Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Are You Helping the Public “Find Bigfoot?”

As a parent of two boys, I’m allowed the luxury of pretending to be a super hero, using decorative pillows (I’ll never understand them) as weapons, and throwing bugs in spider webs to see what happens. I did all of these things before I had kids, but it’s much more acceptable now. With man-vibes running rampant throughout the house, we watch a lot of “Animal Planet,” which my wife and I deemed an educational way for the boys to pass the time. Until…following an episode of “River Monsters,” which I highly recommend, a trailer aired last month for the season premiere of “Finding Bigfoot.” I was only half paying attention until I glanced over at my oldest son, Lyndon, and saw the transfixed look in his eyes. “Daddy, they are going FIND BIGFOOT.” Thus began our family journey into this “reality” show, setting back my efforts to teach Lyndon how to throw a curve ball.

If you haven’t seen the show, each episode pretty much has the same premise:
  • “Research” team visits every state in the U.S., which are all apparently teeming with sasquatch families.
  • Team sometimes examines blurry photos or video footage the appears to be a gorilla, someone in a gorilla suit, or a tree stump that kind of looks like a gorilla.
  • Team interviews residents of dubious credibility, sanity, and sobriety.
  • Team comes to the conclusion that there’s “something there.”
  • Team “almost” finds Bigfoot.

For my son, this quickly grew frustrating. After just a few episodes, he gave up on the show (I watched a couple more, just to make sure…). Why couldn’t they just find Bigfoot and be done with it? It struck me that for the public, getting clear, accurate information during a disaster can be their own episode of “Finding Bigfoot.” Getting accurate information can be as difficult as getting Bigfoot to hold still for a high res photo. Unfortunately, the local government entities can contribute to the problem via conflicting information, slow response times and lack of communication with other agencies. The result is that our credibility is damaged and they tune out.

The answer? Collaboration, both internal and external. I examined this issue without Bigfoot back in August (he was booked on an out-of-focus video shoot) in a two part series looking at floods in Nashville and Memphis.

For Memphis Light, Gas and Water, our rules for successful collaboration are simple:

         Start with your own team (sharing info with your own department, getting feedback and empowering staff)
         Make sure you’re a part of the emergency response team (ensuring you’ve got a voice in the organization’s response)
         Define roles (at a departmental, company and external level)
         Establish network of key collaborators (both within your company and with external agencies and individuals to obtain key information)
         Share info consistently (timed updates are a standard, but also share media talking points, etc. with your external collaborators)

We're not trying to have all the answers, just provide a good road map for the public to get them. Everyone on my team knows their role when a disaster strikes, and we've got key internal resources who get us essential information about their particular area. More importantly, we've established a network of key external local government communicators and representatives, community leaders, and other allies with whom we regularly exchange information.
You heard it here first, with collaboration, we can all Find Bigfoot. Let’s hear from you. What are collaboration success stories?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Meet the NAGC Board: John Verrico

From time to time, I like to do spotlight features on the NAGC blog, and throughout the year, I'd also like to introduce you to the NAGC Board of Directors. This month, meet John Verrico.

John serves as Director of Professional Development on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Government Communicators, and formerly served as their Director of Communications. In his day job, John is Spokesman for the Science & Technology Directorate of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He has more than 30 years professional experience in communications, working extensively in media, community and employee relations. A retired Navy Reserve Master Chief Journalist, he has served in various public affairs posts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Maryland Department of Environment, Governor of Maryland, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Navy. He was also a freelance journalist and a communications and marketing consultant for small businesses.

John is also on the leadership board for the Federal Communicators Network -- an organization dedicated to providing professional development opportunities for government public affairs personnel – and is a member of the Board of Directors for the U.S. Navy Public Affairs Alumni Association.

He earned his Masters of Science in Organizational Leadership and a graduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning from Norwich University, and a Bachelor of Science in communications from the University of the State of New York. He received the Rear Admiral Thompson Award for Excellence in Public Affairs in 2005, and was named one of the Top 5 Event Managers of 1998 by Exhibitor Magazine. He also received the Public Relations Society of America Annapolis Chapter’s Silver Dome Award for community relations and multiple military and other awards for professional excellence.

In his spare time,John enjoys performing in community theater and stand-up comedy. Additionally, he takes pleasure in collecting books and entertainment memorabilia, reading and traveling with his wife, Bonnie.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oh Captain, My Captain! NAGC Launches Mentoring Program

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: "Ooh, I've heard of stuff like this."
Annie Savoy: "Yeah? Have you heard of Walt Whitman?"
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: "No. Who's he play for?"

Ah, Bull Durham, a textbook case study of mentoring if there ever was one.

Are you an experienced communicator with knowledge and expertise to share?  Are you a new communicator looking for a seasoned industry veteran to help advise you as you advance your career?

If so, look no further than NAGC's new Mentor Value Program (MVP)!

The idea is to join Mentors, established and experienced individuals in public affairs, with Mentees, professionals who are just beginning their careers.

This is a great opportunity for those who have been in the business for a number of years to share their experience and knowledge with those who would most benefit from this type of cooperative relationship.

Mentors will be joined with Mentees based on qualifications and there will be a “Welcome Reception” at the 2012 Communications School in June.

To sign up, please visit:

NAGC: Good Communications … Good Government

Mark your calendar:
June 5-8, 2012 NAGC Communications School, Sheraton National Hotel, Arlington, VA

Thursday, January 5, 2012

State of Indiana Shows Remarkable Growth With Digital Communications Outreach

In terms of digital engagement, the State of Indiana's efforts to connect with its citizens has paid huge dividends. The state's website,, is currently connecting with more than 1.2 million subscribers through various alerts and updates. Amazingly, there are 1600 different subscription topics, allowing users to get information and updates from 82 different state agencies.

The state monitors these subscriptions in order to ensure how often they are being utilized, and eliminates updates with little or no demand. The state uses GovDelivery’s Digital Communications Management system in order to provide this interaction with it citizens.

The result of these digital efforts is a dynamic citizen engagement initiative. And oh yeah, it’s saving Indiana money, as well, to the tune of about $200,000 per year thanks to the reduction in mailing costs. 

The state’s top topics include:

         MyDNR Newsletter:  An e-newsletter than informs subscribers about special offers, promotions, recreational opportunities, events and news from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

         Indiana Career Connect (ICC) Newsletter: a private newsletter that provides information regarding ICC, the official career site for the State of Indiana and the Department of Workforce Development unemployment claims filing system.

         Learn More IndianaNewsletter: Distributed by the Commission for Higher Education and is tailored to meet the needs and special interests of either parents, school counselors and educators, or anyone concerned with helping children build a solid foundation for continued learning.

         College Students: Similar to the Learn More Indiana Newsletter, but tailored specifically for the college student. Sends general interest press releases for college students. 

         I-File: Private updating service, owned by the Department of Revenue, that sends reminders about tax deadlines to those using the I-File system (now INfreefile). 

By identifying the top subscription topics, the State of Indiana is able to pinpoint where citizens want and/or need more information and then increase citizen engagement in those areas.

Good Communications…Good Government