How is Your Communications Area Organized?

Jina Gaines of the City of Virginia Beach is doing some research into how government communications departments are structured. Her questions are below.

  1. Which communications structure does your organization subscribe to (centralized vs. decentralized)? By centralized I mean there is coordinated messaging from a department of communication/public affairs office and within that department/office there are representatives/account executives that see to the communications needs of individual departments/offices/programs. By comparison, a decentralized communications structure is one in which the public affairs/public relations/media person operates more independently and communications decisions are largely made at a departmental level without oversight from a central office.
  2. How does your structure work? How are communicators organized and what are their responsibilities?
  3. Do you think the method you are currently using is effective/efficient? If so, please explain. If not why not?
  4. How has your communications structure affected branding? Do different departments have different logos, slogans, taglines, etc.?
  5. Have any issues/problems arisen that are attributable to how communications are carried out (whether centralized or decentralized)?

NAGC: Good Communication…Good Government

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Erin Wheeler


These are great yet difficult questions to answer. The strucuture of government communications office largely depends on your the government office’s strategic framework/direction (i.e. mission, vision, goals and objectives). The office’s strategic framework/direction drives the goals and objectives of the communications office. In turn, the goals and objectives of communications office drive the structure of the communications office because the communications office supports the fulfillment of the government office’s strategic direction. I think the better place to begin is identifying best practices and lessons learned in establishing a communications office. This gives you the tools you need to make decisions on how to structure your communications office.

Nicolette Brennan

Small Municipal Government – Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Population 37,000, Annual Operating $47 million

1.5 FTE PIO + miscellaneous related duties assigned City-wide

1. Decentralized – Despite having a full-time PIO for the last 10 years, departments acted on their own on all matters related to communications, branding, advertising, media, etc.

2. This system has not worked well. Each department had branded themselves as a separate entity from the City. Each flyer, ad, radio interview, and webpage was an adventure to a different planet. I’ve been here two years and I have been pushing more toward a centralized system while retaining department autonomy. We’ve been slowly developing a consistent branding strategy, training communicators across the organization, and began tracking related data from the management level.

3. Decentralized is far more efficient. How slow would we be if every mass communication, every media touch, etc., had to run through my pipeline (reading Extreme Gov’t Makeover, can you tell?) But it is not as effective. We’re trying a train-and-monitor approach – giving administrative and other staff city-wide the tools and templates they need to be effective communicators on behalf of the whole.

4. Decentralized = scattered, splintered branding disaster (for us, so we’re centralizing a bit)

5. By pushing for centralizing I have made a few friends, and a few enemies. There is a nice way to say ” we don’t like your clipart posters” and “like it or not, you’re part of the City” but it still irritates those who don’t see the big picture.

Jennifer K. Smith

We’re both…centralized office (in the office of the county manager). However, some departments also have their own communications folks. (and we’re all dotted line connected)

Overall it works well.