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).

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Training Webinar - Reach New Audiences through Online Training; June 30 @ 2pm EST

Reach New Audiences through Online Training

Microassist presents a training webinar entitled "Reach New Audiences through Online Training." This webinar is sponsored by FCN and will be on Thursday, June 30 at 2pm EST.

During this 60-minute presentation, Microassist’s Senior Learning Architect Dr. Kevin Gumienny presents a different way of looking at online training, taking its traditional role beyond internal professional development to using it to reach new audiences.

You’ll learn:
• When and why training can be more effective than other outreach methods
• How both public- and private-sector organizations use online training to reach broad audiences
• Factors to consider when using training as outreach

Learn more about the webinar and register here.

About the Speaker

Dr. Kevin GumiennyDr. Kevin Gumienny leads the Microassist instructional design team. He’s developed online, instructor-led, and blended learning solutions, including courses for the Department of Information Resources, the Department of Public Safety, and the Military Child Education Coalition. Before arriving at Microassist, Dr. Gumienny developed courses for the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Stony Brook University. He has worked on courses for the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Southwest Electrical Metering Association, American Public Works Association, and National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing. He has a passion for sharing skills and techniques and has delivered presentations at several conferences.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Upcoming In-Person Training on 5/18/16 - Telling Your Agency's Story Through Visual Content

Picture This:
Telling Your Agency's Story Through Visual Content

Every agency has a great story to tell. By integrating visual aids into their marketing tactics, federal communicators can produce compelling and effective content that will add value to their agency's brand.

Please join the Federal Communicators Network and the Partnership for Public Service on Wednesday, May 18 for a conversation on how visual content can enhance your agency's story. By using photos, videos, infographics and more, agencies can cut through the noise and demonstrate the full scope of their work. During this event, attendees will hear from a panel of communicators from both the public and private sector who have come up with effective ways to tell their organization’s or client’s story.

Please contact Katie Koziara at or (202) 464-3094 if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing you at this event.

Confirmed Panelists 

Stephanie Bluma
Deputy Assistant Administrator
Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs, USAID

Anthony Calabrese
Senior Advisor
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Amy DeLouise
Independent Digital Storyteller and Brand Strategist

Event Details

The Partnership for Public Service
1100 New York Ave NW
Suite 200 East
Washington, DC 20005

Wednesday, May 18
8:30 - 9:00 a.m. Registration and Networking Breakfast
9:00 - 10:00 a.m. Panel Discussion
10:00 - 10:30 a.m. Q & A

Monday, March 21, 2016

FCN Spring Happy Hour/Networking Event in DC!

by Lisa Chesnel, Community Programs Specialist, USDA

Please join FCN for a Spring happy hour/networking event on Wednesday, March 23 at 5:00 p.m.:

Buffalo Wild Wings 
1220 Half Street Southeast
Washington, DC  20003

Please click here to register.

Thanks and we hope to see you there!!

--FCN Leadership Team

Friday, March 4, 2016

FCN National Happy Hour on March 23, 2016 -- We need your help!


We’ve got an exciting event planned on March 23, 2016 and we need your help!

As you know, this year the FCN leadership team has expanded outside of the DC metro area. John Donovan is our blogger and works for the CDC in Atlanta. We’re very excited to have John as part of the team this year and we’re planning an outreach activity that involves all our members, not just the ones here in the DC metro area.

So, we’re planning something we haven’t done before…a nationwide happy hour!

If you’re a member and live somewhere other than DC we need your help!  We need you to coordinate and promote a happy hour in your area on March 23. We’re hoping the happy hours will help spread the word about FCN and increase our membership across the country. If you’re interested, please send a personal email to: 

We’re excited about these happy hours and they’ll take place during March Madness so hopefully you can catch a game as well.

We will keep you posted on the times and locations soon.

We look forward to planning with you!

--Lisa Chesnel
Outreach Coordinator, FCN Leadership Team

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Survey of Federal Communicators Reveals Challenges, Opportunities

First-ever Survey “by Feds, for Feds,” Shows How Communication Professionals View Current State of Their Profession

Innovation in communication methods should be the number one priority for federal agencies today, according to the newly released results of a Federal Communicators Network (FCN) poll. It is the first survey ever to be commissioned “by federal, career communicators for federal communicators” to assess the state of the federal communications field.

For this research project, FCN polled its 800+ members as well as the nearly 1,000+ members of the Federal Social Media Community of Practice (SM-COP), between February 14-29, 2016. A total of 167 employees responded to the survey. 

A Range of Critical Issues
Asked to rank the theme areas covered in the survey specifically, respondents (n=147) prioritized the “critically” or “somewhat” important issues as follows:

  • “Being more innovative” - 86.9%
  • “Moving to a more proactive role” - 85.7%
  • “Securing more resources for communication” - 81.0%
  • “Developing a more rigorous communication program” - 81.0%
  • “Sharing best practices and other resources between agencies” - 75.3%

The concepts for these top five theme areas crystallized over a period of approximately three months, based on several informal brainstorming sessions sponsored by the FCN and attended by hundreds of career, non-partisan employees across the spectrum of government. (All opinions expressed by members are those of employees themselves, and did not represent those of their agencies.)

Engagement by the Partnership for Public Service

At a meeting held in Washington, D.C. on February 26 to discuss the study’s findings, the Partnership for Public Service’s Director of the Center for Presidential Transition David Eagles praised the FCN for its excellent work, highlighting its national security aspects.

“Transition is a period of vulnerability for the country,” said Eagles. “When you’re exiting the White House on Inauguration Day, who do you talk to?”

Eagles noted that federal communication is vital for public service “in a way that’s not political.” He emphasized: “It’s just smart planning to make the transition process more standardized (rather than having)...a very reactive conversation.”

High-Level Solutions

Attendees at the FCN meeting engaged in a brainstorming exercise to discuss the results of the FCN Survey. The job for each group was to offer solutions to the problem and at least three ways of implementing the solution.

Although it is too soon to offer a comprehensive view of these suggestions, one factor stood out: “data.”  As one participant put it: “Get a seat at the table, offer hard data, connect activities to the mission, and show the value of what you do.”

Next Steps

For the remainder of this spring, FCN writers and graphic designers will be working together to summarize the survey’s findings as well as recommendations from federal communicators themselves, in a white paper planned for release in the fall.