Irrelevance

earsWhen I imagined the future of government communications, I would envision morning meetings, where the comms team (ha!) gets together, each over their own personal blend of Starbucks or locally-sourced coffee (double ha!), discusses what news is breaking, reviews where the competitors are and what their goals might be, then the team lead blesses the talking points for the day and everyone dashes off to their well-appointed, yet obviously industriously worked-in offices (triple ha!).

Aside from the fact that I obviously dream about some fantasy-land, there’s more wrong with that statement than is obvious. You see, I talked about our competitors and how my fantasy comms team would defeat them gloriously, just in time for happy hour. While it’s obvious that very few folks in government communications are concerned with our competition, and it’s even more obvious that our competitors number more than most of us can count to, that’s not the problem. You see, our biggest problem isn’t losing the battle of our public’s minds and action to some nefarious industry or trade group, it’s losing that battle because no one’s heard us. It’s losing because we’ve become irrelevant. It’s that we’re not number three or four on our public’s priority list, it’s that we’re number 100, or 1,000.

A consultant that I follow on Twitter, Steve Woodruff, had a brilliant post on exactly this topic a couple of weeks ago, and I just couldn’t shake how his message, while crafted very explicitly for the consulting world rang just as true–maybe more so–for government communicators.

[Y]our biggest competition isn’t the competition. It’s the noise in your client or prospect’s mind. It’s the boss – the kids – the schedule – the office politics – the latest health problem – the job search – the fantasy football league – tomorrow’s big presentation – the upcoming vacation – the overloaded e-mail inbox.

Don’t believe me? Monitor what’s coursing through you brain for the next 2 minutes. See what people who are fighting for your attention are up against?

Now I know I just said that we don’t care about the competition, so you’re thinking, “how does this relate to us?” It relates because we’re worse than those consultants that are so concerned with what other consultants are doing. We’re worse because we (to a large degree) still think that our messaging is the only game in town. That we speak and, as we’re the government, people should listen. We shout into that ether with full faith and belief that our message resonates above all other messages. But it doesn’t work like that.

Want to know how I know? Go back to that little two-minute exercise Steve had you do. Now think about the last message you published for work. Where did the action that message implored you to undertake rank in your two-minute ordering of life? Was it one or two? Three or four? Or more like 100 or 1,000?

And the cacophony of life is only increasing. More social networks, both in meat-space and cyberspace, more responsibilities, more deadlines, higher productivity, fewer financial cushions. You know what we need to be concerned with?

The signal-to-noise ratio. How do we put forth such a clear signal that we stand out in the minds of our clients?

So, how do YOU do it?

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8 thoughts on “Irrelevance

  1. I think it’s really tough. It’s difficult to create environments internally where you can even practice a more effective, engaging and creative form of behaviour. Think environments where Skype is blocked, Twitter is seen as irrelevant and photos still mimic the 70s class photos. I often struggled with wanting to expand access to my training sessions by using virtual tools, by wanting to connect with communicators offsite and out of city — who often struggled with the same challenges I did. The bright light is that once the ground starts swelling, there is a desire for that ‘clearer signal’. People start asking how can we be more effective? How can be ramp up this initiative? Comms folks to the rescue! :)

  2. This is one of the best articles I’ve read about the why we have a disconnect between the government and the public. I always struggled with how to reach people through all the other distractions. It seemed like I was most successful when I spent time in neighborhoods working on my projects. People don’t want to be bothered with seeking out your message, but they will actively engage with you when you show up on their street. Lately I’ve seen several cities launch “walk with the mayor” programs. I know it’s low tech, but believe these programs have a good potential of reaching people who might not otherwise engage with city hall.

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