Public meetings have changed in the digital world. Or have they?

The way our communities held public meetings just a few months ago is very different than today. Now we stream city council meetings on Facebook Live, watch the Governor’s press briefings via YouTube and participate in virtual public meetings with Zoom and WebEx. We chat or post our questions – and we’re kind of getting used to it.

As civic leaders recalibrate public meetings to a digital-first approach, we remind our colleagues of these tried and true do’s and don’ts for productive community conversations.

1. Don’t hold a public meeting just to hold a meeting
Before scheduling an online public meeting for your initiative, ask your team these three questions: Are we ready to listen and be responsive to public input? Can we present meeting content in a way that is both easy to understand and allows the public to weigh in? Will this meeting allow everyone to feel heard and understood? If you answer yes to these questions, it’s time to start planning your meeting!

2. Do hold a dialogue, not a monologue
Engagement is interactive. It is more about listening than telling. In a digital environment, explore the platform’s ways to invite conversation like a chat, Q&A or “raise hand” function. Zoom and other platforms allow breakout discussions in separate “rooms”. At minimum, arrange your presentation content into a few short topic areas, then allow time for discussion between each topic. Insert a “discussion” slide with just two or three specific questions for participants. This helps focus their input and allows you to probe for the input and ideas needed to shape the effort. (“Any comments or questions?” is too vague and can intimidate participants who are still learning and figuring out their positions.)

3. Don’t make it about you
As you think through your meeting goals, it’s easy to fall back on “I need to tell them…”. Instead, begin with what you need to know from them, what they need to know to provide informed input, and what concerns they have already expressed. Be prepared to reflect back what you have already heard to demonstrate you have been listening. Frame all meeting content with their needs in mind first.

4. Do make your presentation visual and easy to understand
As always, less is more on presentation slides. If your sentence starts with, “you can’t see this but…” – it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Use fewer words and more pictures. Research has shown that reading comprehension gets lower as sentences get longer. This is even more important on a digital platform: reading and listening occur in separate areas of the brain. Challenge yourself to convey content with small words and active verbs. Eliminate jargon which, after all, is a foreign language to most. Think again what content will allow participants to give you informed input without overwhelming them. Keep it simple and visual!

5. Don’t lead with data
Let the human element lead the way. People are more persuaded by stories than data. Explain your initiative’s goals in a personal way that paints a vivid picture that everyone can relate to. Why is this initiative so important to the participant’s safety, health or financial stability? What’s in it for them? Remove complicated charts and use data sparingly to support your primary points.

6. Do be kind and respectful of even the most negative questions
Negative comments have a kernel of truth at their core. Listen quietly then acknowledge the question’s valid points. Answer in a calm, kind and respectful way. Validating passionate concerns with empathy can defuse anger and build trust. Maintaining a non-judgmental stance and remaining honest and open garners appreciation from all participants. For a virtual public meeting, invite written questions before the meeting and invite comments in the chat box during the meeting. At minimum, have a moderator read the questions then have presenters respond. If technically possible, allow participants to voice their comments so all can hear them.

7. Don’t over promise
It’s easy to create unrealistic expectations when you sound definitive on things not entirely within your control. By using phrases like “what we hope to accomplish is…” and “how we plan to get there is…”, you manage expectations. It’s perfectly okay to say, “we don’t know yet.” Especially during a time of COVID-19 uncertainty, being upfront about what you don’t know actually makes you more credible. Inviting public input before you know all the details – even when it’s slightly uncomfortable – is what enables the public to shape an outcome they can support. This communicates we’re all in this together and builds trust.

8. Do remember to include those without the internet
Include a dial-in option so participants can participate even without access to the internet. Be sure to distribute meeting notifications in ways that don’t rely on access to a computer. For example, post fliers in high visibility areas like grocery stores, mail meeting announcements to underserved areas and reach out to organizations that work with low income neighborhoods. Ask them to help get the word out about the public meeting or see if they can help you talk directly with those who can’t participate in the official meeting. Include a contact phone number in notification materials so participants can call with comments or questions.

