Friday, October 7, 2016

Recording, Slide Deck posted for "What Do You Mean? Communicate Using Plain Language"

A big thank you to the Partnership for Public Service for helping organize "What Do You Mean? Communicate Using Plain Language" on 10/6/16.

Resources from the event have been posted and can be found at the following links:

Save the date for the Partnership for Public Service's next event on February 7, 2017. Questions? Contact Katie Koziara at or (202) 464-3094.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Slides Posted for "Best Practices in Digital Communications from Canadian, UK, and US Governments"

Many thanks to the participants on the webinar "Best Practices in Digital Communications from Canadian, UK, and US Governments" - Laura Wesley, Cormac Smith, Fran Cavanagh, Adam Thorndike, and David Kaufman.

In addition, thank you to all the sponsors for this webinar. Thank you to the Communications Community Office in Canada, Government Communication Service within the United Kingdom, and the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States.


Government of Canada
Government of the United Kingdom
Government of the United States
**Note: The slides can also be found on Google Drive **


A recording for the webinar can be found here

Description of the Webinar

A previous post describing the webinar

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Slides posted for webinar "Picture This: Telling Your Agency's Story Through Visual Content"

Note: for more information on this webinar, here is another post on our blog

Many thanks to the Partnership for Public Service, the participating presenters, and the many attendees of this exciting presentation.

Questions? Please contact Katie Koziara at

Webinar: 9/14/16 -- Best Practices in Digital Communications from Canadian, UK, and US Governments

September 14, 2016; 11am-12pm EST

Are governments leading, following or just trying to catch up in informing and engaging with citizens in a digital world? Find out how the governments of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States are working to meet the digital communications challenge.

The first event in the 2016 International Webinar Series will look at analytics, stakeholder identification and engagement as well as provide examples of specific digital initiatives and/or campaigns. 

The webinar will explore how governments are:
  • Applying a digital by default approach to citizen communications;
  • Targeting and mapping their audiences;
  • Moving well beyond simply adapting traditional products to digital formats; and,
  • Embracing innovative approaches to digital marketing and communications that go beyond promoting just a brand.

About the Presenters

Government of Canada

Laura Wesley, Executive Director, Consultations and Public Engagement, Office of the Privy Council

As a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Privy Council in the Government of Canada, Laura Wesley was a member of the Digital Communications Project team created in 2015 to support the Government of Canada's communication function in making the transition to a digital by default approach. Previously, she worked in various change initiatives at the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. She has since become the Executive Director, Consultations and Public Engagement which entails tracking, coordinating and communicating the governments’ efforts to involve citizens and stakeholders in government activities and decisions.

With over a dozen years’ experience working in government, Laura has a strong interest in human motivation and contributing to the building of a results-based and people-focused work culture. Her experience in systems change and human-centered design make her a sought after speaker and author. You can tweet questions or comments to her @resultsjunkie.

Government of the United Kingdom

Fran Cavanagh, Insight Manager, Home Office
Fran is an Insight Manager at the Home Office (UK Government). She designs online discussion monitoring and web analytics strategies and best practice within the Home Office's Strategic Communications Unit, and also consults on projects for policy and operational teams across a wide range of issues including Immigration, Violence Against Women and Girls, and Crime. Before working in government she was a private sector Consultant on online strategy and measurement for several large international clients.
Fran's work focuses on the ways in which people use online media to communicate and engage with content. She has wide experience of analysis tools and techniques and a strong interest in how they can be used to illuminate trends in public opinion, community interactions and technology usage.

Adam Thorndike, Senior Campaigns and Digital Manager, Cabinet Office

Adam Thorndike is Senior Campaigns and Digital Manager, Cabinet Office. He is a trained journalist who has worked in digital communications across both the public and private sector for the last eight years. He was the Global Social media Manager for Regus before moving into a government role to coordinate social media for the Department for Work and Pensions. He is now heading up digital activity for the UK Civil Service from the Cabinet Office in London.

Government of the United States

David Kaufman, U.S. Digital Service

David Kaufman joined the United States Digital Service at the White House in February of 2016, to work on communications, brand, and public engagement. Prior to joining the U.S. Digital Service, David led marketing at Halo Neuroscience, an Andreessen Horowitz backed startup developing neurotechnology for elite athletes. Previously, he spent nearly five years at Google, most recently managing brand marketing and creative development in Google [x].

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Advancing Federal Communications" research paper released - call for volunteers

On Tuesday 9/13/16 at 8:30am EST, the FCN Professional Standards Working Group will present findings on the research paper "Advancing Federal Government Communications". You are invited to attend this discussion!


Today, August 2, 2016, the Federal Communicators Network (FCN) officially released "Advancing Federal Communications," a research paper that makes the case for clear and consistent quality standards for U.S. federal government communication.

The result of a grassroots, volunteer study among an interagency group of government communicators, the paper incorporates extensive primary and secondary research and includes a set of concrete recommendations for improvement.

In keeping with the FCN's guiding spirit of independent self-help at no cost to the public, the group has formed a Professional Standards Working Group to initiate standards development, governance, and outreach related to the goal of developing the "common core" of expectations that federal communicators need.

