Just put a zombie in it

Like many communications professionals, social media specialists, online community managers, and every other title/position that’s trying to get the word out about your organization’s services and awesomeness, there are some days where my mind draws a blank for my next blog post. I’ve learned not to fear it as much as I used to when I started my career, but it definitely happens. I’m sure this has happened to you; and I believe this mainly because I’m a human, and I’m assuming you are, too.

So, I sat here and pondered what to write about, asking friends for feedback on possible topics that would be important and relevant to government communicators. At one point, a friend asked me, “Why not just write a post and put a zombie in it?” I chuckled. What kind of blog entry could I write that would have a zombie in it? Well, as it turns out, this one.

I don’t know how many readers out there have seen the CDC zombie comic book, but if you haven’t, you should take a look. I think it’s awesome – not just because it’s about zombies but because it oozes with creativity. In a recent GovLoop post about the comic, one person commented that zombies are cliché, which I won’t necessarily argue with (there were an abundance out at Halloween this year), but the overwhelming response from government employees was positive. They were inspired. Comments ranged from “brilliant” to “impressive” and “entertaining.” When was the last time your communication was all of those things?

The comic book had even gotten the attention of national media. USA Today ran a story in mid-October, detailing how the comic book idea came about: as CDC health communication specialists worked on their annual blog entry around Emergency Preparedness, they found themselves writing their normal, “somewhat-dry” post, urging citizens to prepare for a disaster and providing a checklist of items to keep on hand. But, as they wrote this blog entry, they also realized that they weren’t going to get the attention they wanted. If they couldn’t expect citizens to read their blog post, then how could they expect citizens to take action? They knew they needed to do something different. They soon realized that they could tap into the social consciousness and draw in readers with something everyone was buzzing about already: zombies.

Now, zombies aren’t going to work for every government agency. That’s not what I’m advocating. But these CDC communication specialists took the brave step of saying, “What we’re writing isn’t working.” And then they took an even bolder step to say, “What can we write that would work?” By simply asking the question instead of trudging forward, they gave themselves permission to be creative. Many of the people commenting on the above-mentioned GovLoop article praised the CDC team for taking such a large risk, but the truth is that they made a thoughtful decision. They didn’t just dive into writing about zombies. Ultimately, the zombies served the purpose of furthering the mission of the CDC – to increase preparedness among Americans. This direct tie-in with the agency’s mission was the key to their success. They could measure the reach of their message, the depth of their engagement (3 million views and 500 comments on the original zombie blog post) and drive mission value by getting citizens to take action. They did their jobs, just like we all do, but the creativity they tapped into made them look like superstars to other government communicators.

As a communications professional, I know what my end goal is: create more awareness, increase engagement, drive value. It’s the same for you, I’m sure. Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the message without thinking of the context, and unfortunately, sometimes our creativity is the price we pay.

So maybe next time, when you’re sitting at your desk wondering what you can write about to further your organization’s mission, you can let yourself wonder, “How would this work if there was a zombie in it?” And maybe that question will inspire you to take a more creative (and hopefully fun) approach to the important work you do every day.

Originally posted on Reach the Public.

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