While it may feel like a new world with the sudden all-in commitment to digital engagement, these “old world” principles still apply. Tell your story clearly, seek and listen to diverse points of view, and develop your initiative based on that input. Engaging our communities remains as critically important as ever.

Marie Silver Keister, APR, AICP also contributed to this article. 

Flatten the Curve and Take Care of Employees

In the midst of the cascade of emergency declarations, closings and appeals to maintain social distance, two calls to action have emerged that have resonated with #TeamME: Flatten the Curve and Take Care of Employees.

We’re all reeling, of course, as we begin to grasp what a pandemic really means. We’ve assisted clients as they’ve cancelled events large and small, from city addresses and public meetings to fundraisers and happy hours. Our public sector clients have moved to holding only “mission critical” meetings and calls while still providing the services our residents expect. We all still need highways to be safe, water to be clean and our garbage collected, to name a few examples.

While some states have delayed or even questioned the need for such preventive measures, we’ve been heartened by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s leadership in taking immediate steps to halt COVID-19 from spreading further, faster. His proactive, regular communication and his trust in our public health experts have inspired confidence and resolve, even while uncertainty about societal impact grows.

On Monday and Tuesday last week, we saw claims that cancellations and quarantines were politically inspired or an over-reaction to social media. By Thursday, March 12, we saw the visual “Flatten the Curve” message – taking extreme measures now will slow the spread so it is more manageable for our healthcare system – begin to take hold. It has helped all Ohioans understand why we must act now.

The shift from indifference to action has been needed and swift. Forthright communication, clarity in message – and the visual portrayal of how the virus could overwhelm our medical facilities have broken through the fog of war-like confusion.  These are best practices in communication that work, as we’ve advised our clients time and time again.

As we’ve come to grips with this new reality, we’re now reckoning with how all Ohioans will be affected. Who will take care of the kids while they’re home from school? Who will feed them if they were getting free meals at school? How do hourly employees still pay their bills if they are unable to work? How will those with no safety net at all be affected?

We appreciate the announcements of support for hourly employees who live paycheck to paycheck. Cleveland Cavaliers star Kevin Love pledged $100,000 to employees who work the NBA games at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Following in Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban’s footsteps, several NBA team owners will continue to pay arena workers. Walmart is extending paid sick leave. These are the types of actions major employers can take to fill the gap; smaller employers will have to also think creatively. 

At MurphyEpson, we’re making sure our 10 employees know their jobs are safe and we will support them as they navigate having kids home from school while they also work from home. We’re used to working online and using digital tools to communicate, so this is a no brainer. We’ve also increased paid sick leave and will watch for other ways to support employee needs as they emerge.

We’re also making donations to Central Ohio organizations who support those most in need and include some of those links below.

Hopefully, this pandemic won’t be as extensive as feared because we took the needed steps in time. In the meantime, we’ll do our part to flatten the curve and take care of employees. #teamME, after all, is in our circle of loved ones too.


Community Shelter Board at https://www.csb.org/ 

Move to Propser at https://www.movetoprosper.org/support-us

Central Ohio United Way at https://liveunitedcentralohio.org/

30 Years of Engaging, Inspiring and Connecting Communities

Dedication to Ohio and its communities has driven #TeamME over the past 30 years. We’re proud of our journey! We believe that strategic communication, creative thinking, and a ferocious work ethic have been the building blocks to our success.

As we reflect on the past 30 years, we’re humbled by the life changing issues we’ve impacted. We care about improving communities, and we are thankful for our forward-thinking clients committed to making our world a better, safer place.

Now let’s take a look at the past 30 years of achievements! 

Connected Communities

What agency knows more about highways, airports, scooters, pedestrians, bicyclists, hyperloops, and transit corridors? We are engaged in transportation issues, and believe, as Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says, “Mobility is the great equalizer.”

