I wanted to zoom out a bit for the next couple of months and take a system-wide look at a very simple concept that I feel is overlooked constantly by those trying to communicate.
The main problem I see in lot of government communications is a lack of understanding when it comes to the intent of the message, the medium used, and the intended recipient.
So over the next four columns, let’s ask ourselves questions to sharpen our thinking, writing and storytelling abilities:
- Who is my customer?
- What are his or her needs?
- How can I satisfy those needs?
- Why should he or she care?
For this month, let’s start with that first question. Any time you are asked to create a press release, photograph, web-site item, report or social media post, you should always, always think about your audience. This is content 101, but you’d be surprised how many times folks skip over this vital concept to get the job done quickly.
I prefer to think of my audience as customers, because I think that really gets to what we’re trying to accomplish. I offer a service as an employee of a local government. Customers pay for those services through tax dollars. Thus, my information exchange – regardless of the media used – should be customer-focused.
So, let’s say I’m a public information officer in a city or county. I want to frame every aspect of my communication around the intended customer. That means cut out jargon the customer won’t understand (MOUs, IGAs, PMI). I should also make the news item, photo or post compelling so the customer will take time out of his or her busy day to interact.
For an example, let’s look at a public works item, since that field in particular has a lot of incomprehensible jargon and regulations. Here, I’m tasked with telling residents elected officials recently passed a resolution supporting the expenditure of $2.1 million a year in an IGA with a neighboring municipality to ensure the combined PMI of all roads in the city was above 70.
Let’s run that information through our customer-focused prism and see what comes out.
Who is my customer for this information? I would imagine commuters, local businesses that depend on good roads, and those residents concerned with smart government spending. Notice I didn’t include engineers, so we’ll take out all jargon. Let’s see how we can frame this information so it appeals to those identified customers (and makes the elected officials look good).
If this is a release, my head, subhead, lede and nutgraph would be something like:
- Head: Officials pledge $2M-plus yearly for quality roads
- Subhead: Innovative agreement combines cities’ resources for best value
- Lede: In their continuing effort to provide Metropolis with the best-kept roads in the state, elected officials on Monday night pledged more than $2 million a year to keep blacktop pristine.
- Nutgraph: Metropolis City Council established a cost-saving agreement with neighboring Gotham City to keep the “score” of local roads high – meaning minimal potholes, smooth asphalt and bright, reflective striping.
Now, we can get into exactly what an IGA is, what PMI refers to, and of course those quotes and other ephemera. But what matters is that by focusing on our customer, we were able to tailor our information to their specific interests.
That’s it for this month. Next month, we’ll go into that second question, which is tied closely to this example.