By Tom Bullington, Communications Manager
As most communicators are well aware, it’s critical to have a sense of what your audience wants (and needs) to hear before you share it. This is especially true when you work for a government. It should be your goal to provide the public with information that matters most in their daily lives – not simply deluge them with facts and annually recycled messages that have little or no significance and will make people tune out.
To borrow a page from the sales and marketing world, the gap between poor and great communication is comparable to the difference between giving someone a highly personalized presentation and just showing up at their office with a folder full of collateral material and a 92-page slide deck. Which one do you think your prospective client would prefer? The former approach illustrates that you have done your homework and prepared for the meeting, while the latter clearly illustrates you’ve just “phoned it in” and are hoping to catch a break.
But even though the personalized approach is always more successful, it is often abandoned by the salesperson because it takes much more preparation and patience (read: hard work). The ultimate result is unsatisfactory for everyone concerned and neither you, nor the prospect, come away satisfied with the outcome of the interaction. You don’t get the sale and the prospect doesn’t receive the information they need to make an informed decision about the product you are selling – and they are no better off than when you started.
So it goes with communicating to the public. If you short-change your audience and just take the easy way out (by sending out a quarterly newsletter and calling it good), you’re missing an excellent opportunity to better engage citizens in their government. During my years as a municipal communications director, I was always impressed with the quality of feedback our city would receive once we reached out and listened to what our residents had to say about issues.
Members of the public, if they feel empowered and well informed, can become your government’s greatest advocates and provide a valuable perspective. Tapping into this perspective, in turn, creates a type of engaged governance that is the envy of other communities, counties, states and government agencies. It is this approach to communications that will help transform public attitudes toward government and build collaboration between the people who govern and the governed themselves.