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Ready to Shape NAGC's Future

Posted By CDR Christopher O'Neil, USCG, Retired, Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Updated: Monday, April 29, 2019

You are a government communicator. You know the challenges our profession faces every day. You understand how to work in the joint/interagency environment. You’re collaborative, talented and work well in teams. You lead, provide counsel and implement strategies and tactics to achieve a specific communication goal. In short, you’re work experience makes you ready to serve on NAGC’s Board of Directors.

I wrote to you several months ago to let you know we had a number of board members resign and that I, in concert with the board, appointed people to serve the remainder of those terms. In addition, each year, roughly half of the NAGC board positions come up for election, to help prevent replacing the entire board in a year.

This year we have five positions to fill on the board through our regular elections and we have one position for which the board and I have opted to hold a special election.

The five positions appearing on the 2019 ballot are:

  • Professional Development Director
  • Education Director
  • Communications Director
  • Marketing Director
  • Treasurer

Our current President-elect, Scott Thomsen, was appointed by unanimous consent of the board, to fill the remainder of his predecessor’s term. However, because the president elect automatically becomes president at the end of the term, the board believed it important to hold a special election to ensure the selection of our president elect, and future president, reflects the wishes of the association’s membership.

The National Association of Government Communicators’ greatest strength is its members – each and every one of you. You are the reason this association exists – your profession, your decision to practice your profession in government service and your commitment to excellence in government communication – are among the reasons our association was founded more than 40 years ago.

In February I asked you to volunteer to help your association, and several members have stepped up to fill critical roles in committees that help this association attract and retain members and ensure the success of our Blue Pencil & Gold Screen awards and the annual Communications School. Now I’m asking you again to volunteer your time, talent and leadership and to seek election to one of our board positions.

Eligibility requirements and responsibilities for these and other board positions are available in Article III (section 3) and Article IV of the association’s by laws here

To run for one of the board positions listed above, please send an email to president@nagc.com, with a subject line of “Election Ballot.”  In the body of your email please provide:

  • Full Name
  • Work title and agency
  • Position for which you wish to run
  • A brief (no more than 375 words) resume/bio that demonstrates your background, qualification and ability to serve on the board.

Emails must be received by May 23, 2019.  The ballot will be published by May 24, 2019, and voting will occur between May 24 and June 24, 2019.  New board members will be sworn in at the 2019 Communications School in Crystal City, Virginia.

Serving on the board is challenging and rewarding and service on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization has solid career benefits.  Equally important is the benefit your fellow NAGC members get from your service.  The more you put in, the more you get out of your NAGC experience. Serving on the Board of Directors is another way to maximize your membership.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Chris O’Neil
President
National Association of Government Communicators

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Shining the Light on Government Communicators

Posted By Kathryn Stokes, Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Government communications is often a thankless profession in today’s world of government’s mistrust of media and media’s mistrust of government. Standing in front of an agency to communicate a message in an informative and transparent way can feel like you have a target on your chest. Who’s aiming to “getcha” next?

But if you are a member of the National Association of Government Communicators, you have organization behind you shining a light on the excellent work you do and you’re part of an amazing group of people who look at government communications as a service that must be ethical and transparent. You are a direct beneficiary of NAGC’s primary goals –“…advocating, promoting, and recognizing excellence in government communication.”

Because I am a member of the NAGC board of directors, people often ask me why they should join NAGC? There are a lot of reasons, and I’d like to remind you of one of the most important. NAGC has a strict Code of Ethics and as an organization, we expect our members to know and adopt these ethics in their daily jobs. When NAGC promotes our profession, we are also promoting the Code of Ethics that our members abide by in their roles as government communicators. As a member of NAGC, you’re demonstrating that you comply with that code.

Another way NAGC promotes our profession — and our members — is through the annual Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards. The Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards have been recognized as one of the most prestigious awards in the field of government communications, nationally and internationally. Winning one of these awards offers our members the opportunity to pat themselves on the back and say, “I did a great job and was recognized and rewarded for it.” We love promoting the winners in each category!

