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Awareness is best way to handle First Amendment “auditors”
by TOM BRYSON, CPC - President-Elect 3CMA | Past President TAMIO

It was a fairly low-key late Friday afternoon when two unknown guys with cell phone cameras blazing, streaming Facebook LIVE, barged into our City Hall and demanded that a Human Resources employee make them coffee.

That was their first stop in their grand, self-guided tour of the building in hopes of aggravating someone to the point of viral video.

Unfortunately, these two are no longer unusual on the public landscape. Sometimes individuals and sometimes teams are out there, armed with YouTube, and proclaiming themselves to be “auditors of” or “crusaders for” the First Amendment. They know that they are allowed to enter public buildings with cameras turned on and their goal is to provoke public employees to the point of creating a confrontation that will lead to hits on their monetized YouTube channel.

Having made careers out of exercising the First Amendment, most of us would actually admire anyone that truly engaged in the altruistic goal of defending that golden paragraph.

However, make no mistake about it, many of these people are generally not out for the greater good. In their quest for viral video, they treat public employees as subservient, they will sometimes ask incomprehensible questions in order to capitalize on the puzzled look they get in return and otherwise engage in outright insults if no other method is working to get a rise out of someone.

They thrive on confrontation and have found that these tactics can make them money with online hits. They are not First Amendment “auditors” as much as they are First Amendment “exploitation artists.” And, there is an audience out there. They have fans that egg them on. To read the comments following many of these videos can be a real eye-opener.

This trend started with those that would confront police officers in their cars, on the street or in their stations. In the past year, they have branched out to other public buildings – city halls, libraries, fire stations and more. YouTube is crowded with videos of their exploits (and I use the term “exploits” quite intentionally). Just search “First Amendment Audit” and you’ll get a plethora of video to view. Tweak your search and you’ll also see where cops and other public employees handled the situation superbly. Those situations are golden and are the real learning moments for the rest of us.

If you see these people coming your way, and you won’t have much notice, do not be lulled into any belief that they’re just scattershooting in hopes of coming up with something. These folks are smart, calculating and, on the whole, pretty fearless (many have been arrested multiple times for pushing the envelope). 

Good advice for staff is:
  • Except for work areas, photography and/or video is permitted in public buildings – even if the person stares at a clerk with their camera for 10 minutes or more. It’s infuriating, but it’s legal.
  • Be professional and polite. If they say they don’t need help, do your best to ignore them and go back to your job.
  • Be calm. I know it’s like holding back the ocean but be calm.
  • Be aware of your tone and body language.
  • Don’t tell them they can’t photograph or video and don’t try to take their camera.
  • Don’t argue, definitely don’t use profanity and don’t physically touch anyone.
  • Call the police only if you feel threatened.

By the way, some have said we should use our own phones to record them. However, that opens up your device to potential Open Records implications.

It is best not to engage them if at all possible. However, those of us that deal with the legitimate news media on a regular basis may have to employ those skills and be on top of our game to stay in control on any confrontation with these folks.

So, what’s the worst that can happen? 

If anyone in your organization gives them something that can go viral, your agency could look prominent amongst that audience – which, admittedly, are folks you likely weren’t going to win over in the first place. However, if it’s really, let’s say ‘expressive’ video, that’s the kind of thing that news stations these days like to pick up on and proffer to the masses that long to see people doing things that maybe they shouldn’t. The absolute worst case is if they succeed in provoking someone into action that violates policy, or worse, the law. I do not know if anyone has ever lost their job after such a confrontation, but it is conceivable.

In our case, the Human Resources Director and I did try to engage them in an effort to get between them and the rest of the staff. We didn’t give them much to work with as they were unsuccessful at pushing our buttons, although he did make them coffee. 

Months later, they recut that day’s video in an effort to specifically make us both look bad. 

Whatever. 

Should I personally care that they’re trying to embarrass me publicly? No. It’s not worth my time. 

Still, I’d rather not help them make money at the expense of my city and my colleagues. That’s why it’s important to avoid giving them anything to work with.

Hopefully, your agency never has to deal with this. However, especially if you are in a metro area, chances are you will. It is best to keep your staff in the know and at least informed of how to best deal with these “crusaders.”

As always, arm yourself with information.

Building History
by Patty Prince, Communications Manager - City of Manassas, VA

I’ve always thought of myself as a communicator, sharing news, information and stories on behalf of the locality I work for.  The other day, however, a few things happened that changed my way thinking.