  • We launched ODOT’s Your Move campaign – one of the first joint agency initiatives of its kind in the nation. The Ohio Departments of Health and Transportation teamed up to encourage more Ohioans to choose active transportation and to make it safer for them to walk, bike and bus.
  • The Long Street Cultural Wall, gave us the chance to work with artists Kojo Kamau and Larry Winston Collins, curator Bettye Stull, ODOT, the City of Columbus, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, and a bevy of community leaders determined to reconnect two neighborhoods separated by I-70 in the sixties.
  • More kids are walking and biking to school in Ohio thanks to the School Travel Plans we co-developed with ODOT and 40+ Ohio school districts. 
  • We wrote an original hip hop song for teens and recruited a youth choir to sing and dance in ODOT’s award winning, Safe Routes to School video.
  • We partnered with Nationwide Insurance and Mothers Against Drunk Driving to get 400 people to lay down on Nationwide Boulevard. Why? To advocate for stronger drunk driving laws because too many people were dying needlessly on Ohio roads.
  • When Honda celebrated 25 years in Ohio, we launched a campaign to show Ohioans that Honda is an economic engine in manufacturing cars and motorcycles, as well as auto parts and supplies. 
  • We were instrumental in helping the City of Columbus win USDOT’s Smart City Challenge. We designed the Smart Columbus Operating System website, and are now in the midst of rolling out state-of-the-smart mobility initiatives throughout the city.

Created Healthy Communities

MurphyEpson is inspired by fueling our communities with information and services that make our lives healthier. Which in return makes our communities a better place to live.

  • MurphyEpson shepherded 33,000 one-on-one statewide conversations about the need for prenatal care to keep Ohio babies from being born too soon, because Our Babies Count
  • We cried when we met the families and recipients of DonateLifeOhio, while we created their campaign to encourage first time drivers to become organ donors. 
  • After learning about the number of children in Columbus still living in homes full of dangerous lead paint, we launched the media and online campaign — Lead Safe Columbus.
  • We empowered women to re-take control of their lives and call the domestic abuse helpline staffed by what is now the Center for Women and Families.
  • MurphyEpson created the Ohio Department of Health’s first toolkit for expecting and new moms. We developed the OHBaby brand that was carried throughout the 19-piece learning guide. The toolkit reaches over 100,000 new and expecting moms statewide.  

Engaged Communities

We love engaging “passionate people”. Okay, they can sound a little angry sometimes, but we’ve facilitated positive conversations around tough, controversial issues. We distill complex subject matters into digestible information so the public can provide informed input. We specialize in bringing down the heat so the public can shape and improve their own communities.

  • After learning that only 1 in 3 residents were satisfied with Powell’s  traffic flow, MurphyEpson lead the effort to engage and inform residents with our development of the Keep Powell Moving campaign. 
  • We’ve shaped statewide transportation through our work on ODOT’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, AccessOhio 2045, The Ohio State University Airport, and Rickenbacker Airport.
  • Our development of the High Street Streetscapes Improvements Project campaign keeps businesses and residents up to date on the transformation happening on High Street. We field those tough conversations for our clients, and guide them on the best ways to manage them, so they can continue to do their important work.

Built Communities

  • Our communications strategy for The Columbus Downtown Plan built confidence in the future of downtown Columbus. This led to a massive overhaul and turned our city center into a dynamic 24/7 place to live, work and play. The plan attracted more than a billion dollars in investment.
  • We named the Scioto Mile as we worked with the former Columbus Mayor, Michael Coleman, to bring swagger to our city.
  • Our work for the JW Galbreath Company – a blast from Columbus’s past – started with a focus on commercial real estate and later became the Real Living brand, which attracted the eye of Warren Buffet.
  • When home ownership seemed out of reach for many in the early 90s, we helped the Columbus Housing Partnership, now Homeport, launch the Parade of Possibilities, which showed the way for many families to buy homes.
  • One a similar front, we are currently helping to launch the Central Ohio Community Land Trust so that more working families can afford a new home.
  • Stopping NIMBY in its tracks, we listened, respected and changed attitudes about affordable housing, helping to greenlight the Barrett Middle School redevelopment and the Van Buren Community Shelter.
  • Some ideas are so good we have to be a part of them, like Move to Prosper’s housing for single moms, and inspiring senators to launch the Wallick Companies’ senior housing communities.

