Why you gotta blog

website

  1. 24/7/365. User-centric design and constant improvement add up to and information source that’s available to inquiring minds at all times.
  2. Branding – your mission, vision and organizational values should be prominently on display on your website
  3. Simplicity. A website makes it easy for people to find your phone number and other contact information without having to dig out the phone book.
  4. Disability Accommodation. A website allows people with limited access, because of handicap, illness, or other disabilities to instantly access important information without travel.
  5. Frequently Asked Questions. The website and capture the top 10 inquiries and demonstrate your mastery of knowledge in posting answers to those questions.
  6. Easy Updates. A website can be changed on a minute by minute basis BY YOUR STAFF as needed. Emergency announcements, closing the office, meeting notices – you can do it all y using your website and your own media outlet.
  7. Credibility. By placing your meeting notices, board packages and dozens of other operating documents in your website library, available for public inspection, download and printing (at the users’ expense), your credibility as an agency is enhanced.
  8. Guidelines for public records requests. When you help reporters and the public to make detailed requests for records, you save yourself staff time in pulling the documents together.
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Public Records

Without taking the deep dive into New Jersey public records law, one thing is clear — the staff of the Governor’s office operated on a regular basis in rank contempt of the law’s intent — which is to make government accessible and accountable to the taxpayers.

Yesterday, Christina Renna, who worked for Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly, testified before the legislature that when her boss asked her to delete an incriminating (no hyperbole) email, she first sent it to her personal email, then deleted it from her state email account.

In other words, she copied it so that she could prove it existed, then lied to her boss about having deleted it. She didn’t delete it. She moved it in order to conceal it from an open investigation — like from a filing cabinet to her briefcase. Fortunately for her, she turned it over promptly when its existence became known … and there’s the point. Its existence became know no thanks to these “public servants” who seemed to routinely conduct the public’s business on their private email accounts so that they could “speak freely.”

Breaking News: If you work for a public agency or for the government and you’re emailing/texting/calling on your personal accounts — those are public records. That’s the public’s business. Likewise, if you get test results from your doctor and they are emailed to your government account, that is NOT a public record. It’s good to keep these things separate, but it’s the content that does that, not which account you use.

Finally, the most disturbing and compelling detail of Ms. Renna’s testimony is how she conveyed the culture of the office in which she worked – politics, intimidation, back biting and intrigue, not unselfish public service and high ethical standards. That tone comes from the top and the Garden State’s Chief Executive cannot retroactively establish it.

Christie’s House of Cards

Yesterday, a “town hall” with NJ Gov. Chris Christie was another object lesson in crisis management. A cautionary tale and how to take apart your brand.

Christie’s brand was formidable: A non-nonsense, Jersey-talkin’, tough guy walkin’, GET-‘ER-DONE Governor. After Super Storm Sandy, Christie appeared on TV to defend his willingness to work with the President of the United States, despite his political affiliation with his opponent Mitt Romney. “I don’t care about that,” Christie forcefully insisted, pointing to the conspicuous need of his constituents for all available help. Our hero. Didn’t even have time to change his clothes, wearing his “I’m-working-on-my-day-off” emergency situation fleece.

Christie’s brand was also false.

Actually, he probably did care if this hurt Romney. He was probably just fine with that. Romney passed over him for VP and his loss would clear the way or Christie to seek the big job in 2016.

Yesterday, Christie said some interesting things in his “town hall” meeting with NJ residents with questions about Sandy funding distribution. He blamed FEMA and the federal government for any/all things that were delayed or denied. Okay, that’s typical political excuse-making.

That kills his brand by a thousand paper cuts, but then he said the thing that tells the real story. The great hands-on manager who can get it DONE said that if anyone had told him a year ago that he’d still be spending so much time and effort on Sandy recovery, he just wouldn’t have believed it.

Really? A storm much more vast than Katrina that chose the Garden State as it point of entry … damage more massive and widespread than anything the U.S. has seen in Christie’s lifetime, but you thought the cleanup would be wrapped up with a bow on it in just a year?

