albuquerque referenced a quote from legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow. It bears repeating here and is good advice for all government communicators to share with their agency heads.

President George W. Bush's trusted advisor Karen Hughes and Radio-Television News Directors Association President Barbara Cochran told of the time when Murrow was serving as head of the U.S. Information Agency under President John F. Kennedy.

After being brought in to help reframe some bad news, Murrow repordetly said if you're going to be there for the crash landing, then you need to be there for the takeoff.

Good advice for all of us.

“The Reporters are Coming! The Reporters are Coming!”

It's one thing to schedule a press event. It's another to make it successful.

John Verrico, NAGC's Communications Director and a spokesman for the Science & Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, shared his secrets at NAGC's Communications School in Albuquerque last week.

Verrico recommends only holding a press event for information that the media would consider important enough to cover. If the event meets that criteria, then make sure the event is visually interesting, in a location that is accessible by the media, inclusive of other appropriate groups or agencies, and that you have the right spokesperson running the thing.

And to make sure your spokesperson is ready, he suggests holding a "murder board." No, there's no violence involved; but it can be brutal. The purpose of a murder board is to have the spokesperson take directed, pointed, anticipated and off-the-wall questions, to help him or her be comfortable and determine how to deliver message points. The object is for the spokesperson to be prepared, but not appear rehearsed.

Pay attention to logisitics, Verrico says. Make sure everyone involved knows the details. At an event he attended once, the host farmer had not been told the details of the press event and greeted everyone with a shotgun. He also points out that while children and animals make great backdrops, they can be terribly unreliable, such as the time an osprey -- in full camera view -- attacked an eagle that had just been released.

What crazy things have happened to you while putting together a press event? If you attended John's session in Albuquerque, what were your reactions?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top 25 Newspaper Circulation

Here is how the top 25 newspapers in the nation fared with their circulation for the six-month period ending March 31.