Our volunteer board members are all professional government communicators, either as government employees or contractors. I have loved my eight-plus years on the board, but it is a lot of work. In addition to managing the awards competition, our annual Communications School is developed by the board including the call for speakers, choosing from the submissions, marketing the school, choosing the Communicator of the Year, etc.

Important note here — We cannot do this alone. We rely on volunteers from our organization to fill out the committees that manage all the activities associated with these programs. Volunteering for one of the board committees offers another great way to promote yourself and to add a little something extra to your resume. Our president, Chris O’Neil, recently published a heartfelt note about our need for more member help. You can read it here, and I hope you’ll jump in with both feet after you do.

But back to that shining light. In the past few years, and hopefully more so going forward, we have asked members to share their experience and expertise with other members. It allows members to highlight their knowledge in support of members who need assistance. You, the members, essentially become the candles that make this organization burn bright.

So when I am asked why should you be a member of NAGC, I am proud to say “Because NAGC promotes the government communication profession and provides opportunities for its members to promote

themselves.” So, shine the light of ethics and transparency on your job by proudly declaring your association with an organization that is “dedicated to advocating, promoting, and recognizing excellence in government communication.”

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An Active, Engaged NAGC Starts with You

Posted By CDR Christopher O'Neil, USCG, Retired, Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Colleagues:

The NAGC Board of Directors recently met in Minneapolis (home to Management HQ our association management company) for the board’s semiannual retreat, where the board attended to the business of running the NAGC. As your president, I feel it is important that I share with you the major goals we set during the retreat because without you, each one of you, we cannot realize the vision the board has for our association.

One of the issues that drove our decision to seek a new management company was a need to focus on the business of the NAGC. Although we continue to run an exemplary communications school, a highly regarded awards program and well-attended webinars, we have not been able to do much else. The NAGC’s membership numbers have been stagnant for several years, our revenue flat, and none of our committees has been fully staffed for many years. Our winter board retreat accordingly focused on setting a strategic plan designed to help us realize the vision of a vibrant and thriving NAGC where members are engaged and fully realizing the benefits of membership in an outstanding professional association.

With MHQ’s help, we crafted 10-year, 3-year and 18-month strategies designed to attract and retain members, raise the visibility of the association and our profession, and improve the membership experience.

These are ambitious, but achievable goals for our association. They are realistic. These goals are the waypoints on our association’s journey to our return to being the premier association for government communicators, our return to a vibrant community of practice.

These goals are achievable only when our members get involved. No association can fully succeed when only a handful of members are engaged. This is particularly true for the NAGC. I’m proud to have been part of the NAGC’s board of directors for nearly six years now, and I have seen first-hand how hard the board works to execute our mission and how dedicated the directors are to our profession. And because of my six years on the board, I can tell you that it isn’t enough. Our association will never realize the 18-month, 3-year or 10-year goals on the backs of the board members – the only way our association realizes its potential is when you, our members, get involved.

What am I asking you to do? I am asking you for a couple hours a month. A couple hours a month doing things that are familiar to you, tasks you have already mastered, or tasks you have an interest in but don’t have the opportunity to do in your current position.

What’s in it for you? Adding to your resume, professional development and personal/professional satisfaction. Volunteer work shows your dedication to your craft. Work you do for the NAGC can help round out your resume and make you more competitive for positions. Whether you volunteer for a task that’s within your wheelhouse or you take on a “stretch assignment,” volunteer work for NAGC helps you hone your skills. Finally, there’s a great sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing you’re part of something big, that you’ve had a part –in shaping the future of our association and our profession.

What are our immediate needs?

  • Blue Pencil & Gold Screen awards. We need judges to review submissions, provide their feedback and determine who will be receiving awards. Not your cup of tea? I bet you know someone who would be a great judge. Sign them up.
  • Membership Committee. We need members who want to make our association stronger and more vibrant. We need members who want to expand our network of communication professionals. We need members who want to be part of a team that helps attract new member and retain the ones we have.
  • Marketing and Communications. While we have filled the Communications Director position – thanks to Wendy Wagner-Smith for volunteering to fill the remainder of the vacated term – we need people who
  •  Marketing and Communications. While we have filled the Communications Director position – thanks to Wendy Wagner-Smith for volunteering to fill the remainder of the vacated term – we need people who are willing to help provide content across our platforms to tell the NAGC story, engage our members and attract new members.
  •  Webinars. Our Professional Development Director has been a one woman show, managing our Webinar Wednesday and Encore webinar series. But it isn’t a one-person job. We need members to help manage the processes and create content to support both of these vital webinar series.

