October 30, 2006 by Colin
[fade to studio] Hello. My name is Colin McKay. I’m an evangelist for government communications. You may remember me from such popular posts as Government Communications is interesting, dammit! and Government Communications doesn’t suck: I mean it. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to spend a few minutes with us.
We’ll return to this afternoon’s movie, Office Space, in a moment.
There’s a lesson to be learned from the tale of Peter, Samir and Michael: wasting countless hours in a cubicle punching keys can be a mind-numbing and soul-destroying exercise. Unless you have an inspiring vision, that is.
Just like Brian, the waiter at Chotchkie’s. His personal vision was excellence: being the best damn lunchtime waiter at an industrial park franchise quick serve restaurant.
You have a vision. You have an interest in learning and personal enrichment. Either that, or you secretly harbour a dream that marketing and public relations blogs have hidden links to illegal mp3s and other naughty things.
The hidden advantage to a career as a communicator or marketer in the government is the opportunity for progression and growth. Think of the government as a network of agencies and consultancies, separated by areas of practice.
Each department, agency or commission is a stand-alone unit, but can draw upon the same shared pool of qualified employees. In effect, winning a competition (or job search) as a government communicator or marketer demonstrates that you’re equally qualified for similar jobs in other government organizations.
It’s like Omnicom or WPP, but with much more transparent hiring processes and far less reliance on personal relationships for career advancement.
Sure, there are obstacles like any large organization. Your career can grind to a halt because you jumped on the wrong coat-tails or found yourself at the wrong end of a re-organization. The financial rewards aren’t as great: they likely plateau earlier than most high achievers’ salaries in the private sector.
Most other organziations, though, won’t let you jump from a multi-year career specializing in speechwriting to a position in social marketing; from intensive stakeholder relations to social marketing on health causes.
The key to such a flexible and rewarding career is curiousity: only with an active interest in professional growth and a willingness to experiment can you mold a career that’s challenging and rewarding.
That’s true for a career in any organization, but I happen to think the job market in government communications is fluid (or cannibalistic) enough to encourage movement and experimentation.
Now, back to the show. [Fade to Lawrence explaining the difference between Federal and Minimum Security Prison]
October 29, 2006 by gregb
Years before I really became interested in a career in public relations, I read books on politics and popular culture quite voraciously. P.J. O’Rourke was a favourite, not for his political leanings but for his rapier sharp wit and analysis.One of his assignments for Harper’s magazine was to accompany the “Volga Peace Cruise” – a boat full of Americans visiting a pre-Glasnost Soviet Union.
Here’s his assessment of one night on the Peace Cruise:
“That evening, seven or eight young Russians from the local¬ Soviet-American friendship club were ushered on board …. Their president was a stiff young fellow, a future first secretary of the Committee for Lies About Grain Production if ever there was one. ….”
October 28, 2006 by Colin
“… As I inch closer to actually producing garments, this presents an interesting dilemma. I could tell the truth, sell pants with the actual waist size labeled. But to do so would mean I’d be out there making people feel fat as they try on my clothes, not exactly the best sales tactic, no? More than that I’d be paddling upstream, pitching garments that just don’t fit the way people expect them too, despite being more honest about their size. … So as the American waistline slowly creeps up undercover of the garment industry, don’t blame me, I’m just following the crowd towards bigger and better things…”
October 28, 2006 by Colin
How in the world do you represent dozens of national and regional cultures in one graphical element? In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of The European Union next March, the EU asked young designers from across the continent to design a birthday logo to mark the festivities. This is the winner, designed by Szmon Skrzypczak:
William Denttrel had some critical comments to make about about the design and the process in Design Observer:
… “This is what I call Silk Road design: you let each letter represent a particular entity or aspect of an organization, not unlike the cumulative culture acquired along the Silk Road from China to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. This design model is instantly recognizable because it always looks like what it is ‚ÄĒ design by committee, design that addresses (too many) multiple interests.
… As a work of graphic design, it has a cheerful countenance. Yet it takes all that’s rich and complicated about this institution’s history and offers a quick fix: if logos were food, this would be tapas.”
More details on the E.U. competition on the Union’s site.
October 25, 2006 by Colin
Ian rightly points to the diplomatic imbroglio caused by United Nations envoy Jan Pronk’s criticism of the Sudanese government and his frank assessment of their military performance – on his personal blog. Pronk’s been called back to New York for “consultations”
In most diplomatic incidents, “consultations” are a way for one country to demonstrate its displeasure by withdrawing its most senior diplomatic representative without breaking off all official contract. In Pronk’s case, “consultations” really means “man, you sure managed to piss those guys off, didn’t you!”