To quote the governor when speaking to a constituent on television … What? Are you stupid?

Actually, it’s simpler than that – he’s just a phony. His brand was a perception … an image that he cultivated, but wasn’t really that guy. 

What has become very clear is that Christie’s brand and his actual delivery of “the goods” is a house of cards now facing high winds and rain – a storm of scrutiny, if you will. Christie talks about how he doesn’t have enough cash to pay all claims, but managed to carve our either $6 or $10 million (disclosure of spending is NOT transparent) of Sandy money for a senior housing project in unaffected Belleville New Jersey.

New Jersey law requires disclosure and public transparency of how this money is spent. Christie’s administration is simply not delivering and in the wake of the ever-expanding George Washington bridge scandal, Christie’s defense is that every person who worked in his office engaged in a vast criminal conspiracy engaging in hundreds of messages, meetings and agreements for how to do this, then how to cover it up, and that Christie himself was utterly unaware of this happening.

The most important development in all of this is the change in perception. Christie is the same guy who has delivered squat to his state in jobs. He’s the same guy who put the kibosh on a much-needed new tunnel between New Jersey and New York citing (falsely) that New Jersey would be required to pay for more than 70% of the projected. There were big fat federal grant dollars for that project. Christie spiked the project and kept the money in the Port Authority’s budget, then raided that to balance his state’s budget while cutting taxes, This, he attributed to his gift for “working across the aisle” to solve problems.

He’s the same guy who has done a lot of punching on and off stage to get what he wants. The difference now is the willingness of the injured to cry foul and the sniff of the next big corruption story that is bringing down an apparently unbeatable Republican. It has the next wave of journalism students signing up for classes.

The risk in this … all of this … from a Crisis Communications and PR standpoint is very, very simple. It is the risk of lying. If you are building your “empire” based on something false about you or how you do business, it is obviously vulnerable to a strong wind and the bright sunshine of public scrutiny. Don’t do it!!!

If something bad happens, tell the truth, tell it all and tell it QUICKLY. Yes, you need to take some time to gather facts, but that’s another post altogether. Remember, Christie wanted to appear decisive, so he fired his Deputy Chief of Staff (in January). Asked if he questioned her about the emails that got her fired, he said sternly that she had lied to him so he didn’t care what she had to say. New Jersey voters will likely provide him the same response.

Crisis Management – Learn from a high profile trainwreck

Although for the last month it cannot have been easy being NJ Governor Chris Christie, it sure looks like for the last dozen years or so, it’s been entirely too easy. He gets his way, he doesn’t hear “No, sir” very much and when he says “Jump!”, those around him ask only “How high?”.

It might be good to be King (or just to be treated like one), but the fact is, Christie is not a king. He’s a servant –a public servant – a fact that has been brought front and center in a scandal whose dimensions are not yet fully identified. The chances that we know now the full list of accusations to come before a federal grand jury are slim and none. This story doesn’t merely have legs. It’s a centipede.

However the facts of the scandal shake out and whatever the dimension of damage to Christie’s political career, one thing is clear — he is panicked and isolated when it comes to his public management of how he’s handling the crisis. Crippled by an ego that matches his physique, there is obviously no one in Trenton with the juice to tell the governor to sit down and shut up – for his own sake.

Lesson #1: Need frank advise? GO FIND IT. No one’s going to bring it to you. Empower people to stop you from acting on your emotions.

On Saturday afternoon (2/1/14) Christie sent out a campaign “on background” style “info sheet” on an accuser (former Port Authority Officer and GW Bridge lane-closer David Wildstein) that signaled one thing and one thing only – the Governor is freaking out. The “background” on David Wildstein is a bunch of nonsense that sounds like character attack, but doesn’t have a single, specific accusation in it. Worse, it lists bullet points that a middle school bully would dismiss, like “He was publicly accused by his high school social studies teacher of deceptive behavior.”

Pathetic.

