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Sometimes the Truth Does Not Set You Free, but You Do Sleep Well

Posted By Chris O'Neil, Thursday, April 30, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, April 28, 2020

I was invited to contribute to The Crisis Communicator blog as the response community marked the passing of 10 years since the fatal Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill disaster. 

Rather than focus on the strategic or tactical aspects of communication conducted in support of the response to the tragic accident, I opted to focus on how ethics-based decisions, ethical behavior and ethics-based communication helped me navigate the highly politicized information environment.

One of the benefits of membership in NAGC is the foundation in ethical government communications our Code of Ethics provides. By joining the association, you affirm your commitment to ethical government communications as you adhere to our code and use it as a true north in your decision making and practice of the profession. Much has changed in the decade since the Deepwater Horizon BP Oil Spill, but the need for ethical government communication remains constant and there’s no better time than now to become a member, renew your membership or return to the association if you let your membership lapse.  

My blog post “Sometimes the Truth Does Not Set You Free, but You Do Sleep Well” can be read at


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Compassion Fatigue a Concern for Public Information Officers Too

Posted By Matt Coppin , Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of blog posts from recent graduates of FEMA’s Master Public Information Officer course. They are sharing insights from their research projects as part of a partnership with NAGC. 


Nurses, paramedics and firefighters are among the caring professions often associated with the term compassion fatigue. Though what about the role of public information officer?  


PIOs routinely witness traumatic events including natural disasters, large-scale social unrest, property loss and loss of life. A PIO must always maintain a professional and empathetic appearance while handling the stress of the job. However, does prolonged exposure to these types of events impact the delivery of messaging to the public? What impact does the PIO’s ardent sense of responsibility to the job have on their personal lifeThese questions were researched in conjunction with the Master PIO program at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  


Compassion fatigue is defined as the display of chronic stress resulting from helping others. Most simply it is “the cost of caring” and has long been associated with caring professions such as doctors, veterinarians and even lawyersIt can occur when an individual experiences a personal transformation as a result of being exposed to the traumatic stress of another person. Despite similar sounding terms, such as burnout or PTSD, compassion fatigue is a unique condition resulting from secondary exposure where individuals are impacted by the stress of those they are helping.  


Research was conducted to examine the possible impact compassion fatigue has on PIOs. A survey was created and disseminated to ask communication professionals about the signs and symptoms of the condition. The survey also collected demographic data and information about the respondent’s role within their organization. Significant data analysis was conducted to determine correlations and statistical significance of the survey results. 


Several survey indicators pointed to clear signs of compassion fatigue. These survey statements included “My mind returns to difficult events I’ve experienced as a PIO” in which over 65% of respondents answered “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often.” Also, more than 79% of respondents answered they are at least sometimes “overwhelmed by my workload.” Perhaps one of the most suggestive responses came to the survey statement “I work too hard” in which over 96% of respondents answered “sometimes,” “often,” or “very often.”  


Despite numerous clear signs of compassion fatigue, no definitive link could be established between compassion fatigue and PIOs. The limiting factor was found to be the inability to satisfy the time component associated with compassion fatigue. Meeting this time component would require monitoring PIOs responses over a broader sampling of time.  The research did indicate a strong possibility that PIOs are impacted by compassion fatigue in the same way as other caring professions.  


Survey results suggested changes be made within the PIO industry. Those unfamiliar with compassion fatigue measured 48.2%, while 80% of respondents reported never receiving training about how their role as a PIO may affect their mental health. It is recommended that mindfulness training as to the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue be a standard practice in field of public information.  


The results also suggested a change in the PIO culture where managers should be held accountable for the mental health of their staff. Recognizing the 96% of respondents who feel they work too hard or the 79% that feel overwhelmed should be an organizational goal. In many instances, work culture brands career stress as a personal issue and not an issue for management to address. Ownership of the mental well-being of employees is a key component of having highly productive and lasting team members. Reducing a PIOs workload, arranging for mandatory time away from electronic devices, and providing a family-first environment would reduce the negative qualities of compassion fatigue. 


Signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue were found to not only impact the PIO personally, but their ability to perform the job. Recognizing and taking steps to address these signs, will allow PIOs to effectively deliver timely, accurate and well-messaged information to target audiencesAs the responsibilities of the PIO continue to expand, having a sound understanding of compassion fatigue will only increase the organizational value of this position.  