Supported Education

We’ve covered every nook of the K to Career space. We’re passionate about changing the dynamics of childcare and bettering the education system.

  • MurphyEpson created OCCRRA’s brand and developed the organization’s positioning as a professional organization that cares and supports early childhood education.
  • We launched the Columbus Education Commission’s “What’s your good idea?” campaign. We heard from thousands of parents, grandparents and children after we distributed postage paid postcards to gather information and innovative ideas to improve Columbus City Schools.
  • We worked with the Ohio Department of Education to design the K-3 Standards, Kindergarten Readiness materials and Ohio Report Card app.
  • MurphyEpson branded Early Childhood Ohio, which implements programs and services for children and their families that promote and encourage holistic growth, nurturing, development, and learning. Our team also developed their website, trade show signage, and various print and promotional items.
  • We branded the K to Career program for Dublin City Schools, a STEM-inspired program that led to the development of Emerald Campus in Dublin.

Bettered the Environment

  • We kept thousands of tons of trash out of landfills after we launched Columbus’ recycling program, RecyColumbus, which educated community members on how and why to use their blue recycling bins. Columbus now has one of the highest success rates in the nation. 
  • MurphyEpson partnered with the Department of Public Utilities to develop the city’s PUP – pick up poop campaign, to keep our drinking water clean.
  • MurpyEpson is a City of Columbus Green Spot business, and we love doing our part to keep Central Ohio green.

We are grateful to our amazing clients, who have trusted us with their important issues and allowed us to be part of changing their communities. MurphyEpson has a long legacy of “Do Good” and we don’t plan to stop! Call us, email us, or just stop by, so we can start the conversation of doing great work for you!


Kathleen Murphy, founder and President Emeritus of MurphyEpson, and Cindy Byington, Senior Project Manager who worked for Murphy Epson for 28 of our 30 years, contributed to this article. Both are retired but remain treasured members of the #TeamMe family.

Welcome our intern, Brooke!

Welcome to #teamME! Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi everyone! I’m going into my senior year at Central Michigan University majoring in integrative public relations and minoring in event management. I’m so excited to see what knowledge and experience will come from my time spent with the MurphyEpson team. I’m from Michigan, so I have to show some love even in the buckeye State… Go Blue! Anyways, on most days you can find me spending quality time with family, hanging out with friends or binge watching the next hot series on Netflix or Hulu (Yes, I have both).

OK, now it’s time for some rapid fire.

If you could have a cup of coffee with anyone, who would it be?

Mindy Kailing for sure. She’s a writer, actress, comedian, and producer. You may know her as Kelly, from The Office or Mindy, from the Mindy Project (my latest binge-watching obsession), I admire her authenticity, passion for her work, and most importantly the relatability/ability of her characters to always make me laugh. I think our coffee date would be full of insightful life tips and laughter; lots and lots of laughter.

What’s your spirit animal?

Hmmm … honesty, I’m not sure. I decided to leave it up to a quick quiz on the internet because what could go wrong? Drumroll please …  I’m a wolf! What it means to be a wolf: “The power of the wolf brings forth instinct, intelligence, appetite for freedom, and awareness of the importance of social connections. When the wolf shows up in your life, pay attention to what your intuition is telling you.” Actually, very impressed by this answer.

What was your first email address? (Don’t be shy.)

Shoeluver11@hotmail.com … Yes, I’m still a “luver” of shoes. 