You’re busy. We get it. We’re not asking for a daily commitment, we’re not asking you to sign a contract or to provide us with your talent for a year.

We’re just asking you for a few hours a month. Imagine what we could accomplish if even just a quarter of our membership volunteered just two hours a week, eight hours a month. That would give the NAGC 650 work hours to help us execute our mission and begin to grow and strengthen our association.

As your association president, I challenge you to do your part to make our association all that it can and should be. I challenge you to leverage your talent, your time and your pride in our profession to make NAGC the association you want it to be. Join us on this journey.

Get started today by contacting us at info@nagc.com and let us know how you’d like to help. Want to talk it out? Contact me at president@nagc.com.

NAGC Board of Directors Goals

10-year target

  • 1,500 members
  • 400 communications school attendees
  • 750 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen award submissions
  • $750,000 in annual revenue
  • 10 regional chapters with quarterly events
  • High volunteer and member engagement

3-year target

  • 400 members
  • 165 communications school attendees
  • 375 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen award submissions
  • $275,000 in annual revenue
  • 2 regional NAGC chapters with quarterly events
  • 25 percent of NAGC members engaged in volunteerism

18-month target

  • 350 members
  • 150 communications school attendees
  • 300 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen award submissions
  • $230,000 in annual revenue
  • NAGC chapters — pilot program developed
  • 10 percent of NAGC members engaged in volunteerism

Here is where our association is today:

  • 325 members
  • 135 communications school attendees
  • 275 Blue Pencil & Gold Screen award submissions
  •  $206,000 in annual revenue
  • No (zero) NAGC Chapters
  • No staffed committees (member volunteerism)

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Awareness of the Public’s Right to Scrutiny, Adherence to Ethics Critical for Government Communicators

Posted By Scott Thomsen, Sunday, February 3, 2019
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Welcome to the fishbowl!

Life as a government communicator involves a higher responsibility to transparency and honesty than working in the private sector. We work for the public. And the public, including the media, has the absolute right to scrutinize our work. It’s a right they exercise frequently.

Recognizing that truth is sacred; that providing public information is an essential civil service and that citizens have a right to full, understandable and timely facts about government operations – the starting point for NAGC’s Code of Ethics — is critical when working as a government communicator.

NAGC members get this. It’s not just in our code, it’s in our DNA.

The importance of this core value is easy to see in some recent failures within our field.

The Pentagon’s chief spokesperson left her job recently amid an investigation into multiple complaints of misusing support staff by asking them to run personal errands or work on her mortgage paperwork, then transferring personnel who complained about it.

The investigation is still underway, so the complaints are only complaints at this point. Damage in the court of public opinion and to a career, however, has already been done.
In Baltimore, the mayor introduced a new spokesperson in the morning only to accept his resignation later the same day after questions arose about lawsuits during his tenure as a police officer.

The public and the media are watching. This is a good thing. We want them to pay attention to the work our organizations do. It gives us the opportunity to communicate with the public and inform them.

Speaking on behalf of a government agency is an honor.

As government communicators, we are entrusted with a role that connects people to their government, explains it and enhances it.

There are thousands of us out there doing this every day at a high level. NAGC salutes you. Keep up your great work. It matters. When you do, the water in the fishbowl is just fine.
And if you encounter someone who is falling short of that mark, take it as an opportunity for education. Invite them to learn more about NAGC, our code of ethics and the training we offer to help government communicators do their jobs better, highlighted by our Communications School.

Failures by any government communicator tend to harm the reputation of all government communicators. By offering a hand up to our colleagues, we not only help them improve, we also protect reputations across the board and most importantly protect the trusted relationships with the public we serve.

