How times have changed in the life of a local government communicator

Times have definitely changed in the life of a local government communications professional.

Ten years ago, I held this position for a city of 70,000 residents and my options for reaching citizens were much more limited than for someone in a similar job today.

Back then, I essentially had to rely on the bi-monthly city newsletter, a website with limited functionality (which was under the control of the Information Technology department), a monthly cable television show, and my media relations skills to generate as much positive coverage as possible in local newspapers and on the local cable news channel.

I can’t help but feel a bit jealous when I look at the opportunities today’s communication directors have to better connect with residents.

The variety of channels available to modern communications staff would have blown me away 10 years ago. For one thing, websites are much more powerful today and offer an incredible array of options including content management, live streaming video, high-quality graphics, faster connection speeds, and the ability to offer residents important messages and updates through services like GovDelivery.

Another time warp experience for me is the demise of most print vehicles as a viable channel for government communications. But today, as newsletters and high-volume print pieces begin to die off due to the cost of printing, production and mailing, cities and counties are tapping into even more new ways to reach out to citizens in the digital arena.

Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs have swiftly moved from being just a curiosity to a mainstay of integrated local government communications. Indeed, just a few short years ago, it would have been hard to imagine interacting in these ways with residents, but here we are. And the list goes on as the world grows smaller and more connected.

But it’s not all wine and roses for today’s local government communications officials. They are faced with growing pressure to perform from city management and elected officials trying to find ways to cut their budgets – and communications is often on the list of some folks who feel it’s a “nice to have” and not a “need to have.”

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Adriel Hampton

At our recent CityCampSF, one of our local gov employees who works on neighborhood resiliency pointed out the challenge local govs face – neighborhoods are concerned that they are not listened to, but the staff tasked with listening are the first to go during budget cuts.