What was your first job?

Sales Associate at Aéropostale. I used to love those matching sweat suits.

What’s the next country you want to travel to?

Italy, I’m planning to study abroad for a semester next spring!

If you were a Crayola crayon, what would your name be?  

Golden Yellow. I absolutely LOVE the color yellow. It instantly brightens my day and I try to leave a little of that brightness everywhere I go.

Where did you go to college?

This fall I will be a senior at Central Michigan University. Fire Up Chips!

Phew. What a doozy. Catch your breath and tell us what you do at MurphyEpson.

I’m the communications intern this summer for the #teamME. I’m getting exposed to just about everything PR. I’m sitting in on team meetings, assisting in creating content for social media, proofing print pieces, and learning the ins and outs of client meetings. I love the exposure offered here and hope I can assist all team members.

What do you do outside of work?

I’m a big family gal. Quality time with family and friends is where I spend the majority of my time. I also love to get outdoors when the weather is nice riding bikes, walking around the new city of my summer home or reading a good book. You can sometimes find me trying to perfect my cooking skills or when they fail trying different restaurants throughout Columbus.

MurphyEpson has cultivated quite the culture of philanthropy. What’s your favorite way to giveback to the community?

I really enjoy volunteering at organizations or schools that work with children and adults who have special needs. I love creating connections, watching their accomplishments, and doing anything to see them smile.  

You’ve got one day in Columbus. What do you do?

Well, I am not from the area, so I will give it my best shot. I would start my morning off by going to the Fox in the Snow coffee shop. I’ve been told they have the best iced coffee. Then I would browse the shops and galleries in the Short North. Next, I’d grab some lunch at a place known for their burgers and go see an evening Clippers game. Once the game was over, I’d find a fun karaoke bar, embarrass myself at my own amusement, and get a few late-night apps!  

Give us a note you’d like to end on.

“if you were born with the weakness to fall you were born with the strength to rise”  – Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

Awesome! To learn more about Brooke, connect with her on LinkedIn

Vitaminwater’s $100,000 No Smartphone For a Year Challenge: Could you do it?

Vitaminwater recently launched a conversation-starting New Year’s challenge – $100,00 to select participants that could go a full year without using their smartphone. The contest rules stated that participants would receive a 1996-style cell phone and could use work laptops, desktop computers and voice-activated devices but smartphones and tablets were prohibited.

We polled members of #teamME to find out if they could do it, for how long and what they could accomplish in a year without all of the scrollin’ and swipin’. Check out what we said.

Marie

  1. Could you do it? Not today, but I could when I retire in 10 years or so.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet?  I couldn’t go more than an hour today, because clients and the ME team need to be able to reach me easily. But when I retire? I could definitely go a year. Or five!
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? I’d exercise more and generally be more relaxed.

Cindy

  1. Could you do it? No, I use my phone to navigate, order food, find out operating hours, review work emails every day…it’s too convenient to have this mobility in a small format that I can carry in my purse or pocket and that works without me having to constantly reconnect to different hotspots or networks.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? I couldn’t do it!
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? I do like to leave my phone at home a lot when out walking or when on vacation. It’s too stressful to jump every time I get a ping which is often unimportant Facebook notices. I also don’t like to have it at the dinner table as it really stifles conversation. We were just talking the other day about how people seem to have lost the art of dialoguing back and forth…can we blame it on the phone or the general lack of manners in our culture? No idea.

Missi

  1. Could you do it? YES, 100K count me in!
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? If I was provided a phone to use, I could go the entire year easily. Considering I can still use my laptop or computer, I would still be able to accomplish my daily tasks on those devices.
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? My phone tells me how much screen time I use daily and it bothers me how much time I waste. Detoxing from my mobile device would be so refreshing and I would probably watch more Netflix…just kidding. My extra time would be used to be more active for sure and I would focus on myself more. Love the idea of traveling without GPS but then again, I should get familiar with smoke signals or how to use flares if I am lost.