The Governor loves to talk about politics’ rough and tumble nature, citing the Finley Peter Dunne quote “politics ain’t bean bag.” (Often ignored is Dunne’s rather non-PC reference to women, children and the disabled staying out of it) Fact is, Christie is among the most thin-skinned politicians around. Dozens of stories have emerged about payback, small, medium and large, that have occurred because of a perceived slight to Christie.  Not limited to those who might attack him, but instead rendered on those who fail to adequately support him.

Match up that level of demand for loyalty with a breathtaking ego that was on display in any number of press conferences and you have a formula for the one thing most deadly for a chief executive in a PR crisis — isolation.  To be surrounded by sycophants when you’re under siege is to be surrounded by vultures while you’re down and bleeding. They’re going to wait till you you’re dead to start feeding, but they have no interest in helping you stop the bleeding and escape alive.  A bird’s gotta eat.

Lesson #2: Get the focus off of yourself and onto the job you’re supposed to be doing. In short, get back to WORK.

The primary problem for the Garden State Governor is that he wants to solve this problem  by pushing and shoving – the way he’s solved problems before (an understandable tendency). He put on the mask of humility for nearly two hours in a press conference (1/9/14) that stopped providing new information after about 15 minutes. He repeatedly insisted that the story was about his hurt and upset. He kept talking and talking — about himself.

When Bill Clinton was engulfed in the Lewinsky scandal, he was a guy caught in a lie – one of a more personal nature, to be sure. One of the things that helped him emerge from that dark corner of his public life is that he continued to talk — about the American people and his determination to keep working for them, fulfilling his oath and protecting their interests. He would let history judge whether or not he was a good president, he said. George W. Bush wisely said much the same thing while taking on water in 2006 over the Iraq war.  As reporters continued peppering him with questions about his legacy and reputation as president, he refused to answer, saying it wasn’t his call. The American people and presidential historians will figure that out, he said, and he did so repeatedly in the heat of one controversy after another.

If Christie were asked that question today (“What’s your legacy, Governor?”) there is no chance that he wouldn’t answer it … in a lengthy and self-serving fashion. In October 2011, Christie made a much-anticipated announcement that he would NOT run for president in 2012. He took an HOUR to do this. Repeating himself. Admiring himself.  Talking about what time his wife woke him up to tell him to run for president.  Ten minutes would have been a little long. An hour was pity-inducing.

Lesson #3 – Know when to bow and exit gracefully

After an election that produced a potential constitutional crisis, Al Gore took about five minutes to concede the 2000 election and exit stage left. While Christie’s resignation is not imminent and the press is breathlessly awaiting documents subpoenaed by legislators and a grand jury, the governor is left to keep his own counsel about what to say and how to say it.

That’s a bad position to be in for someone addicted to the sound of his own voice and even worse for those trying their best to advise him to let others speak for him.

Bolduc Elected Chair of OCHA

CHAPEL HILL NC – Pen & Inc Communications Managing Director Jean Bolduc was elected Chair of the Orange County NC Housing Authority Board of Commissioners at the Authority’s Annual meeting on January 15th.  “Our role is to provide citizen oversight for what is (and has been) a well-run Section 8 program. Right now our community is poised to improve its affordable housing picture by expanding the menu of options,” said Bolduc. “We’re seeing some really innovative thinking about this and the conversation is gaining traction among elected leaders.”

Bolduc has served for the last year as Vice-Chair of the Board and has been a housing commissioner since the Board was established by the Orange County Commissioners in 2009. Before returning to communications consulting specializing in supporting public sector organizations, she served for six years as the Durham Housing Authority’s Director of Corporate Communications, where she was credited with improving the agency’s transparency and communications with the public. Representing DHA, she served on the Durham Public Information Officers Council, on the steering committee for Durham’s award-winning Project Homeless Connect, on the Mayor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities and she was appointed to the national faculty for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

For more information:

http://penandinc.com
http://www.nahro.org/faculty

The Power of Words

Don’t tell me that Antoinette Tuff was “unarmed” when she methodically talked gunman Michael Brandon Hill into surrendering without injury or further incident. She was armed alright – with words.

