Are Governments Exempt from Communication Best Practices?


Spoiler alert: Nope.

I feel like I talk a lot about best practices in communication. About how to take the best of what’s happening in the private sector and apply it to government. While there are subtle differences, there are many more similarities.

And here’s the thing, communications is not rocket science. It’s not even water purification and treatment (which is pretty dang complicated!). It’s common sense. So tell me, GovLoop readers, why do so many of us find it difficult to follow these simple principles? No, seriously, tell me.

Here are three private sector best practices that seem to be a challenge in the government.

Audience Segmentation

I get it. EVERYONE, as in every single community member, needs to know about your program, service, or project. But just because we have a topic that has generic appeal doesn’t mean we should talk about it in generic terms. All to frequently, we craft one announcement using general language, then recycle that content verbatim throughout all our communications tools. While the core message can be the same, the way we present that message should vary by key audience. And how we share that message (i.e., the communication tools we use) should definitely change based on who we want to reach.

Being Human

Look at the communication you receive from your bank, your favorite retailer, even your financial planner. I would bet the tone is friendly, personal, and warm. This is not by accident.

Yet, there is something about government communication that inspires us to strip out all personality and humanity.

I know your work is important. I know that sometimes it’s downright critical. It’s not always lighthearted and frankly, it’s not always fun. It’s for those exact reasons that your tone should always be human.

Communicating like a human doesn’t require humor. It doesn’t require informality. (Although I believe both have been inappropriately villainized in government communication). Striking the right tone requires empathy, honesty, and respect. Regardless of the circumstances, you need to approach your communication from the perspective of your audience. Try to understand their point of view, be honest with your message, and respect their response.

Proactive Communication

I wish I had a dollar for every time I was brought into a project only after initial public relations damage had taken place. A public meeting blew up into a highly visible mess, social media exploded with opposition, a vote at the ballot went horridly wrong – that’s when the value of communication is truly realized. But the reality is, a solid communication and engagement plan along with careful execution can help you avoid these set backs. Bring your communications team into the conversation early, let them help you craft key messages and identify potential red flags. Devoting the time up front will save you time, resources, and a big headache down the road.

Want to know how to put this to action? Ted Kniker wrote on GovLoop about “The Greatest Management Tool Ever*,” which will make you love logic models. Start with a clear plan for the most effective, proactive communication for that next project.

What other best practices have you seen abandoned? Any that you’ve embraced with positive results?

Kim Newcomer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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