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Our Fellow Communicators with CAPIO Need Some Help Recruiting Judges

Posted By Dennis Crayon, Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Our fellow communicators with CAPIO need some help recruiting judges for their 2019 EPIC awards.

The time commitment is roughly 3-6 hours and judging will occur Feb. 26 through March 7. Volunteers can request specific award categories that match their interests or expertise.

If you’re new to the judging process, don’t worry!  The Awards Committee can teach you the ropes and CAPIO will host a free webinar in mid-February to review this year’s awards categories and judging criteria.

If you’re interested, please sign up today. Thank you for your interest and dedication to the communication profession!

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National Association of Government Communicators

Posted By CDR Christopher O'Neil, USCG, Retired, Saturday, December 15, 2018
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

As president of the National Association of Government Communicators, I spend a lot of time talking about what isn’t going well in the world of government communications, not because there is so much that needs improvement, rather, because the state of discourse in our nation lends itself to that discussion with the media and the public we serve.  

I’d like to take some time now to instead speak of the dedicated and selfless work of government communicators throughout what has been a challenging, if not harrowing, year. 

At times it felt as though all of California was ablaze. According to CAL FIRE as of Dec. 2, there have been 6,228 fires that have consumed 876,225 acres in 2018. The Camp Fire is currently listed as the deadliest wildfire in California, having claimed 85 lives and destroyed more than 18,800 structures, as the investigation and recovery efforts continue. And that was just one fire. The Hill and Woolsey fires brought the totals to more than 254,800 acres burned and more than 20,390 structures destroyed – in November. Throughout the response to the devastation, CAL FIRE communicators provided timely, factual and relevant information to the public and the media that helped prevent further threats to life and property and provided up-to-date information for those affected by the disasters. 

Farther west fire came in the form of red-hot lava spewing from the Kilauea Eruption on the island of Hawaii. While the volcano has been erupting nearly continuously for 35 years, the May eruption destroyed more than 700 homes, with lava covering more than 12 square miles. Throughout the months long event, and continuing today, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the County of Hawaii and other response agencies posted information to keep citizens informed and safe, with facts about respiratory protection from volcanic ash, serious health hazards from volcanic gas emissions and evacuation, shelter and recovery information for its citizens.  

Hurricanes Florence and Michael roared onto US shorelines, spreading destruction and loss to the Carolinas and the Florida Panhandle. Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane, was the strongest on record to hit the Florida Panhandle. The two storms claimed more than 90 lives and generated estimated insured losses of more than $6 billion. The 2018 hurricane season ended Nov. 30, and according to NOAA’s National Hurricane Center while it will be “remembered most for Hurricanes Florence and Michael,…the season produced 15 major named storms.” Public Information Officers from every level of government sprang to action as forecasts and storm tracks delivered the frightful news, providing information to people in the projected paths of the storms to help them evacuate, showing people how to survive catastrophic flooding, and how to get help once the storms passed, information that saved countless lives. In just one example, U.S. Coast Guard public affairs specialists deployed to Goldsboro, North Carolina, within 96 hours, processed more than 500 media calls, embedded 30 media in the field and pushed 100 news and photo releases, reaching more than 17.2 million people. That kind of tenacity was demonstrated by government communicators working in emergency operations centers, joint information centers and at the local, county, state and federal levels.  

Throughout 2018, government communicators excelled in delivering life-saving information and guidance that helped citizens recover from the devastation witnessed in the year, and those communication efforts are ongoing as relief and recovery efforts continue.  

Communicators often go unrecognized for their work, and practitioners know that comes with the territory and is the nature of our work. But I would be remiss if I did not take time to remind you that excellence in government communication is all around us, and is consistently demonstrated when things are at their worst, when citizens need their government most. That selfless, dedicated and consistently superior work epitomizes the benefit of government communication and the best practices of our profession. As we celebrate the holiday season and look back at the year, and ahead to the new year, may we also take a moment to celebrate our successes, the successes of our colleagues and recognize the vital role we fulfill.  