Listen to her on the 911 call. She’s calm and talking constantly on behalf of this troubled young man. This is a long call … over 20 minutes, but that’s the point. The most important this that she does is the very thing that saved everyone from getting hurt. She slows down a process that feels very out of control. She is advocating for the gunman — to get him out of this situation without getting hurt.

Mr. Hill, who is obviously a person in great distress, can hear this stranger arguing for his value as a human being. She is speaking at times forcefully, but also CLEARLY that these things must happen to help him calm down. No helicopters. Tell the officers to back off.

Then she points out to this young man that he has not hurt her, as though she is reminding him that he’s already made a good and humane decision to not shoot her and that he can make more good decisions … and that she will help him do it.

She says “we” a lot … We’re going to get you out of here safe. We’re going to get you through this, and most movingly … “We all go through something in life.”

Toward the end of the call when it’s almost time for the police to come in, she makes a point of telling him she loves him — this stranger who might have killed her — and that she’s PROUD of him for making these good and right decisions.

Who doesn’t need encouragement like this?  Simply using the power of speech to a person in trouble — whether an agitated customer or employee or a family member — and offering the reminder and reassurance that everyone has troubles, we’re all human beings and we all need to be heard and valued.

I don’t just want to applaud Ms. Tuff, I want work for her.

“Just be Yourself” on Social Media?

Oh, dear. What terrifying advice. Think about that and throw in some of the stuff you say before your coffee. See what I mean?  You don’t have to take my word for it, but I’ll share this with you — I’ve been married for 35 years. I still close the bathroom door. Some people don’t, in the interest of some kind of “full disclosure” or “being themselves.” Sharing is good. Too much or sharing the wrong things is not so good. Read more about bad social media advice.

In looking for your best business communications strategy, don’t settle for “being yourself.” Instead, I would go with the simplicity of being true to yourself. Make sure you stand behind what your saying. This almost always means keeping your hands off the keyboard if you’re angry. We often speak in anger and then apologize. A little time usually tempers what we say and should mitigate what we tweet.

So if you’re peeved. Count to 500. Really.

Getting “Buy-In” From Your Team

You hear a lot about “buy-in”, but what does it really mean and why do you need it? Seriously, why? You’re the boss, right? What you say, goes, right?

This is the difference between being a boss, which means you have the authority to make a decision, and being a leader, which means you have the support to execute that decision well.

That difference is where you find that real value in bringing along your team so that everyone understands and agrees to strategic goals, has a clear mechanism for reporting problems up the chain and enjoys tangible benefits of success.

The most important area of management that requires buy-in is that of managing change. When you’re trying to cultivate a new, better culture in your work process, change that’s good can only come with agreement (“buy-in”). There are many approaches to effecting change but in this one, you must approach with patience and respect. Allow a lot of processing time to absorb ideas about new direction. Change is commonly resisted, but when management listens carefully and responds thoughtfully, it can take unexpected leaps that make progress irreversible.

Communicatin’

I ran across an old column and was struck by how current it still is. Even though it’s not Christmas, the message is still right on (for me).

All I want for Christmas is . . .
published Wednesday, December 17, 2003

There’s just over a week remaining till the big day so I’m working on my Christmas wish list. My wishes are all about how people communicate … or don’t. Here’s my latest draft.

Peace on Earth, good will toward people.
Aside from the grammatical correction that many would consider to be political correctness, I really mean this most sincerely. More than that, I mean it on exchanges large and small.
When did people stop saying “excuse me” when they walk between you and the books you’re scoping out on the shelf? Why doesn’t holding a door for someone mean an automatic smile with a twinkling eye?