Matt Coppin is the Lieutenant of Community Health and External Affairs for the Metro West Fire Protection District located in St. Louis County, Missouri. He is a graduate of Maryville University with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Communications. Matt holds several certifications and professional credentials including Master Public Information Officer from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

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The Benefits of Engaging the Hispanic Media, Community as a PIO

Posted By Bethzaida Garcia , Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020

 This is the latest in a series of posts from graduates of FEMA’s Master Public Information Officer course, sharing their research into key communications topics in partnership with NAGC.


America is a country built on diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Hispanics now make up the largest ethnic or racial minority, according to the United States Census Bureau with a population as of 2017 of 58.9 million. As government communicators and public information officers, we need to adapt to those changes and embrace them.  


With the increase of natural and human made tragedies that we are facing, such as hurricanes and mass casualty shootings, it is important for PIOs to use all the media outlets and methods of communication available to get important information to all segments of our communitiesAfter reviewing research papers about Spanish language journalism and how to reach out to Hispanic communitiesit is clear that we have many opportunities to improve our work. 


Engaging the Hispanic community through social media and Hispanic media outlets can create strong allies in disseminating safety messaging during emergencies. Understanding Hispanic culture, including communication models, authority, religiosity and interests, and then taking it into consideration as part of our outreach will improve our ability to connect.  


Past research shows that although Hispanics consume every media type, they seem to have a special attraction to radio and television. More recent indicators show that those patterns are changing, and that social media is getting most of this community’s attention.  staggering 67% of Hispanics indicate a preference for social media among other outlets.


Even so, social media should not be our only channel for reaching this community.  We should also include in our tools to disseminate our message local newspapers, TV and radio. According to Covarrubias (2016), the great majority of Spanish-language media outlets in the U.S. are distributed for free and are funded by advertising. These publications tend to highlight positive news from the Hispanic community and avoid perpetuating negative stereotypes, focusing on relevant stories. Those publications’ resulting relevance and reputations in the Hispanic community is a plus for us when we need to share important information and we should use every advantage we have available.  


The research proved that public information officers are adapting to the changes in demographics showed by the United States Census Bureau and considering or adopting new policies to cover all their citizens in case of an emergency. I was happy to see that around the United States, whether in a small town with about 100 Hispanics or a large city with 500,000, PIOs are proactive and engaging with local Spanish speaking media. 


Times are changing and we are changing too. By adapting to the needs of our diverse communities we provide better service to everyone. PIOs are driving inclusion because we know that lives are at risk and we don’t want to lose even one life because of a lack of information. We are committed to our communities and to our duty to disseminate the right message, to the right people, at the right time.


Important Steps to follow 
1. Make an effort to understand Hispanic culture and the particular needs of the Hispanic community, including values, authority models and religiosity. 

2. Recognize the preferred communication models among Hispanics, which is a key consideration for getting our message across.   
3. Adapt communication approaches to meet those needs.


Bethzaida Garcia is a public relations coordinator for the Osceola County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Ana G. Mendez University and a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology and education from Turabo University. 


Los beneficios de incluir a los medios hispanos y a la comunidad hispana en PIO 

Bethzaida García 


Debido al aumento de hispanos en todo el país y según la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos en el 2017, la población hispana en los Estados Unidos es 58.9 milliones haciendo de este grupo la minoría étnica o racial más grande que hace que nuestro campo necesite adaptarse y aceptar esos cambios.  Con el aumento de tragedias naturales y humanas a las que nos enfrentamos es importante utilizar todos los medios de comunicación y métodos de comunicación disponibles para obtener esta información en todas nuestras comunidades, incluyendo los hispanos.  


Después de revisar los trabajos de investigación en español sobre periodismos y cómo llegar a las comunidades hispanas y los resultados de la encuesta es claramente entender que el incluir a la comunidad hispana a través de las redes sociales y los medios de comunicación hispanos pueden convertirse en nuestro aliado número uno para difundir nuestro mensaje a través de esta comunidad durante las emergencias. Tomar en consideración y conocer las necesidades y la cultura de los hispanos siempre nos ayudará a llegar a ellos. Comprender los modelos de comunicación entre los hispanos, sus valores culturales, la autoridad, sus creencias e intereses será una clave para transmitir nuestro mensaje.    


