Do We Need a “National Timeout from Declaring Things Month?”

Working in government for nine years, I’ve been primed to the existence of special months or weeks for various causes.

However, in each of the last nine years, my scale of impatience about these special months or weeks has increased consistently and with added confusion.

I reached a breaking point in the last few days as I’ve encountered the following special months or weeks in April (and there are probably more!):

  • Distracted Driving Awareness Month
  • National Volunteer Week
  • National Victim Rights Week
  • Work Zone Safety Week
  • Child Abuse Awareness Month
  • National County Government Month
  • National Public Safety Telecommunications Week
  • National Public Health Week
  • National 9-1-1 Education Month
  • Sexual Assault Awareness Month
  • Fair Housing Month
  • Donate Life Month
  • Pet Preparedness Twitter Challenge in April
  • National Youth Violence Prevention Week
  • World Health Day

These are all worthy causes and important facets of our lives, but to the average resident even remotely paying attention, doesn’t this list look silly when viewed together? What about the other 11 months or 51 weeks of the year when, by logic, it’s not distracted driving awareness month or national public health week? Are we supposed to forget about those topics in “off” weeks or months? If the goal to reach everyone, then how can people possibly muddle through this menu of months with an ounce of attention?

I understand the premise of declaring these weeks/months — to garner focused attention for a period of time about issue X or topic Y. Does this work, though, especially in a social convergence era? Are the needles on these topics moving because of these declarations or are these timeframes rote and just recycled every year as a way to check a box? It feels like these weeks/months come from an era of only three nightly news options or only Johnny Carson for comedy at 11:30 p.m. I’m sure there’s something important designated for June, but it may be top of my mind in April and I need the information now.

Maybe it’s time to declare July as National Timeout from Declaring Things Month so these designated timeframes can be rethought rather than rehashed every year. Thirteen Fifteen declared topics in a one- or two-week period seems like overkill to this government “junkie” or “insider.”

Your ideas? Your experiences (either as a government communicator or just as a consumer)?

UPDATE 1: April 7-11 is National Youth Violence Prevention Week.

UPDATE 2: April 7 is World Health Day.

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By @g_r_e_g Posted in #gov20

7 Minutes That Fundamentally Changed the Last 7 Years and Beyond

This week was the seventh anniversary of Steve Jobs introducing the world to the iPhone. It’s one of those moments that, at the time, could not be appreciated for how fundamentally it would change our world.

His keynote address below is 51 minutes, but I invite you to watch just the first seven minutes to see how he precisely he framed the introduction.

The Skies of Sept. 11, 2001

I’m a few days late posting this reflection I wrote two years ago, but I wanted to share as it continues to be cathartic insight into my motivation for diving into the world of emergency communications.

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“Oh no, oh no,” she exclaimed, arms out and palms up.

That September sky remains seared into my mind. So blue. So crisp. The clouds so white.

I vividly recall walking to work 10 years ago at The George Washington University. Before I entered our office building, I duly noted the deep shade of blue hanging above my head. What could ruin such a sky?

I paused in the lobby with a few coworkers and students gazing at the TV as one of the networks reported on a plane crash, most likely a small aircraft that veered off course. That sounded odd, I thought, but how unfortunate. I hoped for a low casualty rate and minimal building damage. I continued my day.

I wrote for the faculty/staff newspaper and that brilliant sky Tuesday was deadline day. The editor furiously poured over the final details of the pending issue.

I visited my media relations colleagues to probably chat about fantasy baseball, as we did nearly every morning during the season. While there, the first details made it clear this was no ordinary day.

That September sky is seared into my mind, this time with an airplane.

The red/orange flash. The immediate impact. The smoke.

That September sky remains seared into my mind.

GW is located in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington. As with everyone else around the country, we heard reports of fire at the State Department, just two blocks away from campus.

My anxiety level rose.

I walked back to the editor’s office and reported another plane hit the World Trade Center. Ever the diligent worker, he was shocked, but forged ahead with meeting our deadline.

As I shuttled back to the media relations gang, it became clear that DC skies were now impacted – not just New York. As smoke billowed from the Pentagon, I meandered hurriedly to my editor and shared the news. He paused and was stunned, but continued meeting the deadline. We weren’t sure what to make of all of this, so why not continue being normal?

I returned perhaps 10 or 15 minutes later and told him the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

He stopped cold. Nothing was normal anymore.

Our deadline no longer mattered as smoke, debris and death filled the air of New York and two subway stations away at the Pentagon.

That September sky, now covered in smoke, remains seared into my mind.

Many of us left work early. The National Guard now stood watch under that September sky less than one block from the front steps of my office building.

The subway ride home was a desolate, isolating experience. Ghost faces. Empty expressions. Would this train and its passengers even make it home alive? What was next?

Hours later, my wife of two months finally made it home from another part of DC. We hugged long and hard, with tears in our eyes. As we now know, DC’s skies could have been darker if not for the courage of another plane full of patriots.

That September sky remained blue, but it rained tears and destruction.

I wrote this article describing GW’s campus the days after the attacks:

http://www.gwu.edu/~bygeorge/sept25ByG!/vigil.html

I write this not just for catharsis, but like so many other people, I was inspired and motivated. I don’t have the courage to join the military. I probably wouldn’t make a good fire fighter. But how could I translate my communications skills into something more useful, more purposeful after Sept. 11, 2001?

The first hints of a path came on Sept. 12 when I realized GW educated emergency managers. I wrote this article a few weeks later describing how alumni responded that brilliant blue day:

http://www.gwu.edu/~bygeorge/nov6ByG!/crisis.html

I was inspired by their work and while I never intended to become a full time emergency manager, I wanted the skill set to help save lives through communications.