Recently, one of the city’s previous city managers passed away.  I was asked to create a press release about his years of service to the community.  Never having met this gentleman, I raked through various news articles gleaning information about his tenure with the city and then began looking for a photo to accompany the article.  After reaching out to multiple people within the organization, I was told that this city manager had worked here BP.  

Hmm, what was BP?  I asked and was told that it stood for “Before Patty.”  That’s me.  Now, my ego is not big enough to think that I had made such a big difference in the history of the city, but before my tenure with this locality, there was no communications department.  As a matter of fact, any communications from or about the city was haphazard at best and most of it was in the range of crime reports.  There was no one person or department dedicated to telling the City’s story or sharing news with the community.

That is what started me thinking that communicators/PIO’s are not just sharing news and information but building institutional history.  

Another happening that led to my thought process is the retirement of our long time Executive Assistant to the City Manager.  After 32 years of service, she is retiring, and rightfully so.  But, what goes with her is years of institutional knowledge and memories that are literally the history of our City.

So, how do we help as communicators?  If you are like me, you and, if you are a big department, your team are documenting all of the ribbon cuttings, events and happenings for your agency or locality.  You are, in essence, keeping your locality or department’s history.  With each photo taken and each press release, social media post or blog post written, you are creating a living history for your city, county or community.

It's a powerful thing to think about.  And, for those of you who work with video, your videos document a snapshot of time in history.  With all of the web access we use these days, i.e., social media, websites, video hosting sites, etc., that history, or story can now be shared with a much broader audience.

In our City, BP (before Patty), when someone retired, their institutional knowledge retired with them.  Now, with the large volume of photos, posts and shared news, the City’s story will live on, even as, in years to come, others take over communication responsibilities for the city.  

So, the next time you are at an event, council meeting or talking to a reporter on behalf of your community, remember, this is a part of your locality’s history and you are a huge part of it.

3C’s for a Happy, High-Performing Team
by Jennie Vana, APR - Chief Communications Officer - Lake County, IL
 
I have a great team. I mean REALLY. GREAT. They are happy and high-performing - year after year, exceeding expectations and delivering creative and innovative communications (take a look at some of our Savvy award-winning projects). 

I got to thinking about what makes our team so awesome and how other leaders may be able to grow their own awesome teams. So, I asked a few of my team members to share their thoughts and I added a few of my own. It came down to these 3 C’s: 

1. Connection – Feeling connected to what you do (and why you do it) and connecting with each other to deliver on that purpose.

We don’t have an official department mission statement. (It’s something that came up on a 3CMA Facebook post recently though and made me think we should). Unofficially, we do have a shared sense of purpose which is…communicating and engaging with residents to build relationships and trust– and recognizing this is important work that makes a difference. 

That’s the why, now how do we do that? 

As the leader, I try to create an environment where creativity and ideas can thrive. We have “huddle-ups” every other week to talk about projects and brainstorm new ideas. 

I think something we do well is recognize, appreciate and leverage the unique skills, talents and capabilities of each team member. I try to make adjustments to best leverage a team member’s talents because when someone is really good at something and passionate about it, they are going to be more productive and satisfied. 

Our physical work environment helps promote collaboration too. Several members work in a “pod” where six members have desks congregated together. It’s very common for one to say to another – “Hey, what do you think of this? Or, “Can you help me think through this?” And, while my desk isn’t in the pod, I try to make time every day to go to the pod and ask questions or foster a conversation. 

As one of my team members put it, “Because we collaborate and share ideas, each of us feels a sense of pride and ownership in everything that the team produces.” 

To stay connected to my team, it is a priority for me to keep them informed, as much as possible. (How can you feel connected as a team if the leader keeps you in the dark?) So even when I’m dealing with a big, sticky political issue, I share what I can so they can learn and grow (because after all, if I’m a good leader, I’m preparing them to fill my shoes one day). 

Lastly, you have get to know each other to feel real connection. For example, rather than going to the cafeteria to fill up on ice or grab a snack alone, we tend to go together and catch up on family/kids, or the cool, new TV show (the millennials have turned me on to some good Netflix shows). We go to lunch together to celebrate a birthday and have ice cream socials and talk about big projects. And, the team member who is more of an introvert and doesn’t join us for water breaks, does actively participate in some of the other team activities – and even brings the ice cream toppings!