Investigaciones anteriores muestran que, aunque los hispanos consumen todos los tipos de medios, parecen tener una atracción especial por la radio y la televisión, pero la encuesta realizada nos muestra que los tiempos están cambiando y que las redes sociales están recibiendo la mayor parte de la atención de esta comunidad. Con un asombroso 67% de personas que prefieren las redes sociales entre otros medios de comunicación, estableciendo claramente nuestro camino para llegar directamente a esta comunidad.  


Esto nos dio una visión sorprendente, pero no sólo debemos centrarnos en los medios de comunicación social también debemos incluir en nuestras herramientas para difundir nuestro mensaje; periódicos locales, televisión y radio.  Según Covarrubias (2016), la gran mayoría de los medios de comunicación en español en los EE.UU. se distribuyen de forma gratuita y están financiados por la publicidad y destacando noticias positivas de la comunidad hispana y evitan perpetuar estereotipos negativos, centrándose en historias relevantes. Esto es una ventaja para nosotros y debemos usar todo lo que tenemos disponible. La investigación demostró que los PIO se están adaptando a los cambios demográficos mostrados por la Oficina del Censo de los Estados Unidos y considerando adaptar nuevas políticas para cubrir a todos sus ciudadanos en caso de emergencia.   


Me alegró ver que alrededor de eventos en los Estados Unidos así sea en un pueblo pequeño con 100 hispanos o 500,000 todos eran proactivos y se relacionaban con los medios locales de habla hispana. También el hecho de que los hispanos prefirieran las redes sociales entre todos los demás medios de comunicación era esclarecedor. Este hecho nos da un paso adelante a la hora de comunicarnos con la comunidad hispana.   


Los tiempos están cambiando y nosotros también. Estamos acomodándonos y modificando a las necesidades de nuestra diversa comunidad. Los PIO se están adaptando y se están volviendo inclusivos porque sabemos que las vidas están en riesgo y no queremos perder ni siquiera una vida por falta de información, estamos comprometidos con nuestras comunidades y con nuestra línea y deber de PIO para difundir el mensaje correcto, a las personas correctas, en el momento correcto.   


Pasos importantes a seguir 

1. El tomar en consideración y conocer las necesidades y la cultura de los hispanos siempre nos ayudará a llegar a ellos.  

2. Comprender los modelos de comunicación entre los hispanos, sus valores culturales, la autoridad, la religión y el interés será una clave para transmitir nuestro mensaje.    

3. Acomodar y modificar las necesidades de su comunidad

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Lessons from the Newsroom - A Case for the AI-augmented Joint Information Center

Posted By Deborah Grigsby Smith, MPIO, Communications and Media Manager, Centennial Airport , Monday, March 16, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 4, 2020


This is the latest in a series of blogs from graduates of FEMA’s Master Public Information Officer course, highlighting the research they completed over their year-long course of study. NAGC is partnering with FEMA in this effort as part of our shared mission to help government communicators better serve their communities. You can learn more about the Master PIO course and other training at


If you’ve ever worked in a newsroom, then you know there’s a precise flow of information from reporter to editor to publication. And if you’ve also worked in a large joint information center, then you may have noticed there are quite a few similarities.

In both cases, groups of information “gatherers” come together to produce not only content specific to their respective organization or “beat,” if you will, but also content that reflects a larger, more collective and unified voice.

Magic, right?

Well, it was until the amount of information began to exceed the capacity of those tasked with its scrutiny and vetting.

Thus enter technology.

Examples of news-writing algorithms made headlines, literally, in 2014 when digital news editor and computer programmer Ken Schwencke wrote a few lines of code to pull alerts from the U.S. Geological Survey any time an earthquake exceeded a specified magnitude threshold.

The algorithm, called Quakebot, would then extract the relevant data and plug it into a pre-written story template, much like a form letter. On the morning of March 17, 2014, Schwencke was rattled from his slumber by an early morning quake. Instead of diving for cover, he rushed to his laptop where he found a news story about the 4.7 earthquake, already written and waiting in the queue. He quickly proofed the text and hit "publish."