The return of “You’re welcome.” 
My husband noted recently that the nicety of saying “you’re welcome” is slipping away from us and being replaced with “no problem.” Nearly always as we ask for extra napkins or more iced tea, as the wait person arrives with it, we express our gratitude and are assured that it’s “no problem.”
It just seems like a sort of “non-assurance” doesn’t it? I’m sure its origin is the somehow more genteel sounding “it’s no trouble at all,” but this has a sort of staccato feeling to it that erases the initial gesture of stopping to say thanks. I write e-mails to my son now and then thanking him for some work-related thing he’s done. Sometimes I get an e-mail back that says simply, “NP.”

Leave a message.
At the very least leave a message one time, even though you hate answering machines. Give me a chance anyway. It drives me nutty when someone calls and just as I’m diving over the dining room table and falling off the last of the chairs on the other side, the answering machine picks up and the caller hangs up. This is met with a colorful display of vocabulary that would impress both a sailor and a peacock, followed by more of same when the numbskull calls later, insisting that he’s been trying to reach me, then scolds me for never being home.

Listen to the answering machine’s announcement before making a fool of yourself and have enough humility to consider that you may have dialed the wrong number.
My business line, for example, says something like “You’ve reached the phone and fax line for [my company]. You can send a fax at any time or leave a message and we’ll call you back.” Now I’ll admit that I did not employ my most sexy vixen voice in recording this message, but it’s pretty clearly a woman’s voice and the name of my company is stated just as it is in the yellow pages.
The other day, I got two calls while I was on another line. The first one made it through my machine’s message, then the caller hung up. The second call (from the same number) produced this message: “Hello, Frank, this is Bill. Call me on my cell at [number] and let me know when I can come in today to install that intercom system for you.”
I hope the guy got his new, improved communication system installed OK. Nobody showed up here.
The other night, a woman called my cell phone once and hung up. Then she called again and my son answered, identifying himself and politely informing her that she had the wrong number. Then she called back and left a message on my voice mail, telling Rodney that he should call her back for that information she had for him. This, after waiting to hear my voice-mail message: “You’ve reached the Sprint voice mailbox for Jean Bolduc … .” I think I need voice lessons.
Don’t answer the phone when you’re really not available — especially when you have caller ID.
How many times have you had someone answer the phone sounding harried and nearly annoyed that you’ve called, cutting you off with “I really can’t talk now. … I’ll have to call you back.” Then why did you answer? You know it’s me, you probably know why I’m calling. Are you just trying to prove to me that you’re so busy you can’t even take a break to go to the bathroom?
As a columnist, I get a special breed of “thank you” e-mails. The best ones are those that start out with “I love your column, though I often disagree with you.” I’m sincere when I say that I appreciate those critical e-mails the most, because they help me improve as a writer and they show me that people really care about the topic if they’ve chosen to invest their time in trying to straighten me out.
I always write back to thank them for taking the time to write. Sometimes this starts a longer dialogue wherein we each understand the other’s perspective better and sometimes they’re too busy to continue on the topic. This usually leaves me where I began as they acknowledge my thanks with “No problem.”

The Only Way is Forward

One of my favorite shows is “Restaurant Impossible” with Robert Irvine. More and more I realize that the show’s success and the reason I enjoy it is the simple message he beats like a drum- The only way is forward.

Why is this so important? In the restaurant business, you cannot rest on your laurels. People gotta eat every day and a restaurant’s reputation is on the line every day. From a service perspective, this is true for every business– every single day.

The people who own these restaurants almost invariably have failed to take a simple, fresh perspective. Would you eat here? Can you see that you’re making money? (Symptom: you have more cash this month than last month) and do you enjoy working here? Are you proud to work here? Are you willing to confront employees with bad attitudes who are a drag on your productive staff? If not, how do imagine these prolems will go away?

They bring Irvine and his team in and a miracle happens-they confront their underlying issues, do some redesign and voila–a cool looking workplace and people who can solve problems, calculate their bottom line. They are restored to reality.

The only way is forward. Like sharks, businesses move forward or they die. Praise quickly. Forgive easily. Punish fairly. Decide, when necessary. Then come to work tomorrow and make your reputation all over again.