2. Commitment – Sharing a commitment to do our very best.

My team and me give 100% all of the time. I have a strong work ethic and set the standard, which for me include: integrity (always do the right thing), responsibility/accountability, and emphasis on high quality and teamwork. 

We set annual goals and measure our success throughout the year. We use data and metrics to help drive decisions. For example, how did this video perform? What is trending on social? Evaluating analytics on a regular basis allows us to constantly adapt and grow. We have fewer failures because we start to learn what doesn’t work, and we have more successes because we start to learn what does work. And of course, we’re happier when we’re succeeding. (By the way, it also REALLY helps to have a team member that is really passionate and gets geeked out over metrics. Before he came on board a few years ago, we weren’t as good at this). 

Also, mean what you say and say what you mean. Be direct. Communicate your expectations. Talk about where you fall short and how we can do better. Give team members praise and put them in the spotlight when they deserve it. Show them you value them. And, say these things often and mean it…thank you…I appreciate you…good job…what can I do to help you? 

A mentor told me years ago that she sends a thank you note to her staff members on their anniversary. I stole that and have been doing it ever since. 

3. Confidence – The team needs to be confident in its leader and likewise, he/she has to have confidence in the team. With confidence, comes freedom to create and explore. It is earned through mutual trust and respect. 

I really try to promote growth for my team members and often times that requires pushing (or nudging) them beyond their comfort zones, and sometimes it takes me stepping back and giving them the space to do that. For example, I’m the lead media spokesperson, but I’m not always going to be around and I need to trust my team to step in. Last year when record floods occurred while I was on vacation and it garnered statewide and national attention, my team stepped up and kicked #!%*. 

I know that my team is fulfilled when they are allowed to be creative and innovative. As one team member said, “There is no better feeling than successfully implementing something that hasn’t been done before.” And, winning national awards helps build confidence too - By the way, did you submit for a SAVVY this year? 

Give your team your trust and support and it will build their confidence – and yours. It will also result in a more fulfilled, creative and productive team. 

In summary, whether you’re a leader or a team member, you can use the 3C’s to be satisfied and productive at work. And remember, a little effort can go a long way. 

And for my fellow leaders, I leave you with this… “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge (Simon Sinek).” I really strive to be that kind of leader every day and my team and me are happier as a result. 

Jennie Vana, APR
Chief Communications Officer, Lake County, IL 
Jennie leads this happy, high-performing communications team, which includes 14 people (full and part time). She has been with Lake County for 11 years and has more than 20 years of Communications experience. 

Trauma and the Role of the Communicator: A Look at Charlottesville and Las Vegas
“As I sat in the EOC and the number of dead kept climbing and climbing and we could see video from the scene of people lying on the ground, I remember thinking ‘This is surreal.’ We practiced this so many times – I’ve gone through FEMA Training in Emmitsburg (MD) three times. But this was the real thing. Now it’s really happening.”

It was Sunday, October 1, 2017, and veteran communicator and City of Las Vegas Communications Director David Riggleman was handling what would become the nation’s deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. It also had a personal impact on Riggleman and the hundreds of city employees who responded.

On the other side of the country, just a few months earlier, another veteran communicator and Communications Director, Miriam Dickler, was dealing with a planned rally and protest, that became a nation-wide event. Her city of Charlottesville, VA, was in the midst of what became a deadly incident between Unite the Right members and counter protesters. 

“We were prepared for the rally, but then the other events happened – the vehicular homicide and the helicopter crash that killed two state troopers, whose friends from the state police were working next to us,” said Dickler. “In the actual event, I think most of us put our heads down and just go to work. There just isn’t time to deal with your own emotions. But when it slowed a bit, I made the mistake of calling my husband just to check in. For me, hearing his voice, just broke that dam and I ugly cried all over the command center. It was just such a sad, hard and stressful day.”

For 3CMA members across the country, dealing with tragedy, loss, emergencies, violence and natural disasters is a very real part of the job. Members who have weathered the storm are quick to share their experiences and how they handled the media onslaught and the need to keep citizens informed. What is seldom discussed, however, is the mental toll that such experiences take on not only the first responders, but the entire team dealing with the incident. The very personal stories of David Riggleman and Miriam Dickler are shared here, demonstrating their passion for helping fellow communicators to be better prepared when dealing with trauma on the job.
 
Charlottesville, VA and Las Vegas, NV
 
In Charlottesville, a city of nearly 50,000, it started in May of 2017 when the city received a request from a Ku Klux Klan group in North Carolina to hold a July 8 event. Staff geared up for the event, working with partner agencies like the county, university, police and state police. The event took place with only a few arrests and no major injuries. 