Sincerely,
Chris O’Neil
President – National Association of Government Communicators

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Changes In Leadership In The Association’s Board Of Directors

Posted By CDR Christopher O'Neil, USCG, Retired, Saturday, December 15, 2018
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

I wanted to take a few moments of your time to tell you about some changes in leadership in the association’s board of directors.

Within the span of three weeks three board members resigned. One director resigned following acceptance of a position outside of government. Two other board members resigned as they strived to achieve the work/life balance that we all struggle to reach and maintain. I hope you’ll join me in wishing continued success and happiness to Maria VanderKolk, Rachel Crist and Sabra Brown.

There is never a good time to lose nearly 30 percent of an association’s leadership, but their departure came at a critical juncture as we transitioned association management companies, and formulated aggressive strategies for membership growth and engagement, improved technologies for association management, and marketing for the annual communications school and the Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards.

I spoke with the remaining board members and reached out to members of the association for support and I am proud and pleased to report that our work continues unabated.

Our past-president, Kathryn Stokes has volunteered to chair the communications school committee and ensure the work associated with that massive undertaking remains on par and on schedule.

Per our bylaws, any vacancy on the board may be filled for the balance of the unexpired term by nomination of the president, and with concurrence of the board. I used this vehicle to nominate Scott Thomsen for president-elect, and the board concurred unanimously. Scott has ably served as our communications director and I am certain he will serve your needs well as our president elect.

Marisa Ellison, a former NAGC board member, graciously offered her time and expertise to help manage this year’s Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards competition. Marisa has been with NAGC since 2006 and served as the association’s Membership and Volunteer Director. Her talent and desire to serve will also help ensure the work associated with our highly regarded award program remains on par and on schedule.

Please join me in thanking Marisa, Scott and Kathryn for their service to the association and our profession.

I am reaching out to a few members to gauge their willingness and capacity to serve as the association’s communications director. If you, or a government communicator you know, is interested in the position, please contact me at president@nagc.com. Similarly, if you have an interest in helping plan and manage the communications school or the Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards competition, please contact me.

I have often said, and will continue to say, the strength of our association is our people – communicators like you who are dedicated to excellence in our profession. The events of the past few weeks are a clear demonstration of our strength. Thanks again to those who have taken on additional duties and thanks to all of you for your continued membership and engagement. Good luck to those competing in this year’s Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards competition and I hope to see each of you at the annual communications school in Crystal City!

Sincerely,
Chris T. O’Neil
President – National Association of Government Communicators

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From the President

Posted By CDR Christopher O'Neil, USCG, Retired, Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

Two years ago you elected me to the position of president-elect and on June 21, 2018, I was sworn in as NAGC’s president.  I am honored to have this privilege to serve you, our association and our profession.

As government communicators we find ourselves navigating uncertain and turbulent waters. The 2018 Edelman’s Trust Barometer revealed 20 of 28 global markets are at the distrust level with the U.S. dropping 9 points on the scale in the past year, the steepest decline ever recorded. According to Cision’s 2018 State of the Media Report, 56 percent of survey respondents (members of the media) said fake news is making readers more skeptical of what they read. Amidst allegations of fake news, 78 percent of journalists say that ensuring content is 100 percent accurate is their highest priority. The survey also revealed that journalists’ dependence on public relations professionals hasn’t wavered.

Against this backdrop and in an age of digital information — where opinions, facts and mis- or disinformation spread with the speed of electrons — we see an age of instant outrage and anonymity offered by social media channels and an information environment besieged by political rhetoric.  Because of these and so many other factors, we know there has never been a greater need for government communicators who believe truth is sacred, and whose communications, counsel and actions reflect their collective and steadfast commitment to that ideal.

There has never been a greater need for communicators to serve as the True North of their agencies’ communications to the public.

Journalists and the citizens we serve deserve and rightfully demand the facts — and it’s our duty to provide them in a manner consistent with our Code of Ethics, and the axiom of ‘Maximum Disclosure, Minimum Delay’ bounded by the tenets of Security, Accuracy, Policy and Propriety.

In as much as the condition of the information environment demands excellence in the practice of our profession, the state of our association demands your immediate and direct action.

