Working as a government communicator, there can be days when it feels like communications aren’t a priority. Sometimes it’s due to resource limitations; when the going gets tough, delivering core services will always take priority over communications or marketing. Other times it seems a strategic choice to avoid perceived risk that comes with a courting a higher profile. Most often though, I think it’s merely an ingrained habit, part of an organizational culture where we’ve learned to keep our heads down and get the work done without fanfare.
It may seem remedial to some, but here’s a reminder for all government organizations: Communications should always be a priority.
Whatever the resource challenges or risks may be, it’s not only possible, but advisable to make communications a part of the plan. Because communicating effectively will enhance your ability to do the rest of your work successfully.
For large-scale, public-facing organizations, this is probably already a no-brainer. I’m preaching to the choir. But what of the small to medium government organizations and those that do lower-profile work? When I say communications should be a priority for all government organizations, I mean all.
I work for the Minnesota Department of Administration, an organization that knows a thing or two about doing great, behind-the-scenes work with little fanfare. Negotiating contracts and leases, insuring state assets, managing and cleaning buildings, etc.
How have we worked through our challenges and pushed to make communications a priority? Here are some notes from the trenches:
The “You Guys Have Been Busy” Effect
Government professionals know what it’s like to feel busy. A dozen items on the to-do list each day, with time to do only 10. You know the drill. But that’s not the busy effect I’m talking about here. Let me explain:
In 2015, we launched a new customer newsletter intended to more proactively highlight the work of the Minnesota Department of Administration. We sent it to a list of key customer contacts across state government and invited our public customers to subscribe at their convenience.
There are numerous methods for measuring the impact of new communications initiatives like this: you can look at email analytics, track subscriber growth, or gather user feedback.
In our case, the proof point came via a bit of unsolicited customer feedback. A few short months after we launched the newsletter, our commissioner was meeting with leaders from other state departments. Before the meeting, one said to him, “Your team over at Admin has sure been busy lately!” and proceeded to name off a number of things we had been covering in our newsletter.
Were we any busier than usual those few months? Maybe, maybe not. It’s debatable. But in either case, that interaction gave me confidence that our proactive communications were creating a perception that we were an active force for good, busy creating value for our customers and the public.
The “Ready for Anything” Effect
Another tactic we’ve begun to deploy in recent days is working with business teams to prepare one-pagers and talking points for just about any significant initiative or program they roll out. These materials call out the key messages, at a high level using plain language, while also answering common questions that people may have. These materials may not always be 100 percent necessary or essential; more detailed, complete materials may exist or dialogue may take place primarily at the person-to-person level.
But I can count on both hands and beyond the number of times these materials have come in handy already. These one-pagers, or the contents within, will often pop-up in meetings or email chains, be worked in to legislative outreach, or get referenced in media and customer calls (we are a bit of an expert on that score). They’ve become an important resource.
These documents create communications readiness. They help us communicate strategically and with one voice. All told, they show our customers and the public that we are proficient, capable, and ready to help.
Don’t Be Shy: Keep the Communications Going
These are just two examples of many. At the Minnesota Department of Administration, we’ve still got work to do breaking old habits and making communications central to our culture. But I think these examples show how communications have made a positive impact for us, and can do the same for any government organizations that excel at keeping their heads down.
Next time you see communications neglected or ignored, remember to encourage your coworkers to stick their head up out of the trenches. It’s worth the effort and the risk!
Adam Giorgi 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.
Couldn’t agree more how important communication is! Thanks for posting!