Within three minutes, the story appeared online, making the Los Angeles Times the first media outlet to report the Westwood, California earthquake. It would also make the Los Angeles Times the first major media outlet to publish a news story written entirely—and autonomously—by a “robot reporter.”

Several major news organizations now employ artificial intelligence (AI) storytelling technologies to help them cover more stories — and do it better.

The Washington Post, The Associated Press and The Guardian all leverage the power of AI to plow through mountains of data-rich stories such as corporate earnings, local elections and high school sports.

Besides the ability to crank out short fact-based stories, robot reporters are also quite adept at identifying trends and anomalies in data that might typically be overlooked by a tired and time-constrained human reporter.

The idea is not to replace human reporters but to leverage technology that freed them from routine labor-intensive tasks, enabling them to produce more high-value work.

Whoa! Now you have my attention.

What if there were software packages similar to those AI-based content management systems used in newsrooms that could be adapted for use in the joint information center environment?

Sure there’s WebEOC, but beyond that, there’s not a lot out of technology available to support JICs.

Think about it.

When a medium- to large-scale JIC stands up, public information officers show up, each with their toolbox comprised of a collection of template documents and some off-the-shelf items such as social media monitoring platforms or Google docs.

Then we hustle to stitch together something on the fly.

We, as public information officers, are looking at a tipping point.

Can we continue to use a traditional workflow in the age of social media tampering and bots to deliver the right message to the right people at the right time?

I say we need some help, and that help should be in the form of a custom, scalable AI-based content management system designed for the joint information environment, similar to those used in newsrooms.

Let's face it — it’s time we come into our own as public information officers who are expected to work quickly and competently in an information-saturated emergency environment.

While I’m not exactly sure what this tool would look like, I felt strongly enough about its potential — and need — to explore it as part of my Master Public Information Officer research requirement.

I looked at three case studies of major newsrooms and how they employed AI-based storytelling tools within their news flow using robot reporters. The results were surprisingly positive. Efficiency and accuracy soared, and reporters were free to go about more in-depth and high-value stories.

While research among working public information and communications professionals indicated most are not ready to completely relinquish control and publication of messaging to an algorithm, all survey respondents indicated a strong interest in the need for a specialized content management tool for the JIC.

Who will fund it? Who will create it?

I don’t know — yet.

That’s what I’m hoping my research helps flush out.

However, while I cross my fingers for help from both public and private sector entities, here are three ways you, as a public information leader, can begin to prepare yourself and your organization for our inevitable working relationship with AI.

Accept the fact you’re already working closely with AI

It’s here, and it’s made itself at home in almost every facet of our lives. Like it or not, as a public information officer AI already plays a very big role in your job—starting with the smartphone you most likely have in your hand now. Need to get to your next interview? Chances are you’ll use a navigation app that will offer the most expeditious route as well as predict your arrival time. Taking Lift or Uber? That spike in your fare comes from an algorithm that uses data points such as driver supply and demand, the length and duration of your trip, and traffic density along the route to your destination.

Planning to catch up on current events along the way? A growing amount of news is not not only selected for you using AI, but it’s actually written for you by an algorithm or more fondly known as a “robot reporter.” And those social media feeds you monitor? Yup, driven by AI and fueled by bots—autonomous software applications that interact with users, and some, like Siri, even emulate human conversation.

Technology will continue to accelerate communication at an incredible rate, and as professional — and trusted—creators and curators of public information, it’s crucial we’re prepared to lead in a technology-literate world.

Educate yourself now

No, this doesn’t mean you need a degree in artificial intelligence, but it does mean you should muster a basic understanding of what it is, how it works, and how it may impact you as a public communicator. Used well, this tool can be a big help.

Don’t be late to the game on this one.

Explore how the private sector leverages the power of artificial intelligence. Marketing and public relations firms — as well as newsrooms — have embraced the advantage AI-based tools provide. Whether it is in-depth market intelligence or automating routine tasks, algorithms help firms plow through mountains of data, quickly. They can detect trends and anomalies often missed under deadline. Smooth-running content management systems ensure proper checks and balances and provide valuable analytics.

Reach out to universities that offer workshops and classes. Ask private sector firms for information and a free trial of their product. Provide them with feedback: what you like,

what you don’t like, and what doesn’t make sense. Talk to them about what you do use and how their product could better serve you.