In 2001, I finished my one master’s degree in communications and shortly thereafter, pursued a second master’s in homeland security and emergency management to fuse with my communications background.

Those classes opened my eyes to a whole new world that I admire, respect and am proud to be a tiny sliver of today. I’m no hero for the work I’ve done in the last decade – not even close – but disasters strike and I feel more prepared today.

Today, 10 years later, my wife and I have two beautiful daughters not shaped by 9/11, but the scenes and skies of that September day are not lost on a 2-year old.

“Oh no, oh no,” our oldest daughter exclaimed Saturday afternoon as an image of the World Trade Center collapsing appeared on TV in the distance. It caught her young eye a room away and she couldn’t stop watching. “Oh no, oh no, building broken,” she said.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It affirmed that what happened 10 years ago will always remain a powerful example of pain, evil, destruction and sadness — even for a little girl who’s lived on earth a mere two years.

That September sky remains seared into my mind.

–9/11/11

Government as Evocative and Provocative Publishers

This week, I had the great pleasure to plan and lead #NCRsmem, the National Capital Region’s Social Media in Emergencies summit. One of my biggest successes was keeping the day on time as the emcee!

More than 150 local, state, federal and partner public information officers, fire chiefs, police staff, nonprofits and more soaked in a day full of lessons, stories and clear visions forward for social media.

One of our speakers, Jim Garrow, already brilliantly captured one of my similar takeaways about social media surge capacity on his blog.

Boston Police Deputy Commissioner John Daley presenting at the National Capital Region Social Media in Emergencies summit Aug. 13.

Boston Police Deputy Commissioner John Daley presenting at the National Capital Region Social Media in Emergencies summit Aug. 13.

Another presenter was Boston Police Department Deputy Commissioner John Daley. He described in evocative ways that police department’s web and social media growth through the years that led to the social infrastructure to sufficiently respond to the Boston Marathon bombings. They were ready for the “big one.” It was a remarkable presentation filled with insight that nailed so many topics in a perfect tenor.

Most notably, he reaffirmed with candor and firmness (with a touch of a Boston accent!) that we are publishers today. I’ve stated this before, as have many other people, but think about this particular chain of events:

  • Boston PD saw that a suspect had been identified, would be arrested, was apparently arrested, then was on the way to the courthouse. CNN was saying this and AP confirmed it. A crowd gathered at courthouse.
  • “We began to doubt ourselves,” Daley deadpanned, as the conference crowd chuckled.
  • Things were getting out of hand. They had to stop the irresponsible media frenzy.
  • So Daley tweeted that there was not an arrest and it was retweeted 10,000+ times. CNN reporters were live on air looking at Twitter as Daley changed the narrative in a heartbeat. This was an important moment demonstrating how to cut through false information.
  • At that moment, Daley said, Boston PD fully realized they were an important source of direct information that was playing out for the world.

This point further summarized:

We closed our day with this video from crisis communications expert Gerald Baron (who then he joined us live via Google Hangout). He asks in which world do we (as PIOs) live? An era of Walter Cronkite or of jpdeathblade, who was a source of news on Reddit during the Boston bombings?

It’s an evocative question that’s at the heart of Gerald’s well-coined “nano news” phrase.

As I continue to reflect on the whole summit and all the great insight shared (and there’s a boatload of wisdom from all speakers, for sure), something caught my attention last night that propels the “government-as-publisher” story even further. The Denver Police Department, no slouches on the social media front, recently had an interesting exchange with journalists, which you should read summarized here: “Denver Police Twitter Account Riles Up Media With Plagiarism Question.”

This is where provocative comes in.

Read that exchange and notice how truly exasperated some members of the Denver media appear with the notion that a government organization would ask such a question about plagiarism — or even any question at all. The subtext appears to be, “How dare a police department or government agency ask questions, especially of the media?!”

It degraded to a point where some members of the media started questioning the age of the Denver Police Twitter staff, which is completely irrelevant.

Perhaps some media members were shocked that a government agency was not talking like a walking press release. Perhaps they were stunned that Denver and many other government agencies are taking the lessons of the “Cluetrain Manifesto” by talking, asking and conversing like a human.

As public information officers and government staff, our ability to directly influence the community grows every day with social and non-social tools. Boston, Denver, New York City Emergency Management, FEMA, American Red Cross, Philadelphia Health Department and many National Capital Region local governments all stand as examples of understanding the move to a jpdeathblade news economy.

We’ve always been part of the community, but now:

  • We can publish.
  • We can cut through millions of dollars of traditional media infrastructure.
  • We can be evocative.
  • We can be provocative.
By @g_r_e_g Posted in #smem

Buy Now! Why The Washington Post Sale Matters

I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C., area for more than 14 years now. The Washington Post has been the center of the media universe at two major organizations I’ve worked at.

Today’s sale of The Post to Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, is a final clarion call that today’s digital world is radically different. It’s unchartered territory that requires constant change. Who knows how things will change at The Post — pundits will speculate endlessly — but a tech guy bought a major world newspaper today for one-fourth of the price Facebook paid for Instagram.

There’s value in social media on the face of the matter (raw price, which, of course is not the only measure, but an important one) and the market is dictating that newspaper organizations are worth far less than many social media companies. There’s historical and personnel value at The Post for sure, filled with ethics and style guides, but Instagram can be an unorganized mess like many social media sites.

Look at what has more financial value today.

I recently lamented over the hyper focus on media relations many senior public affairs positions still require. Today’s sale of a major news media institution to a guy who built a tech startup in his Seattle garage is a symbolic wake up call that as public affairs people, we need to be focused on more than just media relations. The world is changing every day and we need to be ready to respond to the future.