Skip to main content

Personal v. Professional Communication In A Government Job - My Two Cents

The issue of personal vs. professional public communication comes up for me a lot. 

In the spirit of being helpful, here are some thoughts. I really put a lot of time into this one, and asked for feedback before sharing the below as well. I was concerned you'd read my own personal "cheat sheet" and think I was speaking for my agency. 

It's tricky, right? Because I am bound by policy like everyone else, but at the same time we all have to use common sense.

**Long way of saying, these thoughts are not necessarily truisms across the government at all, and are offered only as a way of participating in an ongoing dialogue across our individual organizations.**

I. Variables

1. Agency - explicit and implicit rules/culture; includes your relationship with your supervisor, with Public Affairs, with other internal stakeholders 

2. Role - communicator or technical subject matter expert, for example 

3. Media of choice - e.g. book, blog, newspaper column, Tweet 

4. Seniority

5. Visibility personally; visibility of program 

6. Whether you routinely deal with public-facing information or non-public facing information 

7. Types of topics you tend to communicate about - e.g., are they related to your job, are they explicitly about your job, are you an official communicator on behalf of your program, are they about the policy/management/budget of your agency, and so on

II. What I Do 

1. Public communication outside my job and outside the area of expertise for which I was hired - I don't consult with the agency but I do keep in mind that I'm a public servant and that my actions always reflect on the brand of the federal government as well as my agency.

2. If a reporter calls me on an unofficial basis, I call Public Affairs. 

3.   If I produce content where I'm offering expertise about government communication specifically, I ask Public Affairs/my boss to review it before posting. Review doesn't mean approval, it means giving them a chance to react. Sometimes I miss things that can be misinterpreted.

4. If I produce a substantive piece (e.g. a blog, brochure, video) about my program or the policy/management/budget of my agency, Public Affairs/my boss have input and can disapprove it.

5. I direct reporters straight to Public Affairs for official media interviews rather than taking the call and then serving as an intermediary.

III. Things I Keep In Mind

1.  Public Affairs is busy

2.  Beware of broad, general, strong, declarative statements that lack substantiation 

3. Thoughtful, substantive, nuanced communication is vastly better, but too technical or complex and you lose your audience 

4.  Content tends to be better when it's "fresh" and "stream of consciousness" but feedback also tends to help 

5. IF YOU GET THAT BAD FEELING IN THE PIT OF YOUR STOMACH, DON'T DO IT!

IV. Other

1. I use a strong disclaimer that incorporates a statement like "I don't represent my agency or the federal government as a whole." This can seem like overkill until you hear from people who literally tell you that they think you're speaking for the government when you're totally not.

2. In personal communication, I don't name my agency in the disclaimer because that just draws more attention to the agency, and my goal is to keep the distinction intact.

3. You are entitled to be human and unique and everybody understands that some social media environments are more informal, like Facebook. But also remember that the higher your position in the organization, the more likely that your opinions may be interpreted as your agency's opinions, even with a disclaimer.

4. Be especially cautious when it comes to the Hatch Act. 

5. Remember that posts to professional listservs are a form of public communication. You see it as an email, but a thousand people just got that rant.

- Dannielle Blumenthal

P.S. This is one of those posts where I want to reinforce that this is a post based on my own experience; others' experiences and the expectations placed on them will vary widely, even within the same agency; any opinions expressed are my own; and of course my personal thoughts don't reflect those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo via Wikimedia.


Popular posts from this blog

What is the difference between brand equity and brand parity?

Brand equity is a financial calculation. It is the difference between a commodity product or service and a branded one. For example if you sell a plain orange for $.50 but a Sunkist orange for $.75 and the Sunkist orange has brand equity you can calculate it at $.25 per orange.

Brand parity exists when two different brands have a relatively equal value. The reason we call it "parity" is that the basis of their value may be different. For example, one brand may be seen as higher in quality, while the other is perceived as fashionable.

________________
All opinions my own. Originally posted to Quora. Public domain photo by hbieser via Pixabay.

What is the difference between "brand positioning," "brand mantra," and "brand tagline?"

Brand positioning statement: This is a 1–2 sentence description of what makes the brand different from its competitors (or different in its space), and compelling. Typically the positioning combines elements of the conceptual (e.g., “innovative design,” something that would be in your imagination) with the literal and physical (e.g., “the outside of the car is made of the thinnest, strongest metal on earth”). The audience for this statement is internal. It’s intended to get everybody on the same page before going out with any communication products.Brand mantra: This is a very short phrase that is used predominantly by people inside the organization, but also by those outside it, in order to understand the “essence” or the “soul” of the brand and to sell it to employees. An example would be Google’s “Don’t be evil.” You wouldn’t really see it in an ad, but you might see it mentioned or discussed in an article about the company intended to represent it to investors, influencers, etc.Br…

Nitro Cold Brew and the Oncoming Crash of Starbucks

A long time ago (January 7, 2008), the Wall Street Journal ran an article about McDonald's competing against Starbucks.
At the time the issue was that the former planned to pit its own deluxe coffees head to head with the latter.
At the time I wrote that while Starbucks could be confident in its brand-loyal consumers, the company, my personal favorite brand of all time,  "...needs to see this as a major warning signal. As I have said before, it is time to reinvent the brand — now.  "Starbucks should consider killing its own brand and resurrecting it as something even better — the ultimate, uncopyable 'third space' that is suited for the way we live now.  "There is no growth left for Starbucks as it stands anymore — it has saturated the market. It is time to do something daring, different, and better — astounding and delighting the millions (billions?) of dedicated Starbucks fans out there who are rooting for the brand to survive and succeed." Today as …