How To Rebrand The Federal Workforce

Photo by Cayusa via Flickr

In January GovExec ran "Restoring The Brand," a feature story describing efforts by pro-government employee groups to show how important we are to the American people. To scare them into supporting us by imagining what would happen if we weren't around.

For example, the article cites this public service announcement sponsored by the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU):
"Before you drink your next glass of water, eat your next meal, visit the doctor's office, board a flight, deposit a paycheck, before you take your next breath . . . Consider who's working day and night so that you can do all this safely. Federal employees, that's who." 
I am a federal employee so I have every interest in the world in restoring, polishing, maintaining and improving my (our) brand. But negative messages like this are the wrong approach. Because they only add fuel to the flaming debate about whether federal workers are over- or under-paid compared with the private sector.

Very simply, if the only reason to support federal employees is what could happen without us, then all you have to do is replace us with private sector contractors and see if the trains can still run on time.

Instead, the branding message for federal employees should focus on what makes us unique and irreplaceable. We have an amazing story to tell - why haven't we gone there yet? Why has nobody taken a positive approach?

If I could rebrand the federal workforce, I would take a three-pronged approach as follows:
  1. Address the negative stereotypes. They say we are lazy fat cats who live off the taxpayer's dime. We have to deal with that. (Renowned political strategist Dick Morris, who served as campaign manager and political adviser for former President Clinton, said recently on FOX News that Clinton told him, "Never let an attack go unanswered.") Responding means being accountable, because guess what? Sometimes "they" are right!
  2. Use "positioning" to show our unique value. "Positioning" is a marketing tactic wherein you situate yourself as offering something that nobody else can. If you look at the characteristics of the very best federal employees - caring, versatile, resourceful, dedicated, generous, tough, educated, experienced, funny, diverse and gracious - I think we are doing ourselves tremendous harm by failing to tell our positive story. We do not need to subtly threaten the American public into taking care of us. We need only show concretely what we do, and how we contribute, the vast majority with good intentions.
  3. Portray a vision for the federal workforce that takes us one, five, ten years into the future. In my view the primary problem federal workers face right now is the fragmentation between agencies. What we don't seem to understand is that to the American public, we are ONE entity. In fact I would argue that they don't even see much difference between political employees and those in the civil service. We are all, together, "Washington." And we need to respond as one face with one voice.
Which brings me to the primary point of this post. In my view the single most powerful thing federal employees can do to rebrand ourselves - because it is us, it is our brand, and we are responsible for it - is to show how we absolutely kick ass as versus the private sector.

That's right. You heard me. The idea that we are a bunch of unemployable misfits needs to be gone, now. The federal employee must be seen as the very best that America has to offer.

We cannot brand our country with logos and labels and taglines and campaigns.

We can only brand our country through the faces and voices of the people who work for it. The people with whom the public interacts.

The asteroid that we Federal employees feared so much has landed: People are questioning our worth.

In response we have to get up and fight. Yes, it is time to compete for our own jobs.

Where we fall short we have to admit it - where we are doing well we cannot shy away from telling our own story.

There is no need to wait for some organization to do it for us. This is something that we can do for ourselves.

And because the American public really does count on us 24/7, recasting our identity collectively will be of great benefit to them, and to the stability of our country, as well.

Good luck!

*Note: As always, all opinions are my own.