It was followed by a request from Unite the Right for an August 12 event to protest the potential removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. The group that came to Charlottesville included Neo-Nazis, alt-right and white supremacists who carried torches as they marched through the University of Virginia Campus on August 11. Their big rally was planned for the next day.

“We knew it would be larger than the July event and we had time to plan,” said Dickler. “The State Police PIO and I made a decision to start up a Joint Information Center (JIC). We didn’t ask, we just knew we’d need more than two people as we’re not a big city or county. So, we started bringing a team together and preparing and anticipating.” By August 12, the communications team numbered 12. “We thought in an abundance of caution we’d have everyone in the JIC so that we could communicate well with our community and the national media.”

The day before the event, Dickler sent an email to the press corps with primary and secondary contact names and info. A communicator from the state was given permission to post on the team’s behalf to the city’s Facebook and Twitter feed in the JIC. They would be the official outreach tools. Statements were prepared in advance defining a state of emergency and an unlawful assembly. 

Everything changed that afternoon when an alt-right supporter drove his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others. Just a few hours later a helicopter that was monitoring the events crashed, killing two troopers. 

“We had planned for regular press conferences and updates, but new things kept happening that overtook the issue at hand,” said Dickler. 

In Las Vegas, a metropolitan area of two million, there was no warning. At 10:08 p.m., the Route 91 Harvest festival, an outdoor country music concert was interrupted by the sound of gunfire. A gunman on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino was firing on a crowd of about 22,000. The gunfire lasted for 10 to 15 minutes, leaving 58 dead and 489 wounded. 

It had been a beautiful Sunday and the Riggleman family had enjoyed a cookout and relaxing evening. “Around 10:30 p.m., I got a call from our emergency manager that there had been an incident at the concert and possibly a few killed and injured. My 16-year-old heard me on the phone and went on Snapchat where his friends at the concert were posting videos. I knew I had to go in right away because I could hear the automatic gunfire,” said Riggleman. Little did he know it would be 24 hours before he would return home.
 
During the Event
 
“I’m not sure you can mentally prepare for it – it is a lot to take in. It brings up a lot of feelings for everyone on the team,” said Dickler. “Part of my job is to not only make sure I’m OK, but to watch my team. When the troopers died, I made sure my teammates from the state police had a chance to get up and take a walk. Likewise, I had colleagues in the command center asking me if I had eaten, if I had gotten up. That support from your work family is essential.”

DIckler says learning to let go was also key. “One person just cannot do it all. We had to rely on the team and the relationships we develop with our colleagues and have trust in them in the midst of the incident,” she added. “I don’t like to let other people do things – I know it’s my job to be the messenger and to make sure it will be delivered right. But I had to let go of that because there is only so much you can do. Plus relying on your team allows you to stand up for 10 minutes or get a sandwich or just breathe. You don’t realize how much you need that.”

For Riggleman, the reality of the impact hit hard. “We were getting a crush of media calls from around the world and seemingly everyone had my cell number.” The work was interrupted by the personal – as he learned a co-worker had died at the concert. When they told me Cameron had been killed, I couldn’t believe it. I had just emailed him before heading home at the end of the workweek.” It seemed everyone in the community knew someone who was killed or wounded. 

“That night, I was in work mode. I’ve been in the news business and government communications and you cope by going into work mode. You separate yourself and view it through the lens of work. When I finally did have a chance to leave, I thought I’d go home and crash, but in fact, I couldn’t sleep,” said Riggleman. “Council members are looking to you for information and answers, your team is looking to you for leadership, and part of the reality is that there is just an adrenalin blast --- not in a good way – that makes it hard to say, ‘I’m tired’ because you don’t feel like you should stop. 

“I essentially went three days with hardly any sleep. And I found myself becoming less and less productive and more frazzled. My stress level just stayed at a high level for so many days in a row. I needed time to recoup.” 

Both Riggleman and Dickler shared that their families helped them cope. “When I was home, I could relax with them and try to not think about it for a time. It’s also about understanding that even though you are working the event there will be a lot of tears and a lot of pain,” said Riggleman. “Surround yourself with people who love you,” added Dickler.
 
The Effect of Trauma
 
Both cities quickly addressed the needs of their employees, deploying their Employee Assistance Programs to offer help to all employees impacted by the events. 