Ian links to the most salient observation, from Mark Jones at Reuters:
“… Pronk is experimenting with the limits of diplomacy by blogging. He’s doing so within an apparent UN vacuum — the organisation has rules on what can be published in books by its employees but no guidelines on blogs.
The fate of Pronk’s blog will be of interest not only to those watching the unfolding disaster of Darfur, but also to organisations struggling to balance the benefits of blogs’ openness with their ability to damage reputations and constrain the room for manoeuvre.”
There are three takeaways from this incident:
- The Sudanese government seems to be the first government to take concrete political action based on blog postings;
- The United Nations will have to discuss how will it recruit and best utilize experienced but sometimes outspoken representatives. (This is more common in the “softer” areas of the U.N.: UNICEF and UNESCO); and
- The language and practice of diplomacy is going to change.
Pronk’s blog postings read like the backroom gossip and information that historians are used to finding in archives: the information that is regularly included in diplomatic reports sent home, and systematically hidden away in official files for safekeeping, to be revealed only at a politically and diplomatically neutral moment and only as elements of historical record.
That’s the key to diplomatic communication: politesse and deference at the official level, and frank and open discussion in the corridors. Pronk’s blogs, while welcome and refreshing, open those corridor conversations to a much wider audience.
In this context, the principles of transparency and honesty that underpin social media abruptly run into a well-established expectation that¬ diplomatic relations be conducted in a considered and somewhat deferential manner – especially when dealing with nations in turmoil.
October 20, 2006 by Colin
We can imagine plenty of rational reasons why governments shouldn’t blog. There are far fewer good reasons. Especially if the bureaucracy serves a largely retail function:
- plenty of personal contact with citizens, customers or clients;
- a¬ relatively flexible and responsive organization;
- little if any policy-making authority;
- direct effect on people’s lives
In practical terms, this means the government organization:
- speaks to humans on a regular basis
- can turn around a question or a comment in hours, not days
- does not interpret information, only provides it
- works in fast-moving crisis,¬ health or consumer communications
We can all¬ recognize a personality type in these points:¬ attentive, responsive and committed.
This sort of organization is already used to receiving a number of different requests for information, filtering multiple streams of information, and clearly¬ defining how it is involved in the situation.
In most cases, it has already installed a case management system and has developed a database of frequently asked questions. When it comes to public enquiries, the organization has already fine-tuned its response process (and shortened the approval chain) and¬ can respond¬ quickly and confidently.
Ideally, the organization is also used to speaking openly about its function, the details of its work and the limitations of its authority. If you stop to think, you can identify several government organizations who work this way, in areas like public health, consumer products, financial oversight or accident investigation.
Although hampered by the usual inability to communicate in plain english, you can also count government scientists and researchers as possible contributors to a more specialized government blog. (They do all sorts of interesting things – like destroying cars on video (episode 58))¬
The trick, of course, is that most government organizations have a particular interpretation of retail service: help yourself, find the cash register, we don’t take credit and we’ll need to check your bag.
The bureaucracies ready to blog right now have already worked through their significant information bottlenecks, have instilled a sense of customer service in their workforce and know the benefits and limitations of their work thoroughly.
THAT’s the sweet spot for government blogging in the short term.
October 20, 2006 by Colin
In its latest financials, Google reveals it only spent $50M on advertising and¬ promotion in the last quarter. That’s 1.8% of sales, as Paul Kedrosky points out, and compares with Microsoft’s 2.7%, and the 20% OTC drug companies spend.
Now, Google doesn’t actually produce any physical products. It doesn’t have to ship out samples or run product launch junkets. It receives millions of impressions a day in free media.
$14M of that total was “related to certain distribution deals.” Fine, but let’s assume Google’s spending $36M on advertising and promotion. Considering they do little actual advertising, what is the company spending $144M a year on?
Do lobbying fees fall under “advertising and promotion”?
Or is that just the cost¬ to customize the Google logo for American and international days of significance?
October 19, 2006 by Colin
The best ¬£30,000 spent to promote Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat: an advertising package on the electronic hoardings ringing the England-Croatia footie game.
The electronic promo for the new Borat flick began running just as Gary Neville flicked the ball back to England keeper Paul Robinson – and kept running as the ball dribbled into England’s net.