Due to the complex nature of this undertaking and the distribution of minimal time commitments among volunteers, FCN anticipates this process unfolding over a period of years. To move it forward, a small standards development project in the area of personal use of social media is now underway.

FCN welcomes all volunteers eligible to participate. If you are a federal employee or contractor with a dot-gov or dot-mil email address and wish to participate, contact There is never any fee to participate.

Related Links:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Government Communicators: Focus on Event Photography - by Ann Ramsey

Press conferences, roundtables, ceremonies, public observances: these types of events are familiar material for the government communicator.  Want to step up your game? Use photography. If you need great content—and who doesn't?—consider partnering with your staff photographer. The photos he or she shoots will make engaging visuals that you can turn into quality content.

But partnering with your staff photographer has more advantages than meet the eye:
  • History. Christopher Smith, staff photographer at the Department of Health & Human Services, has worked through many Administrations, knows the principals of the Department and their schedulers intimately, and can anticipate their photo requirements. Plus, he can locate past event photos going back many years. For commemorative projects, his image repository is a goldmine.
  • Economy. No licensing fees are required when you publish your agency’s own photos, nor are permissions required to cover an open-press or public event. Photography makes an effective complement to video; if your budget doesn’t allow for video coverage, photography can work wonders all by itself. Professional photographers are available on a day-rate virtually anywhere, if you have none on staff.
  • Authenticity. Stock photography is polished, inexpensive and convenient, yet has its limits. Viewers may "tune out" stock shots unconsciously as being promotional. When it comes to events, images of real faces and places have the edge over stock shots for authenticity—a priority for every government communicator.
  • Quality. Professionals are equipped for the job. Lighting and special lenses can overcome obstacles such as dim rooms, cramped conditions, or far-off podiums. As important, professional photographers have been trained to tell a story or evoke a mood in one frame. 
Here are a couple of examples: 

Group portrait - HHS Staff

For a group portrait at a conference, HHS staff photographer Christopher Smith brought a light-stand and wide-angle lens, and posed the subjects. The image of the group-members together, sporting their cause-related wristbands, evokes a sense of team spirit.

HHS Secretary Burwell

Equipment and know-how really make a difference. In a candid shot of HHS Secretary Burwell at a feedback session, our eye is drawn to her face by the photographer's use of selective focus and a long lens.


Staff photographers' role expanding

Traditionally, staff photographers cover any number of events, most often to provide visuals for the media and for archival purposes. But the role of the photographer is expanding with the new media formats in use today.
  • Social media. Many professional-grade digital cameras now have Wi-Fi connectivity, making immediacy an option. Well-composed photographs are eye-catchers for posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or other social media sites, whether in real time or afterwards. With photographs, your posts can be picked up by image-based search engines such as Google Images.
  • Electronic press releases, blogs and websites. A clear, relevant photograph helps hook audiences of your agency’s electronic press releases, blogs or Websites, where the event can be explained in detail. Putting a text caption or headline with the photo clarifies immediately what is being shown.
  • Tools for partners and stakeholders. When sending pre-event announcements to partners and stakeholders, you might attach downloadable photographs for them to re-use as tools in getting the word out. If there are too many photos to attach, hyperlink email recipients to where the photos are stored (Flickr, Dropbox, an FTP site, etc.).

Ready to go to work?

A professional photographer will reliably produce quality material, and be a godsend when you’re working out image selection, distribution and archiving. 

Here are some tips for effectively directing your staff photographer: 

  • In advance: For smooth planning, inform the photographer of the advance team, event location, best arrival time, and any parking and security issues. Explain what the interior lighting is likely to be, and whether any exterior shots are needed. Provide the event rundown if possible, including any special access to VIPs or arrangements being made for the media. This helps your photographer set up for the shoot.
  • Before the event starts: Tell the photographer what your needs are. According to Christopher Smith, pros don’t need much detail. “I can plan what needs to be shot for most events," Christopher says. "What I really need to know is who the principals are, where and when the photos will be used, and whether anything special is going to happen at the event. For example, if the speaker is going to show a report or a plaque from the podium, and I know ahead of time, I can remind the presenter to hold it up for a few moments so I can get the perfect shot.”  For shooting format, Christopher finds the medium-resolution JPEG setting efficient for editing and storing.
  • At the event: Assist the photographer with any logistical matters. Help him or her to anticipate what comes next, and where. Indicate anything you would like covered that you may not have mentioned. After that, get out of the way. If you allow photographers to handle the shoot in their own way, you are likely to get the best material.
  • After the event: Give the photographer any details needed for assigning metadata. Specify what deliverables you need. A folder with a few selections? A Flickr download of the whole shoot? Some prints to distribute? Your digital media team will know how best to optimize photo formats for different social media platforms. If you are your own graphics department, here's a guide. Keeping file sizes small will ensure easy loading on line. Again, if you have no digital experts on hand, try using iPhoto, or access a free compression tool like Image Optimizer.
  • WAY after the event: Lest we forget, our friends at NARA in College Park will ultimately want to add our event photographs to the 8 million shots already archived. Keep your photos organized. It will save headaches later.
FCN member Ann Ramsey contributed this blog post. She is a Senior Video Producer at the US Department of Health & Human Services in Washington, DC.