Put money in your budget now

If you’ve taken the time to educate yourself, then you know that technology is not cheap, and it changes — constantly. Put money in your budget now for training and consulting. Depending on how big, small or complicated your organization is, make sure they start seeing these types of line items sooner rather than later. Sure, these line items may get scratched, but the value of putting them on the radar will be beneficial and strengthen your case when the time comes.

DEBORAH GRIGSBY SMITH was hired in 2014 as Centennial Airport’s (KAPA) first communications manager and public information officer. She manages and directs much of the Englewood, CO-based airport’s external communications and media relations efforts. A former print journalist, photographer, and veteran of both Gulf wars, Deborah’s areas of expertise include social media, crisis communications, media relations, and feature-writing. During her tenure at Centennial Airport, social media engagement and earned media coverage increased dramatically. Deborah serves as the communications chair for the Northwest Chapter of the American Association of Airport Executives. She holds three Colorado Press Association Awards and in 2017 was nominated by the Emergency Services Public Information Officers of Colorado as Small Agency Public Information Officer of the Year. She is recently completed the Master Public Information Officer candidate at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She resides in Englewood, CO with her pilot husband and half-tailed cat, WeeGee.

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Trolls and the Toll on the Social Media Bridge of Communications

Posted By Brandi Bates Whitehurst, Santa Rosa County (Florida) Public Information Office, Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Social media is fast, cheap, easy, engaging, measurable, effective and highly interactive. When it goes well, public information officers followers can significantly help with dissemination of a message by sharing posts with their friends and in groups, but this benefit is not without some risk.Social media may serve well as a bridge of communications between agencies and the public they serve, but predators can lurk under that bridge in the form of trolls. 


Trolls are identified as those who exhibit antisocial behavior using aggression and deception in an online forum to cause conflict and disruption.  I was intrigued by the reasons some find pleasure in trolling after personally being targeted on social media. Following the submission of my paper “Trolls and Their Toll on the Social Media Bridge of Communications,” several of the social media accounts I managed garnered strong negative feedback after a controversial local issue was placed on the ballot. I found the research I conducted months before to be very helpful in balancing the citizens’ First Amendment rights to public comment with my responsibility to keep our social media platforms a safe place. This work attempts to give a better understanding of the troll, as well as share tactics utilized by public information officers (PIOs) to mitigate against them.   


Trolls are not just anyone who disagrees with you on social media. Trolls are users who enjoy confusing a message and take pleasure in provoking individuals and/or agencies online. Could anyone have the potential to be a troll? And, if so, what brings out the troll in a person? The “online disinhibition effect” popularized by psychologist John Suler details how social media can expose different sides of people. On the positive side, the effect can give the introverted the courage to share thoughtful feedback in a public forum. Conversely, it can encourage outrageous opinions one would never say in person. Most social media managers have witnessed how quickly a seemingly innocuous post can go down in flames under the attack of a troll. The research literature I reviewed indicated trolls think they are funny, often feel they are smarter than others, and sometimes troll simply because they are bored.  


Why does this matter? Why not let haters hate? Well, simply because you need to protect your public. What you permit, you promote. Your own social media platforms can become breeding grounds for trolls if not mitigated. The prevalence of negative posts sets the stage for more negative posts, and sites that develop a reputation of being routinely trolled are more inclined to stay that way. A hostile environment will turn off a large percentage of your public and, thus, you will lose all the great benefits of fast, cheap, interactive message delivery that social media offers. 


How do you best mitigate against trolls? 

  1. As Aristotle said, "the antidote for fifty enemies is one friend.” Having loyal fan base  that can come to the support of your agency when negative comments are posted is a great way to shut down trolls and put your social media platform back on a more positive trackMany posts that attract negative comments will self-moderate and supportive followers will speak out against those who post disruptive, off-topic or offensive comments.

  2.  Get a third-party social media archiving service. While most PIOs have a social media policy stating what they permit and do not permit in their posts, remarkably, more than half of the PIOs surveyed did not have a professional social media archiving service which is just as (if not more) important. Several responded as using screenshots for archiving, however, screenshots will miss comments to posts that are deleted by the poster. In Florida, which has one of the country’s most stringent public records laws, anything posted to the site is subject to public records request including comments by others. As public sector agencies are obligated to maintain transparency, with exception of posts that are there isno luxury of deleting posts or comments despite how inappropriate they may be. Considering followers canedit or delete their comments within seconds of submitting them, an automatic archiving system offers a valuable service in retaining those records even if they are deleted before the moderator is alerted they were posted.

