Effective communication is hard even under the best circumstances. Can you imagine having to deal with communications on a bad day? What about during a crisis?
Well, communicating in a crisis is government’s job. One of the govies who handles such communications is Bob Muir, Press Office Manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. He recently won the National Association of Government Communicators’ (NAGC) Communicator of the Year Award for providing accurate, timely, and useful information with Southern California’s constituents during the 2015 drought.
Muir and Susan Sims, External Affairs Group Manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Muir’s nominator, sat down with Emily Jarvis on GovLoop’s State and Local Spotlight to discuss Muir’s accomplishments and how other state and local governments can learn from Metropolitan’s response to the recent drought.
“The NAGC Communicator of the Year is a chance to honor people that typically are behind the scenes in government, but whose role is absolutely essential to the effectiveness of serving the public. Muir is really the heart and soul of how Metropolitan presents itself to the media and to stakeholders,” Sims said.
How to Manage Multiple Hats
Muir explained his role as Press Office Manager as holding multiple hats. “I manage and run the Metropolitan Press Office by coordinating the communication planning and strategizing for the district, in addition to being the chief spokesperson. However, I am also the main press liaison for various media outlets, reporters, and editors throughout our service area, throughout the west, and throughout the United States- with some access that crosses international borders.” Therefore, good relationships are key, especially when dealing with various players.
Muir is big on building relationships with those he works with. “My big thing is that it’s all based on relationships and credibility,” Muir stated. As a former reporter, he ensures that his team puts forth the right subject-matter experts to discuss a certain topic or issue. “I am blessed at the Metropolitan to have executive managers that make themselves available to the press,” Muir said. In return, Muir makes sure that the subject-matter experts are properly prepared and comfortable with the tools at their disposal.
So, what was the situation like for Muir and his team during the 2015 drought?
On average, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California supports half of the population of the state of California’s water supply. Additionally, “we serve water to one out of every 17 people in the United States,” Sims pointed out. The 2015 drought brought on local, national, and international attention. The Metropolitan, Muir, and his team had a lot on their plate when it came to addressing the multiple inquiries while finding a solution to communicate the need to be more cautious in citizens’ water consumption.
As such, Muir and his team needed to effectively communicate these messages to a diverse constituency.
Reaching a Diverse Audience
Metropolitan’s most recent accomplishment came in the form of an award-winning multimedia campaign. “I was part of the team that not only looked at the advertising and social media components, but, through this opportunity, we also looked at creating basic outreach principles,” Muir shared. In order to do so, Muir and his team thought it important to reach a wider audience than they had been previously able to.
The campaign was a great way to reach the different demographics that resided in Southern California.. Muir shared that they had previously really only concentrated on Spanish and Mandarin, “but this one really spanned a number of our populations.” The final product ended up being translated into five languages, including languages such as Vietnamese and Korean. “It was important to us that it be wide-ranging. It had to be something that people could respond to,” Muir stated.
Proper communication is vital in any realm of government work, especially for state and local governments as they deal more personally with their constituency on a day-to-day basis. Learning from those who’ve dealt with difficult situations is important as government continues to learn from one another.