Wednesday, December 31, 2014

FCN 2014 recap

Posted December 31, 2014 by Britt Ehrhardt, FCN 2014 Co-Chair

Headshot photo of Britt Ehrhardt in a suit jacket


As the year wraps up, please join me in thanking the 2014 FCN leadership team for their service. They have labored mightily on your behalf over the past months, and we’ve all benefited from their work. Check out their names and accomplishments below.

Dave Hebert of USGS and I have been honored to be your co-chairs for the past two years, and we are excited to pass the reins to the new team. It’s clear to me and everyone else who knows them that the new FCN co-chairs Cori Bassett and Deb Harris will be leading FCN to great things in 2015. See their leadership team bios and exciting plans.

Here are some highlights:

·         In the past two years, we grew membership by 45% to 725 people and transitioned to a list-serv—so you can reach out to your gov comms peers directly. Yasmine Kloth of NIH, Dave, and I supported list management and member services. And thanks to ALL of you for sharing such great information with the list.

·         We forged many new partnerships to bring you 10 events serving more than 1,500 attendees. If you missed some, check out our archives and materials from trainings. Our event with the U.S. Access Board and the Federal CIO Council Accessibility Community of Practice was the most popular. And our trilateral events with the UK’s Government Communication Service, Canada’s Communications Community Office, and GSA’s DigitalGovUniversity were not far behind. Deb Harris of DFAS put on one of our best reviewed events, an in-person writing training, Dave and Cori Bassett of DHS moderated great panels and appeared on the radio(!), I wore myself out event planning, and many others were involved.

·         Ethan Alpern of USGS started our Promote a Friend effort and also recruited our very first FCN summer intern, among other great accomplishments.

·         Sara Crocoll of NIH, Lisa Wilcox of USDA, and I took shifts on the FCN blog, publishing 25 posts on a bunch of interesting and helpful topics and moderating comments. Did you see the post from Canada’s Communications Community Office about how the government of Canada is retiring the traditional press release?

·         Deb Harris and I managed the FCN conversation on LinkedIn, where we’ve almost tripled participation in the past two years. And Deb also implemented a member survey, in which you told us about the services you wanted. And let’s not forget FCN on Twitter either—thanks for your help, Sara!

Happy new year, everyone!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

2015 Leadership Team Elected

Posted on: December 18, 2014

The results are in! Please welcome your 2015 FCN leadership team and join me in congratulating them on their election. You’ve elected some awfully accomplished and enthusiastic leaders, and their biographies and statements are below.

Cori Bassett, DHS/ICE
Deb Harris, DFAS

Activity Coordinators
Aubrey McMahan, USGS
Bernetta Reese, USDA
Britt Ehrhardt, NIH
Latasha Blackmond, USCIS
Lisa Chesnel, PeaceCorps
Suki Baz, National Park Service
Thanks to all who participated in nominations and voting. The competition for positions was very close. Our organization is lucky that so many qualified folks were willing to step forward to fill these roles.

And, of course, we’ve all benefited from the service of the 2014 team, who have labored mightily on your behalf over the past months. As the year draws to a close, I’ll send out a note about that, so you can join me in thanking them for their service.


Cori W. Bassett, Strategic Communications Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Debra Harris, Public Affairs Specialist with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service

We have enjoyed being part of the 2014 leadership team for the Federal Communicators’ Network. As a part of that team, we were both involved in many of the outreach initiatives including media interviews, events, trainings as well as online content generation.

As co-chairs of FCN we want to continue to raise the visibility of the organization, create more opportunities for collaboration among federal communicators and offer more training events both virtual and in person. We understand that as dollars for training and travel get increasingly hard to come by, federal communicators need to leverage local and online resources to continue to grow and develop their work and their communication teams.

Cori W. Bassett Strategic Communications Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
I bring significant amount of organizational experience as well as communications experience in my 14 years as a public affairs professional. My work leading high profile marketing campaigns, event and training coordination and managing the online presence for both federal agencies and large nongovernmental organizations. Some of my biggest projects include leading multiple website rebranding efforts, launching a national museum display and assisting with the development of a federal smart phone app.

In my 14 years as a public affairs professional, I have led internal and external public affairs programs at the national and local levels. I served as a national spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement managing media relations and developing a variety of written and online products. In my current position as Strategic Communications Director for ICE, I develop public affairs policies, lead new major outreach initiatives and develop and oversee a wide range of print and online products as well as multi-media productions. I speak at professional public affairs conferences on a variety of topics including internal and external communication strategy and social media.

Debra Harris Public Affairs Specialist, Defense Finance and Accounting Service
I have more than six years’ experience leading project teams and creative teams. I bring 17 years design experience in both federal government and corporate environments. I have managed several communication strategies and special projects that required research, planning and evaluation.

