NAGC is already prepping for its 2012 Communications School, June 5-8 at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, VA. This year's theme is "Telling America's Stories" and we'll be doing just that with an informative and exciting schedule of topics and speakers. In addition, we'll be launching the new NAGC Member Value Program (MVP), a mentoring program that will increase networking opportunities for members.
At the 2011 Communications School, we tried a new session called “30 Great Ideas in 30 Minutes” and it turned out to be a fun and very enlightening event. The basic premise was to just share little tidbits of helpful information that we could take back with us when we returned to our offices. Here are some of the highlights:
- Name Tags – when attending a conference or other event where name tags are required, wear them on your right side instead of your left. The reason? You shake hands with your right hand, and it's natural for one’s eyes to be drawn to a person’s right side.
- Recording Speakers – when webcasting or recording a speaker or a conference session, don’t forget to zoom in on the speaker. Viewers can quickly lose interest if the entire thing is done in wide shots from the back of the room.
- Out of Office messages – use your Out of Office messages to convey key marketing messages or your organization tag line.
- Control the entire message – write an introduction for your boss or subject matter expert to be used when they are speaking somewhere. Write your own when you are speaking.
- Email – don’t put an addressee in the “to” box until after you’ve finished writing your message and are ready to send it. Proof read it before you hit “send” and prevent embarrassment.
- More email – if you are writing an angry or otherwise emotional message: write it, walk away, calm down, come back to it, edit, and then decide if it should really be sent.
- Interested in freelancing? Start or join a local writing group.
- Smartphone tags/QR code – Use a smartphone tag in your exhibit booth so booth visitors can scan it to retrieve contact information, key messages and other datat about your organization.
- Website – develop a mobile-friendly version of your public-facing website.
- Shop your own office – look at all outside signage, entrances, reception areas. Do they convey the right message/image?
- Standards – randomly check field offices and other locations for standard branding, image and customer service standards.
- Swag for high-level visitors – a good gift idea is a photo of the city taken by a staff photographer. This is ideal for visiting elected officials or other high-level visitors from out of town.
- Twitter – send out live tweets from council meetings, conferences and other events.
- Give-aways – booth giveaways do not have to be costly and they should have a direct tie to your agency. Be creative! The Maryland Department of Natural Resources gave out pine cones in their booth – a direct link to the bounties of nature and a conversation-starting business card holder for someone's desk.
- Closed Captioning – YouTube offers a free service to close-caption videos posted there. Take advantage of it.
- Style Guide – keep your style guide handy. Most agencies use Associated Press style for press releases, articles and publications intended for public release. Get an AP Style Guide and keep it right next to your computer.
- In-House Style Guide – even if you use AP Style for most documents, there are invariably some things that are unique to your agency. Also, people outside the communications office are producing all sorts of correspondence and documents. Create an in-house style guide to capture those things that need to be standardized across the agency.
- Agency Identity – be consistent in usage of how your agency is represented by its full name, nickname or acronym. Consistency assures name recognition, and remember that if you aren’t consistent, no one else will be either.
- Acronyms – some acronyms have been used so much to identify an agency, many people don’t even know what it stands for. Unless your agency has an exceptionally established acronym – such as CIA, FBI, or NASA, for example –be sure to use your agency’s name rather than the acronym.
- Translators – as government agencies, we have diverse audiences, many of which primarily communicate in other languages. Use translators at public functions and have important documents or webpages translated into the principal languages of your communities.
- Sign language – don’t forget that sign language and braille are also true languages and are primary communications methods for some of our audiences.
- Signs – take a look at how your agency’s name and acronym look together on signage. You’d be surprised how many simply don’t work together or convey the wrong message.
- www.Patch.com – this website is a source of local community news and is quickly spreading to neighborhoods across the country. It is an excellent source to find local freelance reporters who are starving for things to write about.
- Internal communications – need to reach your entire workforce? Put messages on their leave and earning statements. Don’t overdo it or they’ll begin to lose interest, but it’s a good way to get to them with brief, important messages.
- Many eyes – pass your product around to your coworkers and have them look it over before you go to publish. Different sets of eyes will catch different types of errors or problems.
- Outsider’s opinion – we are frequently too close to our own messages. Have someone outside your agency look at your communications products. Do they convey the message you thought they did?
- PAG – create a Public Affairs Guidance document for major initiatives or crises. This brief document captures a brief background on the issue, talking points, action plan, and questions and answers that everyone can refer to.
- Email tag lines – many people put favorite quotes or slogans at the bottom of their emails. Instead, insert links to latest press releases, articles, or links to blogs, or social media sites.
- Follow Me – promote your own social media site with “Follow Me” messages on emails, web pages, and even printed communications.
- Network – get to know others in your field and share knowledge, lessons learned and stories with them. One of the best opportunities in our profession is by attending the NAGC Communications School!
As you can see, there were lots of great ideas tossed around in the session. Many thanks to fellow NAGC member Lisa Novak, who took such great notes as the ideas where zinging around the room at the last conference.
Submitted by John Verrico. To submit content to Adventures in Government Communications, email Glen Thomas.