Nick

  1. Could you do it? No.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? If I did, 1 day.
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? Take more naps, read more books and eat more ice cream.

Stephanie

  1. Could you do it? I think I could do it.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? I’ll pull out my crystal ball and say 3 months, maybe 4 – LOL!
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? I’d just use more paper for directions, notes, reminders, etc.

Angela

  1. Could you do it? Yes. For $100,000? Totally.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? I’d go the full year. Eyes on the prize…literally. 🤑
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? Before I share, here’s some background: if you have an iPhone, you’re able to access how much time you spend each day on screen time. I typically spend between 2-3 hours a day (I know. yikes!). Taking that into account, if I had an extra 2-3 hours in my day because I wasn’t scrollin’ I would use that time to: 1) take more art classes like pottery or painting; 2) learn how to make wine; 3) plan out my next adventure … maybe Spain? And, finally…I’d probably spend a ton of time “taking the scenic route” while driving because I can’t function without a GPS. Haha!

Tim

  1.  Could you do it? I would like to say yes but it would depend on how I received the $100,000. If it was a one-time payment at the end of the year, no. If I received weekly payments of $1,923.08, yes.
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? I would shoot for a year but being realistic not very long. I enjoy the accessibility of information that my phone affords me and don’t feel that the usage of my smartphone hinders my overall productivity. With that being said, if I got past three weeks, I’d be $100,000 richer.
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? I think I would re-discover what it was like as a kid when you had to ride your bike around and knock on your friend’s door’s and ask if they could come outside and play.

Mindy

  1. Could you do it? NOT A CHANCE!
  2. If so, how long do you think you could go before using your smartphone/tablet? I bet I could make it through a long-ish work meeting, maybe two hours. I’m anxious just thinking of trying to go THAT long.
  3. What do you think you could accomplish by ditching your smartphone/tablet for a year? I think it’s similar to giving up pop, candy and other addictive substances – I’d start with physiological withdraws, and then come out the other side with focus, clarity and a sense of accomplishment for having shaken the habit. That, and I’d be able to conquer the free world.

Who’s the Thanksgiving Turkey?

Ah, the most delicious holiday is upon us; filled with family, friends, thanks and of course—mouth-watering food. When it comes to the annual autumn gathering, some people love the turkey most while others prefer mashed potatoes, stuffing, veggies or pie. No matter your favorite, Thanksgiving feasts wouldn’t be complete without each dish, just like #teamME wouldn’t be complete without each member of our cornucopia serving up great work and client service in their own unique way.

Naturally, we needed to know which fare we each would be if we were, indeed, Thanksgiving food. We each took a quiz to find out and the results are in. Check out who’s what if we were Thanksgiving food. You’ll never guess who’s the main turkey:

This year, and every year, we are so thankful for an awesome team filled with many unique professionals with an array of talent, and for the clients we serve. Happy Thanksgiving from #teamME.

On the MEnu: Personal Branding by Account Coordinator, Tim Bates

“Be kind, be self-aware and above all else, be you!”

Last Wednesday, I kicked off #teamME’s inaugural “On the MEnu” lunch and learn by serving up the importance of personal branding.

I define strong personal brands as someone’s authentic and genuine image or reputation. Strong personal brands are not about popularity, boasting or being arrogant. Many people view personal branding as vanity and self-serving but that’s not the case. It’s about intentionally letting your brand shine and being vulnerable. By doing so here are the tradeoffs you’ll experience:

  • Better client and work relationships
  • Added value to your network and communities
  • Increased self-awareness
  • More meaningful interactions
  • Established credibility
  • More confidence

For more, check out my presentation here: On the MEnu: Personal Branding

 

“Character is who you are when no one is watching.”

– Legendary Head Coach, John Wooden

“Your personal brand is who you are when everyone is watching.”

– Tim Bates … maybe