If you are interested in blogging for FCN, contact us.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

FCN Presents Research Findings to the National Association of Government Communicators - By Dannielle Blumenthal, PhD

FCN NAGC Panel Photo
FCN panelists discuss the background and development of “Advancing Federal Government Communications.” From left to right: Jackye Zimmermann, U.S. Department of Education; Lisa Chesnel, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Aubrey McMahan, FCN Chair, U.S. Geological Survey; Joseph Coslett, Defense Information School; Jeff Brooke, the MITRE Corporation; and Dave Hebert, U.S. Geological Survey. (All opinions are the panelists’ own and do not represent those of their respective agencies.)

“Enough fleas biting any dog can really make them move.”
- Marion Wright Edelman, Founder & President, Children's Defense Fund

Beginning in October 2015, working under the banner of the Federal Communicators Network (FCN), a group of federal communicators banded together. They work in half a dozen federal agencies across the federal government, but don’t officially represent any of them. Their goal was singular: to examine the state of their own profession, in the context of the many issues and trends affecting it.

By June 2016, the group had engaged dozens of colleagues in an intensive effort to examine the present and envision the future of federal communications. That research project--spanning months of brainstorming sessions, a survey, and primary and secondary research--was the subject of a panel discussion at the annual National Association of Government Communicators’ (NAGC) annual Communications School, held from June 7-9 in Washington, D.C.

Onstage to discuss the resulting white paper, “Advancing Federal Government Communications,” were key figures in the effort. They included Aubrey McMahan, 2016 FCN Chair (U.S. Geological Survey), along with steering committee members Lisa Chesnel (U.S. Department of Agriculture), Dave Hebert (USGS), Joseph Coslett (Defense Information School), Jackye Zimmermann (U.S. Department of Education), and Jeff Brooke, special advisor (the MITRE Corporation).

The group talked about its experiences working on the project, and offered a summary of the key findings in the forthcoming white paper (the executive summary can be found on Google Drive here). One of the most significant: While professionals have a clear sense of performance standards personally, they perceive government-wide expectations and standards to be sorely lacking.

Accordingly, FCN recommendations and next steps focus squarely on developing recognized standards of excellence, similar to other initiatives to improve the state of government information technology, project management, and customer service.

As the panelists spoke, audience members nodded their heads frequently. They took to the microphone to share individual experiences as well. One related that her scope of duties spanned media relations, congressional relations, web and social media - but that she did not report to Communications. Another talked of having subject matter experts attempting to determine what "good communication" is, even though they were scientists and not writers.

Listening to these stories elicited a strong reaction in Coslett, "Seeing the same frustration and passion we have from the folks in the room really validated our research."

Added McMahan, "Standardization could help to create a more unified voice across agencies, which would help the public better understand what the government as a whole is doing.

Said Chesnel, "We need to develop more formal parameters for communication messaging as well, to make sure that the public, the media, the Congress and all interested parties get the quality information they need."

Given that the presidential campaign is in full swing, Brooke offered these thoughts: "With the upcoming change in administration, it is more important than ever to describe your capabilities to new appointees. Some new leaders may not have had a communication staff before. If you don’t frame and demonstrate your role as a strategic partner, they might assume your job is to just produce communication products on request."

After the session, the panelists reported a great deal of positive feedback from attendees. For her part, Zimmermann felt the same way about them, noting, "Federal agencies have highly committed and well-trained communications staff. It is the lack of clarity and structure around the communications function itself that is the problem, as well as the often-shaky collaborative relationship between career civil servants and political appointees as they work to communicate agencies’ priorities, initiatives and resources. Also, those in career SES positions could help a great deal by enlisting the assets of career communications professionals to reach agency goals.”

In the survey, communicators reported that they were stifled from expressing their creativity, even as they were expected to innovate. This is a well-known phenomenon; in response, FCN has long engaged external organizations to share best practices so that Feds can "import" them to their own agencies. In fact, so many respondents to the research survey asked for more collaboration that Hebert wished aloud for a (G-rated) Tinder-style "partnership app" to make it easier.

The fact that the panel convened at NAGC's conference was appropriate, said John Verrico, President of NAGC and a 35-year veteran in public affairs. (Verrico was a member of the FCN's research team/steering committee and invited the panel to share the findings.)

Verrico said, “I have been proud to work with FCN on this important project, for there is nothing more important to the future of our career field than to be recognized as the professionals we are, to have a clear career path, and to have standards for how the public affairs and communication skill sets are applied across government."

Picture of Danielle Blumenthal
Dr. Blumenthal (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs), FCN Chair from 2011-2012, served as principal co-writer of “Advancing Federal Government Communications,” along with Jeff Brooke (MITRE), who served as FCN Chair from 2006-2011. Other members of the writing team included Jacque Mason (U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration), who served as team lead; Lisa Chesnel (U.S. Department of Agriculture), Saudia Muwwakkil (General Services Administration), Donna Ledbetter (Federal Bureau of Prisons), and Sharon Mitri (National Institutes of Health).