As the BBC re-ran the play from every conceivable angle, you could see the Borat promo run again and again. Most prominent were Borat’s eyes and moustache.
As one YouTube commenter said:
“robinson saw BORAT on the elctro. boards, so he missed the ball BORAT rulzzz !!! ”
Andrew Culf of the Guardian’s SportsBlog has the details of the ad buy, as well as more details of how electronic advertising hoarding deals are negotiated.
October 18, 2006 by Colin
Could MP Garth Turner‘s blogging habit have led to his suspension from the Conservative Party caucus? That’s one of the claims being made today – but it doesn’t jibe with his long-standing practice of speaking his mind. The blog was likely just one contributing factor.
“… [Conservative Party] Caucus chair Rahim Jaffer said Wednesday that Turner was suspended on recommendation of the party’s Ontario caucus. Jaffer said there were concerns regarding Turner, who has maintained a blog on his website since the federal election last January, over breeching caucus confidentiality.
“Go and read [the blog] and make up your own mind,” Turner said about the issue of caucus confidentiality.
At odds with party
Jaffer said Turner was also ousted in part for critical comments made about the party on the blog.” (CBC.CA)
Turner blogged about his suspension today – and has tallied 163 comments so far.
A taste from his blog, posted yesterday:
“…On the Hill, dudes, lock-ups are reserved for big news. They are also designed so that media flakes (are there any other kinds these days?) are forced to sit in a locked room for several hours reading actual documents, instead of just trolling for three-second sound bites. If it‚Äôs really important news, there are even sandwiches in there.” (garth.ca)
October 13, 2006 by Colin
How many Rhode Island School Of Design students does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answers from Moistworks readers:
Two. One to screw in the lightbulb and one to unpack the assumptions inherent in the joke. Dave in CO #
The whole school, one to screw in the bulb and the rest to moan they would of done it differently. frank #
Three: one to do it, one to denounce the lightbulb as a industrial monstrosity, and one to paint an abstract black-and-white canvas that calligraphically communicates a scene of the second silently judging the first. BH #
A cup of fur. Wait, this is that surrealist joke, right? Boyhowdy #
Eight – one to screw it in and seven to pick the first person apart in the critique. Dan #
Seven – One to perform the act as a transient work or art, one to write the manifesto explicating it, one to film the documentary of the act, one to write a counter-manifesto denouncing the act as jejeune, one to explain the the darkness was more pure, one to be oppressed by it, and one to rip it off for his own work. I have also spent some time in Providence. Neil #
October 13, 2006 by Colin
Ouch. I know I’ve been signing the praises of government (and by extension not-for-profit) work, but these British survey results are stinging:
“…People employed by charities are old, white, female and often too unwell to do a proper job. At least that is what young people believe, according to a survey for voluntary sector leaders.
The 14 to 18-year-olds surveyed also thought that charity employees had to be rich, because the work was badly paid or not paid at all.” (Guardian)
October 12, 2006 by Colin
Following up on my previous post – ¬ Government communications doesn’t suck, I mean it¬ – I’d like to discuss the wide range of subjects and topics that could draw your attention as a government communicator. After all, government work doesn‚Äôt mean professional or personal stagnation.
Implied in the debate between employment at an agency (seizing the brass ring) or a corporate (seizing the brass retirement watch) office is the promise of greater opportunities for creative expression on a much larger variety of files.
Agency¬ acolytes will swear up and down that their day is a virtuous cycle of inspiration, creation and implementation – with some client meetings thrown in. Corporate types will argue that continuous exposure to one portfolio of products, services or brands is an opportunity to learn the corporate experience in and out, from product inception to integrated marketing planning to yearly bonus payouts.
Unfortunately, there are no yearly bonuses for the average public relations, marketing or communications type working in government.
Argument 2: Intellectual stimulation doesn’t require a cool office space.
Money aside, opportunity abounds in the government to work on files that interest you, files that will challenge your skills as a communicator while stimulating your mind. The key is to remember that the government is not a monolithic organization, it’s more like General Electric: plenty of little subsidiaries that do weird experiments and have offices in strange places – but are still market dominant. Here are some examples:
Risk communications: transportation departments, accident investigation boards, food inspection agencies, nuclear regulatory agencies, defense organizations.
Social marketing: health departments, social services agencies, public health organizations, overseas development departments.