I led a complete overhaul of the agency website. The project included selecting a new host, purchasing software, creating the design and navigation, migrating content and training team members. I’ve written and executed communication plans for a variety of needs aimed at both the agency’s internal and external audiences. This includes drafting messages, creating designs, defining methods of distribution and measuring the success of a variety of media such as web content, social media posts, videos, infographics, brochures and presentations.

Activity Coordinators

Aubrey McMahan

Internal Communications Specialist, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Aubrey on LinkedIn
Less than 3 years experience in government communications

Despite the short amount of time I've been involved in communications within the government, I have a history of other relevant experience to bring to the FCN Leadership Team. In the past (and in the present, as Internal Communications Specialist for the USGS!), I have held numerous roles where I've had the opportunity to create and lead quality educational events, network with new individuals to develop potential partnerships, and transform complex information into simpler communication for many audiences. I am also particularly resourceful, organized, and creative. I appreciate the opportunity to run as an Activity Coordinator for FCN Training/Workshops or External Liaison/External Relations, and look forward to the possibility of serving all FCN members next year as such!

Bernetta Reese

USDA, on detail as Web and New Media Manager, First Responder Network Authority
Bernetta on LinkedIn, Twitter, personal website
3 to 10 years experience in government communications

Bernetta Reese currently serves on a detail as the acting Web and New Media Manager for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) where she has established digital policies and operations the new federal agency. She also provides strategic guidance on digital media and industry best practices. Bernetta has served in positions across the federal government including as the Web and Project Manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) where she engaged in department- and federal-wide initiatives and represented the department on several working groups, committees, and sub-councils, and at the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she led critical web efforts and provided emergency web response to terrorist incidents and other national crises. She has also worked at the U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She has more than 15 years of public service and she is honored to be able to serve throughout the federal government leading people and driving change through digital and strategic communications, information technology and public outreach.

Bernetta is a contributing member of FCN. Her contributions include posts on the blog, listserv, and most recently she was a speaker and presenter at one of FCN's webinar events. She hopes to continue her contributions as part of the leadership team, meet new people, and manage external relations for the network.

Britt Ehrhardt

Senior Technical Writer/Editor, National Institutes of Health/HHS
Britt on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

It's been an honor to co-lead FCN for the past two years. I've really enjoyed getting to know many of you by email and at in person events. I'm continually inspired by the depth and breadth of gov communications expertise in our community, and by members willingness to share that expertise with each other. This is a difficult time to be in government communications, with budgets for programs and training shrinking at some agencies, lingering echos of shutdown, federal employees as a convenient scapegoat for all ills, and government employee satisfaction falling to historic lows. However, communities like FCN that focus on best practices, networking opportunities, and training help us all to do our jobs a little better, feeling that we are part of a valued and skilled team that spans across agencies. I'm stepping back--planning to spend less time on FCN activities--but would still like to be involved in some key activities in 2015. There are some great candidates for FCN leadership roles this year, so it's clear that the organization will be in very good hands!

As for accomplishments, during the two years I co-led FCN with the fabulous Dave Hebert, we've grown membership by 45% and held 10 training or networking events. I took the lead on planning a majority of these events, and, at times, have been blog editor (>40 new posts), Twitter manager (1500 new followers) and membership issues resolver-in-chief (why hello again, new list subscribers!). But of course, the most important accomplishment is helping so many of you get access to resources and support that you might not have otherwise been able to access.

Latasha Blackmond

Web Content Editor, USCIS
3 to 10 years in government communications

For the last 6 years as a public affairs liaison and web/social media professional, I worked with external public affairs programs that established and maintained effective working relationships with national, state and local media representatives. I handled controversial and sensitive topics and participated in crisis communications planning. Assisted in the development and implementation of outreach initiatives. Developed a number of written and online products that reflected the policies, views, and program initiatives of the Agency

Currently, I develop web and social media policies as well research and analyze online communities, trends and conversations. Work with teams to create and execute digital communication strategies across multiple platforms. I lead website projects that enhance the functionality and usability of the website. Develop innovative solutions for content management. I develop and modify metrics to measure website performance in multiple areas using Google Analytics and Forsee Customer Survey. Work with program offices as well as other DHS components to produce high quality products that effectively meets needs of the customer and the agency.

Prior to my service as a federal employee, I worked in local government for 7 years. I ensured implementation, evaluation, and quality control of Criminal Justice Information System database. Informed legal professionals and general public on the use of procedures and filings for court. Recognized for developing application that tracked felony trial court rulings resulting in Baltimore first drug court.