  3.  Make a social media monitoring planwith your team to prevent burnout. In my survey of 150 public information officers, I asked how many team member managedthe respondent’s social media accounts, but more importantly would have been a question as to how many hours each PIO worked on his or her accounts outside traditional work hours. In my experience, monitoring social media is a task completed first thing upon wakening and the last thing before sleep, every single day, with many quick checks throughout the day. Helping leadership appreciate the time and energy required for monitoring and moderating a platform that never sleeps is an important step in improving working conditions for the social media manager. As a manager of support staff, I have seen the toll constant checking of social media – especially during a contentious time – can take your team. Setting a monitoring schedule with ample downtime is critical for your well-being.


Social media is constantly evolving. Developing a definitive set of legal guidelines for the management of negative posts would not be easily done, but would offer better protection for those who make the determinations on how to mitigate the damage of trolls, while still being mindful of the citizens’ First Amendment rights. Additionally, a better understanding of social media in general would be helpful for elected officials, policy makers, and leadership. Despite the risks of troll attacks, social media is still an invaluable tool for disseminating public information. The social media manager of a public agency must endeavor to stay abreast of the latest tools and best practices for using this communications bridge, all while maintaining a watchful eye for the trolls who lurk beneath. 



Brandi Bates is an experienced local government public information officer with a demonstrated history of working in crisis communications as well as non-profit and the private sector. Skilled in social media, web content management, community and media relations, marketing, public involvement, design and photography/videography, Brandi oversees Santa Rosa County’s public information office, promoting the plans, programs and policies of the board of county commissioners.  


During large scale disasters, Brandi deploys with the Northwest Florida All-Hazards Incident Management Team as their public information officer. She served in Pasco, Clay and Collier counties during the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and Washington and Bay counties in 2018 following Hurricane Michael. She is also a FEMA Incident Command System (ICS) instructor, training responders and support personnel in public information and basic ICS courses.  


Brandi graduated from FEMA's Master Public Information Officer Program in September and was recently recognized as the Florida Public Relations Association Pensacola Area Chapter’s Communicator of the Year for 2019. 

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From Artificial Intelligence to Media Trolls, NAGC is Bringing You Access to the Latest in Government Communications Research

Posted By Scott Thomsen, President-elect, NAGC , Wednesday, March 4, 2020

In support of our mission to recognize excellence and promote professional development among government communicators, NAGC is collaborating with the Master Public Information Officer program taught by FEMA at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Maryland, to give you access to new, focused research in support of government communications. 


Recent graduates of the program are sharing their capstone research with NAGC so other government communicators can learn from their findings and apply it to their work. This partnership demonstrates the strong reputation of your association and yet another of the many benefits of being a member of NAGC.  


In the months ahead, we’ll be sharing research on engaging Hispanic communities, effective communications for the deaf community, an artificial intelligence-augmented Joint Information Center and more. 


First up is a look at the impact that trolls have on the social media bridge of communications with our communities by Brandi Bates Whitehurst. 


Brandi is an experienced local government public information officer with a demonstrated history of working in crisis communications as well as non-profit and the private sector. Skilled in social media, web content management, community and media relations, marketing, public involvement, design and photography/videographyBrandi oversees the Santa Rosa County (Florida) Public Information Office, promoting the plans, programs and policies of the board of county commissioners.  


During large scale disasters, Brandi deploys with the Northwest Florida All-Hazards Incident Management Team as their public information officer. She served in Pasco, Clay and Collier counties during the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and Washington and Bay counties in 2018 following Hurricane Michael. She is also a FEMA Incident Command System (ICS) instructor, training responders and support personnel in public information and basic ICS courses.  


I know this series will deliver insights that will help you serve your communities. If there are other areas that you are interested in learning about or experiences with key lessons learned that you would like to share with your colleagues throughout the association, we would love to hear from you. 

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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, 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
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


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 and let us know how you’d like to help. Want to talk it out? Contact me at

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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