If there wasn’t enough to do already as a municipal manager, the list just got longer. There is one issue quickly jumping to the top: improving communications and public relations with the community you serve.
You can talk all day about the new world economy and the Internet that connects us all, but the reality is that most people’s lives function within the limited borders of towns and cities. It’s the roads we travel to the store to purchase groceries and hardware supplies. It’s trips to the local school to pick up little Susie or Junior, and it’s those same roads that take us to the local park on the weekends, where the kids love to play while we parents sip sodas in the shade.
Yes, it’s in the midst of this international, information overload that we as municipal mangers need to get our message out, louder and clearer than ever before. There is much to communicate: services, where to get them and how they function; safety issues for the good of our community; and information about the parks and recreational facilities available for everyone. All this with a little PR twist to show what a great job our civil servants are doing. Hey, if you don’t show them and tell them, how will they know?
I’m sure you could make an even longer and more accurate list and you should do so of what’s not clearly articulated to your community but should be. For now, let’s look at the number one rule of communications: The medium is the message.
Professional vs. frugal
Never has this adage been truer. As mentioned above, you are competing with the world at the doorstep. The old “just have Betty, the secretary, put something together and run out a bunch of copies” won’t cut it. I’ve known many public servants over the years who actually thought that a job poorly done communicated frugality and sensitivity to taxpayer funds. In reality, what their throw-together piece was saying is: “This wasn’t important enough to do well, and we don’t really know what the heck we’re doing anyway. Period.” Everything must be done in excellence.
I know … you have a hundred other things you’re required to do, and now I’m telling you that you’re not doing your job because you’re not a communications expert. The answer? Subcontract.
Just as you are an expert in your field, find experts to help you communicate your message. They are out there, and the price may be way less than you imagined. I know, because I’m one of them.
Newsletter, website, video
The project I suggest first is a quarterly newsletter. This should be no more than four pages in length, printed in four-color process on glossy paper. Photos should be large and taken professionally, and articles should be short, well written and well edited. If your budget can afford it, this should be mailed to every taxpayer. If your city is too large to mail to everyone, print off thousands of copies and get it into as many hands and institutions as possible.
The next medium of great importance is an excellent website. This is the digital age: Folks can visit your town from anywhere in the world. What kind of impression does your site make?
As with the newsletter, I suggest large, professional photos and short, well-written articles that are expertly edited. The website should be simplified in its message so that it’s easy for newcomers to navigate. It also should be updated on a regular basis. You have to give people a reason to come back to your site.
This leads to the next medium, which is videos. These should be no more than two or three minutes in length. Have several produced, and release them one at a time: again, to give people a reason to come back to your site. Don’t go “old school” and produce some 10-minute piece with a boring voiceover. There should be happy, upbeat music with plenty of footage of folks enjoying your clean, safe and well-run town. That’s a powerful message.
You’ll be amazed at how a great video catches fire on smartphones and other digital devices. Your Web hits will go up by thousands.
These are just three examples of ways to improve communications and PR with the community you serve. Remember that public relations is just that: it’s a relationship, not salesmanship. You’re making the statement with these mediums that you care enough about the members of the community to communicate with them, and that everything you do is done in excellence.
When people see and hear about good things happening in their community, they’re friendlier, towns are safer and the economy thrives as folks want to be a part of this kind of synergy. Now that’s a job well done.
Next month: How great communication and PR encourage economic development, and a little more about mediums including social media.
Troy Kidder is a former assistant town manager, former school teacher and a communications and PR professional. He serves communities across the country with communications and public relations solutions. His website is www.kiddermedia.com, or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.