Public opinion research: statistical agencies, every communications and marketing shop in the government, what we call “central agencies” (PCO, White House, OMB, Whitehall).
Rural outreach: agricultural departments, commodity marketing boards, fisheries departments.
International marketing: industry or commerce departments, departments of external or foreign affairs, export financing organizations
Science communications: research organizations, space agencies, departments responsible for natural resources (Department of the Interior), forestry agencies, fisheries departments.
Crisis communications: accident investigation boards, public safety departments, defense organizations, defense organizations, airport authorities.
Investor relations/financial communications: budget offices, departments of finance, management boards, banking regulators, national banks, financial monitoring agencies.
Notice how I didn’t cover any of the communications or marketing jobs that could be expected of politically-appointed staff? That’s a whole other world to be considered!
Next argument to be covered: government communications can be a multi-stage career, not a life sentence.
Shoutout to InsidePr for discussing government communications this week.
[tags] government communicator, agency, communicator [/tags]
October 10, 2006 by Colin
I’ve always been conditioned to think art museums should be fun – certainly more¬ stimulating than expected from regular stuffed shirt art patrons. My perception was reinforced by the museum scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – and fuelled by thoughts of roller skating the inclines of the Guggenheim.
Finally, my dreams are realized. THIS is how to spend some time at an art museum. Carsten H√∂ller’s installation at the Tate (sponsored by Unilever) includes four stainless steel slides – one dropping four stories!
H√∂ller speaks to the Guardian about his work¬ at the Tate.
“… He came to fame in 1990-93 with an exhibition of devices for catching and killing children; one, for instance, was a swing fixed to the roof edge of a high-rise building. Was he really such a paedophobe? ‘Well, now I have a daughter I’ve changed my mind! I never hated children, but I hated the idea of making children, the whole reproductive process. There’s no freedom if you cannot get rid of the biological machinery that makes us decide to do this thing and not that thing. I thought very much about how you could break that chain. I was determined and convinced that I would not have children.’
So what happened: did he fall in love? ‘I fell in love all the time! Very much so, even more, because I would not have children. But I think once you have really explored a certain conviction, it is time to give it up. I don’t think you should go on holding it for the rest of your life. So I thought it was time to have a child, to see if I was right or wrong. And I found I was both right and wrong.’” (Guardian)
There’s a flash tour of the installation also available at the Guardian.
October 7, 2006 by Colin
Agency vs. Corporate. One is more flexible. One is better paying. One offers a greater variety of projects for new associates. The other likely has a better health plan. I’m here, folks, to argue for another employer for young public relations and marketing types: the government.
Yes, it can be tradition-bound. Yes, your friends likely do not think it’s cool. Chances are, one of your managers will be wearing a short-sleeved shirt – in winter. Your business cards are certainly boring. There will be no fancy lunches …
Still, there are very good reasons to give some thought to working in government communications.
(This is the first of an irregular series meant to argue for a career as a government communicator – written by a government communicator.)
Argument 1: Variety is the spice of life.
I often hear the agency vs. corporate argument framed as a choice between creative opportunity and stifled imagination. My impression is that government communications is subject to an even more cocked eye.
Truth is, the apparently generic job of government communicator can touch upon all of the following tasks during a career. Or in one month:
- Media analyst
- Public opinion research analyst
- Communications strategist
- Policy analyst
- Consultations expert
- Publications project manager
- Risk communicator
- Internal communications
- Senior counsel
- Brand manager
- E-communications specialist
- Events manager
- And many more …
These roles are available to the new graduate as well as the experienced communicator: while government demands hierarchy, it also produces learning plans, training funds and opportunities for growth.
Next argument to be covered: government work doesn’t mean professional or personal stagnation.
[tags] government communications, agency, communicator [/tags]
October 7, 2006 by Colin
Our local AM News station runs an “experts on call” segment on Saturdays, where advertisers effectively buy a block of time and take calls from the public on their chosen area of expertise.
This afternoon, a dental clinic was on the air to explain their advanced techniques. Moving into a news update, the experienced and smooth radio host must have been shaking his head after this exchange:
Host: “So, what’s your phone number at the clinic?”
Host: “And who will our listeners be speaking to when they call?”
Dentist: “Uh. No-one. An answering machine. We’re closed this afternoon.”
What? This isn’t a surprise. The dentists knew they were going to be on the air. Why not have someone come in just for the afternoon to take calls and … maybe … book some new clients?