Our membership numbers have been stagnant for too long. While our Blue Pencil and Gold Screen award has been named one of the 21 most coveted awards in government, we’ve not realized an increase in submissions. Our annual communication school continues to receive overwhelmingly favorable feedback from attendees and enjoys a reputation for excellence in content, yet we aren’t seeing an increase in registrations.

The board of directors continues to carry the lion’s share of work that needs to be done to run the awards program, the annual school and the association itself, because our committees don’t have enough volunteers to carry the load.  These conditions lessen the ability of NAGC to serve as the champion of our profession at a time that begs for a defender of the role and profession of the government communicator.

As your president I am resolute in my commitment to build upon the rich history of our association by growing our membership, increasing member engagement and by serving as an advocate for our profession and for you — the practitioners of our profession. To be fully successful in that endeavor, I need your help.

I need you to continue your pursuit of excellence in government communication and to continue providing counsel to those you serve that reflects your commitment to our Code of Ethics and the best practices of our profession. Take advantage of your membership benefits — access to monthly webinars, discounted registration fees for the annual school and the Blue Pencil and Gold Screen awards and our professional development offerings.  Log in to our website, at least once a week, and join in the discussions and take advantage of the many resources available within the organization. When you’re ready, I want you to pursue an APR or APR+M — one of the newest and biggest benefits of your membership.

I need you to talk about NAGC with your colleagues and ask those who aren’t members, why they haven’t considered joining. The board needs you to volunteer for a NAGC committee, or a project and to follow us on Twitter Fand our other communication channels. The board needs and wants to hear your ideas and to publish your content so your fellow NAGC members may benefit from your perspective, your excellence and your experiences.  By increasing exposure of your expertise, we grow aptitude to meet the challenges of the ever-evolving public sector communications landscape while ensuring a positive and diverse prospective of the profession.

I am excited for the future of our association and for our profession, and, I hope you are too. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together, and I look forward to serving you, our members.

Until next time,
Chris

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A message from John Verrico, former NAGC President

Posted By Scott Thomsen, Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019

I spent this past week at the National Association of Government Communicators 2018 Communication School held in Cape Coral, Florida. Like all of the previous NAGC events I have attended over my career, it was a wonderful experience with excellent training sessions and the opportunity to network with so many other fantastic fellow professionals in government communication careers.

Although we only see each other once a year, the camaraderie and friendship that has developed between many of the attendees is heartwarming. Spending time with these friends is one of the things that makes this event so very special to me. And, of course, making new friends each and every time as well. Many of us stay in touch throughout the year between conferences to share stories, consult each other and ask advice on issues and challenges, and just to have someone to bitch with that only a fellow in the career field could understand. That’s the power of this organization and why I have been a volunteer member of the Board of Directors for over a dozen years, serving in a variety of roles.

About 14 years ago, I attended my first NAGC Communication School, and was immediately enamored by the applicability and appropriateness of everything I learned, as well as the instant bond among members and attendees. I haven’t missed an event yet. When I was asked to fill a vacancy as Communication Director about 12 years ago, I jumped at the opportunity. I subsequently ran for and was elected to several different positions over the years, including president.

On Thursday, NAGC installed the new officers, marking the end of my time as the Association’s Immediate-Past President and my farewell to the Board of Directors. Kathryn Stokes, who was replaced by Chris O’Neill as NAGC’s president, and thus replaces me as the immediate-past president, brought tears to everyone’s eyes with her tearful farewell. I must admit I choked up myself and for the first time, found it difficult to speak. And not just once, but multiple times.

It was so amazing as people came up to me throughout the day relating stories about when we first met or how I had convinced them to join the association. Someone reminded me that I was responsible for recruiting the past three NAGC presidents (four if you include myself) to the association and then convincing them to run for a position on the Board. I guess we don’t realize how many people we touch throughout our lives.

As I said at the School and have said it many times in the past – joining NAGC was the first best decision of my career. The second was accepting an appointment to the Board of Directors. The whole experience has been professionally and personally rewarding, has made me better at my job, introduced terrific friends into my life, and opened doors to amazing adventures.