In Vegas, even more help was needed due to the intensity and impact of the horrific events. The Las Vegas Fire Department has a professional crisis administrator on staff who became an important conduit for all city employees. The City’s Communications team arranged for a video interview with Crisis Intervention Administrator Angela Leath and the Fire Chief to help explain what employees might be feeling and the signs of stress to look for in teammates. It was quickly shared throughout the government.  (View Video)

“We let people know that right after the event, it is common not to be able to sleep. And that it’s OK to ask for help. That can be tough, as we have a lot of Alpha personalities in public service and people think they must be tough,” said Leath. “We have to share that it is OK to talk with someone because if you don’t, it can catch up with you.”

Outside resources were volunteered as well. A Canine First Responders Team, which included first responders, trained in critical incident management and psychological first aid, came in from the east coast with their four-legged therapy dogs and returned after 90 days for follow up assistance.

“There is an actual chemical reaction happening in your body when you deal with a trauma,” said Leath. “Most people don’t know that there is a reaction in your brain that you don’t control.”

According to an April 2010 article in Psychology Today, Trauma Expert Peter Levin explains that trauma happens “when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some way overwhelming.” Symptoms can include hypervigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, helplessness and avoidance behavior. Trauma can also cause individuals to trigger old traumatic memories. 

“For some of our employees, they can’t look at a tall building without scanning it looking for a potential shooter,” said Leath. “This event took place at buildings we drive by every day. Just looking at them can make your heart race. It can have that kind of impact on you. And for our first responders, it can bring back memories of traumas and old calls they’ve dealt with before.”

Leath added that for communicators, the stress can be compounded by having to monitor the news for inaccuracies, which can require watching the traumatic events over and over again. 

“Help doesn’t always have to be through a counselor. It can be a priest, pastor, friend or even relaxation techniques,” Leath said. “We now know that you don’t have to be on the scene to experience trauma. At the same time, we do have a choice in how we respond to a stressful incident. We can choose to get help. The shooter did not take away our power of choice.”

10 Tips to Help Address Trauma - Click Here

Weathering the Storm - Preparing for Hurricane Season
by Nannette Rodriguez - Chief Communications Officer, Clerk & Comptroller, Palm Beach County, Florida and 3CMA President

When preparing for hurricane season, we plan for the worse and hope for the best. Harvey, Irma and Maria, this year, demonstrated the vast and diverse challenges hurricanes can have on communities. 

In South Florida, we have a learned a thing or two from our experiences.  Here are some tips to use when developing and preparing a communications plan for the recovery of a hurricane.

First, your plan needs to assume that there will be no power and no broadcast and electronic communications available. 

Juice up as many back-up battery packs as you can for cellphones. Emergency operations may or may not have satellite phones, generators and Wi-Fi pods to use sparingly.

Keep with you a laminated list of all important contact phone numbers and email addresses. The list should include team members, media (even media outside your area), community organizations and associations, and other agency communicators. You may have to relay information to someone outside the area, such as a mutual aid partner, to get information to those on the list. 

Pre-determine several geographically diverse public locations in the community where important information and/or resources may be disseminated. Select locations with which the public may be familiar (park, government center, and/or major intersection) – buildings may be destroyed, so landmark locations are important.  

Post storm, the operations team must try to clear passage to the pre-determined locations as a priority – if they still exist. 

Once an assessment has been made, place visible markers or flags at the locations.  You can even color code them (red = not accessible/available, yellow = limited resources/access, and green = accessible/available). Another alternative is to shoot off flares (smoke signals) periodically so that the estimated location can be seen by others.

Pre-make fill-in the blank signs and flyers that detour the public to another pre-determined location in case that location is not immediately accessible (e.g. fallen trees or floods blocking safe passage). Plan to have volunteers safely near those locations with the informational flyers. Flyers may have to be dropped into areas from helicopters or drones. 

Since information can change, have materials available such as lots of paper and waterproof markers and even spray paint to create new messages in public areas.

Partner with a local airplane banner sign company to fly messages in affected areas.

Use bullhorns to communicate messages as you travel through the community. Make sure you have enough back-up batteries too.

Be prepared to walk and sweat and be attacked by mosquitoes. Have two sets of appropriate shoes, clothing and toiletries in your to-go pack.  You may be camping out for a while. 

Most importantly, communicate the communications plan to everyone prior to a disaster, so that the operational and logistics teams, media, and the community are aware how you will communicate and from where. 


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