Lisa Chesnel

Writer/Editor, PeaceCorps
Lisa on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

I'm interested in an activity coordinator position. Specifically I'm interested in training and networking. My office is small (under 30) and my position is writer/editor/press relations/outreach coordinator/social media and web coordinator and then some. I was thrilled to find this listserv and not feel so isolated! I used to work in academic publishing and I think two things that that community does really well is training and networking. I've struggled with both of those things in the federal gov't, where I've worked for over four years now. I think taking on this role would help me grow in my career and learn lots of new and exciting things. Thanks for the opportunity to apply and happy holidays!

Suki Baz

Employee Communications Specialist, National Park Service
Suki on LinkedIn, Twitter
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

I have 12 years of experience in communications, focusing on internal for the last 6. I bring a wide range of experience with non-profit organizations, private companies, and the federal government. I am excited to learn more about employee and internal communications from my FCN colleagues, and to share my knowledge with them as well. I am also at Georgetown University earning my masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communications, allowing me to share up-to-date communications practices with fellow members.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Did you miss it? Catch up on "Internal Communications about Employee Feedback"

Posted on December 1, 2014 by Britt Ehrhardt, 2014 Co-Chair, Federal Communicators Network

Just before Thanksgiving, 45 of your friends and colleagues gathered for a valuable conversation about employee engagement and internal communications.

Internal communications, employee communications, and corporate communications are an important part of FCN's focus. We'd all agree that the success of programs and projects hangs on employee engagement. And what is more vital to employee engagement than complete, timely, effective internal communications?

Co-organized with the Partnership for Public Service and held in their beautiful space in downtown DC (thanks again, guys!), the event spotlighted panelists Terri Ehrenfeld of GPO, Tim Fullerton of Interior, Deb Green of FAA, guided by moderators Noha Gaber of EPA and Lara Shane of the Partnership.

They shared some great tips and tactics.

There was a lot of discussion of effective emails to employees.

Then, we broke out into small groups for detailed discussion of challenges and opportunities.

This is one of several events we're planning with the Partnership for Public Service, so stay tuned for more information from the 2015 FCN leadership team.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Storytelling Plain and Simple

By: Aubrey McMahan, Internal Communications Specialist, U.S. Geological Survey, Office of Communications and Publishing 

This is not the first sentence I wrote when I sat down to write this blog post. For me, the beginning started with the bullet points below. Getting the “meat” of this post down on paper helped me form this introduction, which is exactly what Kathryn Sosbe from the U.S. Forest Service’s Office of Communications suggests when you’re struggling to write anything: you don’t always have to start at the beginning. With 30 years of writing/editing experience, Kathryn has helpful tips like this one for making writing easier; she shared a lot of these not-so-secret secrets, such as those below, with 71 other writer editors at the Federal Communicators Network October event Storytelling Plain and Simple.

Read. Then read some more - hard copies are best so you avoid the tendency to skim.
Write. And write and write - something -- anything -- that really requires your concentration and focus.

Be purposeful - read to discover what you like and don’t like. Write with a reason--what do you want the reader to take away from what you’ve written?
Be logical - organize your notes to fit your style. Organize your writing so it’s clear, interesting and reader-driven.
Be careful - consider how you address a topic. Proofread x2. If you’re editing others’ writing, kindly offer direct and specific advice, not criticisms or questions.

If you couldn’t hear from Kathryn in person, you can view a copy of her presentation here and, even if you did, make sure to check out her extra slides on effective email etiquette--these small changes could have a huge impact!

The FCN’s discussion about great writing would not have been complete without another great presentation on -- and practice of -- plain language. Writing that is purposeful and logically organized is of very little value if it doesn’t make sense to your audience. Even us federal employees who read and write for a living can agree with that:

Because a lot of the writing we do is to communicate to the American public what their tax dollars are paying for (or to inform them of Federal policy), we especially owe it to them that we provide clear and straightforward language they can understand and use. If this isn’t enough to persuade you to adopt a simpler writing style, how about it’s the law? The Plain Writing Act (2010) established that many new documents, whether on paper or electronically, which are related to Federal benefits, services, tax-filing, and compliance with Federal requirements, must be written in plain language. As the Plain Language Launcher for the General Services Administration and Co-Chair of the Plain Language Action and Information Network, Katherine Spivey had some useful advice on writing more simply, such as taking advantage of:

Familiar, everyday words - people shouldn’t need to consult a thesaurus or dictionary when they visit your website.
Short, simple sentences and paragraphs - aim for one subject and 20 words per sentence. Aim for one subject (or step) and 7 lines per paragraph.
Pronouns and active voice - if you’re addressing your readers, speak directly to them, using active voice’s clarity and directness.

Verbs in place of nouns - so you came to a conclusion? Then you concluded.
Headers, lists, tables, and bullets - these styles all make your information more simplistic and navigable for your audience.
Reader-driven organization - organize your writing to answer questions in the order your reader is likely to ask them.

