Government technology isn’t the kind of topic that generally makes national news, unless something has gone horribly wrong. We don’t often hear how well a system is running — until it isn’t — or what life-transformational IT services agencies provide for citizens, unless journalists bring it light or it’s part of some larger administrative initiative.
I’ve always wondered why agencies aren’t more vocal about the great work they do. I once heard a govie say his office doesn’t want to seem too self-promoting. But if you don’t tell your story, who will? And if you don’t shape your story, someone else will. There are a number of great IT blogs created by and for government, but I know there are many more stories that go untold.
Maybe you don’t know where to start, or what to share. Maybe you don’t have a robust communications department. Whatever the reason, I’ve compiled these quick tips to help you tell better stories. I focus on tech, but these tips apply to all of government.
1. Be direct. Tech writers are always looking for good stories to tell. Get to know the community of writers who cover your agency and the topics you and the writers care about. Some agencies are better than others at identifying those writers and alerting them about major and seemingly minor developments. Some agencies host monthly or quarterly roundtables to share updates with reporters about their IT initiatives or field questions about ongoing work. There’s usually a set time period for these roundtables, and sometimes participants are asked to submit questions ahead of time. If time permits, they are usually allowed to ask off-topic questions. These events can be virtual or in-person.
2. Share your unique story. There are things unique to your mission that your agency does well. If your agency launched a new project or initiative or made improvements in certain areas, share those stories. It’s hard to get a reporter jazzed about a run-of-the-mill project or event, so look for what’s new, unique, better, innovative and play that up.
3. Make it plain. One of the biggest turnoffs about government IT stories is they include too much jargon and don’t get to the heart of why the story matters and how people are impacted. I know there are the buzzwords you can’t escape: cloud, big data, and the list goes on. If you can explain what new capabilities are provided and how they help people do their jobs better or improve quality of life for citizens, that’s the important part. I appreciate fact sheets that the White House and other agencies provide that plainly explain what’s new, why it matters and sometimes even next steps.
4. Let’s get visual. Graphics, photos and charts are great additions to any story. They provide another dimension and in many ways enhance the story. These visuals are helpful for journalists interested in sharing your agency’s story, and they also help to quickly summarize or illustrate the issue. If you have stats or historical data to support the story, you should include them.
5. Go social. Many agencies are already on social media and using these channels to promote the good work they do. You can also use social media to field questions from the public about the kinds of stories they want to hear. Some agencies use quiz questions to get the public engaged and excited about their agencies’ mission. You can use those questions as an opportunity to follow up with a story about current projects and how they impact citizens.
6. Be creative. Think outside the box when it comes to storytelling. A long-form story with 600 words isn’t the only way. You can use vignettes, a Q&A or an illustration to tell your story. You can do a quick video interview with people close to the project or initiative. Maybe you can do a first-person account of their experiences working on a project, or interview a citizen or user who has benefited from your agency’s services.
7. Be available. Don’t alert the public/press about a new initiative or project and not have staff or an expert available to talk about it. Speaking from personal experience, it’s helpful when agencies host a Q&A or short roundtable with reports either before or after the release of new information. One of the benefits is you can clear up any misunderstandings and add context to what has already been published. Releasing clear and concise information upfront helps to cut down on confusion.