TCU Takeaways: CODE RED!

Chad Doran (LinkedIn and Twitter), City of Appleton, WI, is blogging about  finishing the Certified Public Communicator Program at TCU. Read about the first two parts of his experience –   and TCU Takeaways.


Wednesday, July 26

Crisis communication was the focus today. We spent the day involved in a mock crisis scenario. The scenario involved responding to a school bus stuck on a railroad crossing at the top of a hill, train barreling toward it, and a derailment. We played out the scenario by breaking into small teams with team members playing various roles. Our final product was a mock news conference and media interviews. We were then critiqued on our performance.

Crisis communication is all about practice, practice, practice. During a real event, you cannot be unsure of your role.

Preparing pre-produced information is good strategy for planning ahead. This might include a press release template, pre-approved tweets and Facebook posts. You should also have an updated contact list for internal staff, news media and key partner agencies.

Put together a kit or “go bag” with pre-produced information, updated contact information, a spare laptop, cell phone, batteries and even snacks. When a crisis strikes, you will save time by having a “go bag” which will allow you a few extra minutes to prepare for media inquiries. Do you have internal team members who help with crisis communication? These pre-produced kits can also benefit them.

Practice scenarios are a good opportunity to update your crisis communication plan. Identify the different roles that your team can fill to make your job as the PIO easier.

Glad this type of day is part of the course. We’re officially over the hump on our final week of training for the program. Tomorrow is graduation day!


Tuesday, July 25

One of the benefits of the CPC program is networking. Much like what makes ELGL great, the program connects with us with others who we might not otherwise come in contact with. We spend 13 days together, 100 hours of class time.

What that means is plenty of opportunity for networking and of course, some fun. Last night several of us attended the Texas Rangers baseball game. A great way to unwind, and continue a discussion of things we learned in class. While training is important, networking is equally important. Take the opportunities if you have them, push for them if you don’t.

What I’ve learned at TCU, I will carry with me throughout my career. Becoming more skilled in strategic planning will serve the community of Appleton far beyond my time. I also have gained new friends and colleagues to lean on for advice.

Today we are honing in on the finer points of strategic communication plans. We’re cleaning up missing details and making last minute changes. We feel good about where we’re at and we’re realizing the potential impact on our organizations.

We’re spending time today laying the groundwork for a major exercise in crisis communication. We’re tying strategic plans into crisis communication plans and identifying the most types of crises our organizations face. You can’t plan for every type of crisis, but you can create basic protocols and procedures.

One of the key things to remember about a crisis – put the public first, don’t speculate and be human.

We also spent time touching on ethics in government. Let’s just say that again. Ethics in government. Yes, the average person would laugh at those words together in the same sentence. Local government professionals must show transparency, integrity and stewardship. Do any of these words appear in your organization’s mission statement?

We wrapped up the day with on-camera media training. All 25 of us are public information officers. Some for cities, some for counties, some for school districts. But not everyone in the group is comfortable in front of the camera. This is a good exercise because it force organizations to figure out their best media representatives. Often the PIO is that person, sometimes the mayor or city manager, or even a department head. The bottom line is the PIO doesn’t have to be the person to speak on behalf of the organization.

We’re touching on different areas of practical application in the first two days. One of the great things about this course is the diversity of thought. We are focused on the skills to create a strategic communication plan. Many of the sessions are complimentary to the process. For anyone looking for a higher level training beyond a training conference, this is a great experience and adds a new set of skills to your communication toolbox.

Plus as we learned this week … plenty of #cityhallselfie opportunities in the Dallas/Fort Worth area! Tonight we tick off #1 – Fort Worth City Hall … after an authentic Texas BBQ experience of course!


It’s the real day one!  It may have been 400 degrees in Fort Worth, TX, but on Sunday night, we tackled the interesting topic of placemaking in communities and more specifically, architectural history as it relates to memories.

The takeaway for public communicators was the importance of a community’s sense of pride and the need to preserve and share the memories created by historic buildings or place. Not every community has a Space Needle or Empire State Building, but it might have a historic school, monument, or place. Those places create strong emotions.

For example, when Taco Bell franchise was founded, the façade of its restaurants were modeled after the Alamo. A familiar sight that created an emotional response in people.

We began our first full day of class with a two hour session on the law. A good portion of that time was spent discussing social media and the potential legal issues stemming from its use. We discussed what people can say on your page, when you can block people from your page and how live-streaming of content impact (both good and bad) how we interact with our community. We also had the opportunity rapid fire any and all questions at Daxton Stewart (@MediaLawProf).

We also talked about local government communicators having a “seat at the table” – the leadership table. Russell Mack, a former speechwriter for President Reagan (along with an accomplished private sector career) discussed thinking about how government communicators can be viewed as communication leaders rather than just communicators.

My favorite thoughts from the talk:

  • A communication leader vs. communicator:
    • A communication leader spots problems in advance – a communicator cleans up messes after the fact.
    • A communication leader influences decisions – a communicator carries out orders.
    • A communication leader is a trusted member of the strategic team – a communicator is a cog.

You don’t have to be a senior executive to be a communication leader, you just have to make yourself heard!


And this great list:


The whole idea is to ensure that we make communications a meaningful role where you have the maximum influence, not only on execution but also the strategy that precedes communication and sometimes, on core policy decisions.

We also spent some time looking at municipal websites. Jacque Lambiase ‏(@lambiase) is working on project that studies local government websites and the difference between using them for engagement and customer service.

(Attn: Ben Kittelson there’s a GovLove episode in here. She studied 200 government websites and – news flash – most of them suck. They aren’t easy to use, they are outdated, static and boring.)

For many local governments, a website is the primary source of information – the digital front door – that we often neglect to manage.

Lastly we finished day one with an exercise on leadership by Chris Nalor, Col (USMC Ret.) and TCU leadership professor. We were tasked with taking a blank sheet of paper and drawing our idea of what leadership looks like. No words, only pictures. The exercise allowed us to see the different visions of what leadership means to members of the cohort. Chris led an excellent exercise and was an excellent motivational speaker.

Whereas our first year in the program focused on theory, we focusing on the practical application this year. We’re off to a hell of a start so far.


Let’s do this. The ELGL bag tag is racking up more local government miles in the friendly skies.

I am headed back to Fort Worth, TX for the third (and final) trip for the Certified Public Communicator program at TCU. My two previous trips were quite the learning experience – not to mention an immersion into the land of “everything is bigger…”

We’re working on creating a three-year strategic communication plan for our organizations. Building the skills to create one and learning what it takes to update it in the future. Creating a plan from scratch has been an awesome experience. There have been countless meetings with City of Appleton, WI staff and the Appleton mayor to research, discuss, write, refine and refine some more.

It’s a gigantic relief to finish this plan. Now, I’m looking forward to a week of learning about the next steps, rather than stressing about finishing the plan like some people in last year’s cohort and some of my cohort will be this year.

This #ELGLSconnie is sweating thinking about the 100+ degree temps awaiting me in Fort Worth. I’m concerned it will melt my cheese curds in my bag. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

I’m excited to see my CPC pals again, including ELGL member Brian Ligon, who is the best video production specialist in local government. I am always learning new tricks from him.



Stay tuned for mildly interesting dispatches and tweets from Texas to come, including purple margaritas, the world’s best BBQ, Venn diagrams and more.


Supplemental Reading