I encourage everyone in a communication position for a government agency at any level – federal, state, or local – to become a member of NAGC. And not just a member, but an active member. Take advantage of the webinars, training, and networking events. Enter the awards programs, or serve as a judge, providing guidance for your peers. Be active in the new forums where we can learn from each other. Participate on a committee or run for a leadership position on the Board of Directors.

You won’t regret it. I don’t.

Although I am stepping out of a leadership position with NAGC after 12 years, I won’t exactly be going away. Of course I will continue to attend and participate in all the events, and likely will serve on a committee or working group or two. And I will continue to develop our international partnerships.

Yeah, I’m addicted to NAGC. They’re not quite rid of me yet.

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NAGC Applauds Public Relations Industry Focus on Ethics

Posted By Scott Thomsen, Thursday, October 26, 2017
Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2019
Photo of President-elect Chris O'Neil

NAGC President-elect Chris O’Neil

By Chris O’Neil, president-elect, National Association of Government Communicators

I recently read with great interest, ‘Edelman calls for new set of PR ethics standards post-Bell Pottinger,’ and appreciated the opportunity to reflect on the ethics that have governed my government communication career and the values, ethics and standards of the National Association of Government Communicators.

As the president-elect of NAGC, I applaud Richard Edelman’s call to the public relations industry as reported by PRWeek, to develop “a set of principles that are universal, consistent, and well understood across the industry… to adhere to a single set of strong standards, and to hold all of our people accountable to them.”

As NAGC members and practitioners of government communication we have benefited from the ethical and professional standards espoused by the NAGC code of ethics which has, since the inception of our association, provided us with what the Edelman CEO is calling for – universal and consistent principles.

As NAGC members, “We believe that truth is sacred; that providing public information is an essential civil service; and that each citizen has a right to equal, full, understandable, and timely facts about the activities, policies and people of the agencies comprising his or her government.”

Our code of ethics prohibits members from knowingly publishing misinformation or disinformation. These tested and proven principles have served the public interest by fostering the accountability and transparency in government our citizens expect and demand. If it has been awhile since you reviewed the NAGC Code of Ethics, it’s prime time for you to do so now. Embracing and adhering to our code of ethics gives you the solid footing you need to take a stand, speak truth to power, and ensure that government communication serves the public interest. It isn’t easy. It’s hard to be the voice of reason when you are the most junior person in the room, but someone must be that voice. Someone has to speak up and say, “This is ill-advised and unethical. I have a better course of action to recommend to you.”

The precipitating moment for Edelman’s call to action appears to be the work conducted by Bell Pottinger, a firm based in London that conducted a misinformation campaign on behalf of an investment firm.

It’s the rare instances like the Bell Pottinger misinformation campaign, that long ago necessitated the distinction between ‘Public Relations,’ ‘Public Information,’ and ‘Public Affairs.’ That subtle but important distinction aligned the work of government communicators with the public interest, with good government and not with personal or political agendas. The distinction highlights communication based upon the need for accountability and transparency in government and communication based upon other principles that are not necessarily founded in the public interest.

The array of communication tools available to practitioners today, and the capabilities of those tools, is staggering. The ease by which mass audiences can be reached and influenced requires great responsibility on the part of those leveraging this technology. That ease of dissemination, coupled with a lack of resolve to deal only in facts and the truth, can facilitate the launch of a misinformation campaign or the spread of propaganda in the U.S. – the very condition the Gillett Amendment (Title 5, United States Code, Section 3107) is designed to prevent. Without clear ethical boundaries, lapses in judgement, such as those evidenced in the Bell Pottinger misinformation campaign, and abuse of the power of digital communication will continue. Clearly, platform owners, such as Twitter and Facebook, have a responsibility for ferreting out such campaigns, but in the end the ultimate responsibility rests with communicators who must have the resolve to speak the truth and the will to not cross ethical boundaries.

Ethical guidelines, ethics training and clear policy are the foundation of a solid government communication program, and I agree with Edelman that they will well serve the public relations industry. However, it is your practice of the profession, and your unwavering adherence to those principles, that ensures the practice of government communication remains founded in truth and the public interest.

Chris

Chris O’Neil, President-Elect

National Association of Government Communicators

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