Avoiding bureaucratese (unnecessarily complex and confusing writing :)) by applying these writing styles will help not only the public better understand the information we are trying to communicate out to them and any actions we require of them. It will also help us Federal communicators reduce questions, complaints, and the time and resources we spend on addressing them. What’s not appealing about that?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Upcoming Event - Storytelling Plain and Simple - Thursday, October 30

Posted: October 17, 2014 by FCN Leadership Team

Think you can't be a creative government writer? Think again. Writing is challenging, whether it is for a 140-character Twitter message, a 400-word blog or a 500-page report. You want to catch a reader and keep their attention. We are saturated with communications from every direction. Don’t let your message get lost in the headlines. Find out how to make sure your words can help your readers understand what you mean and do what you need them to do.

A no cost training event hosted by the Federal Communicators Network.

What: Storytelling Plain and Simple
When: 1pm-4:30pm on Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where: the Department of Defense Mark Center in Alexandria, easily accessible from Pentagon Metro via the 7M shuttle bus

Register today!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thanks for joining us at Accessibility for Government Communicators event

Posted By: Britt Ehrhardt, Federal Communicators Network Co-Chair

Exciting to see the huge turnout at the Federal Communicators Network event earlier this week. More than 630 people joined us for Accessibility for Gov Communicators: Tactics and Techniques You Can Use Today to Keep Your Projects on the Right Side of Section 508 Rules. This was our first event in collaboration with the U.S. Access Board and the Federal CIO Council Accessibility Community of Practice. And to my knowledge, it was FCN's most widely attended event EVER. What a win for everyone involved!

If you were online with us--thanks for joining, and thanks for all of your great questions. If you missed out, you can catch up by watching the archived webinar. The event description and materials are available here.

The amazing Bernetta Reese from FirstNet, the First Responder Network Authority, kicked things off with some key lessons from her experience as a 508 Coordinator at USDA and now with FirstNet, starting up a new agency.

Matt Harmon of DHS HQ described where communications projects often encounter 508 issues, with this helpful slide, and also discussed DHS's extraordinary Trusted Tester program, a model for in-depth training of web authors and communicators on Section 508 best practices.

Slide reads, Images: Provide a meaningful text equivalent for every image (alt text); descriptions that explain what the image is conveying or adding to the page content (not just describing what is seen on the image).  Multimedia Presentations: Audio only: provide transcript Video only: provide a synchronized text description of the action taking place in the video, including any text that appears Audio + Video: both synchronized captioning and audio description of action required  Color: Color should not be the only way that information is conveyed; contrast between foreground and background is sufficient  Data Tables: Define a table’s row and column headers.  Use tables only for data and not for layout  Text-only equivalents: Do not create text-only pages as an alternative to non-compliant pages.  Make your pages compliant from the start.

Dick Stapleton gave a great overview of how HHS is achieving compliance on 2 million webpages.

And, Don Barrett wrapped things up by discussing the Accessible Documents community of practice that he helps to lead, along with many useful resources. Others shared great resources too.

Moderator Tim Creagan of the U.S. Access Board did an excellent job managing the session and sifting through the many, many questions submitted by attendees. Great job, and thanks, Tim! Along with HHS's Debby Kaplan and myself, Tim co-organized the session and greatly contributed to its success.

And our live sign language interpreters, including the amazing Rachel Kuch, were also critical to the success of the event.

So communicators, be sure you know who your 508 coordinator is, and loop that person in early on your communications projects.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

FCN Leadership Team Plans Fall Line Up

Posted by: Debra Harris, FCN Leadership Team and Public Affairs Specialist at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service

Cori Bassett (ICE), Dave Hebert (USGS) , Debra Harris (DFAS) and Britt Ehrhardt (NIH) meet for lunch, provided by each individual, at a restaurant on Pennsylvania Ave in D.C. to plan upcoming FCN events. 
Four of the eight FCN leaders discuss training events scheduled for September, October and November. As always, the events don't cost a dime, just your time. From attendees of past events, we hear it's "time well spent." Open your calendars and save these dates!

Sep 30 webinar on accessibility with the Federal CIO Council Accessibility Community of Practice and the U.S. Access Board to teach tactics and techniques to keep your projects on the right side of section 508 rules. 

Storytelling Plain and Simple comes to the Mark Center in Alexandria, VA Oct. 30. Presenters Katherine Spivey and Kathryn Sosbe share best practices on writing and editing. Save the date to attend in person that afternoon.

We're putting together something with the Partnership for Public Service on Nov 19 that we'll livestream.

Watch our "Events" page for details and registration information. You'll find resources from past training here too.