One of our favorite local government videos and communications departments is up for an award! The City of Round Rock, TX is up for a TAMIO award and we sat down with them and got a behind the camera take on their two most successful videos. Check out the videos and interview below.
We happened upon the below video and fell in love, not only with Sean Connery all over again, but with the fun and informative way that this local government communicated. We had to know more. So we sat down with Brian Ligon and Will Hampton to get the inside scoop on how a video like this gets made and what insight they had for us on local government communication. You can also listen to the unedited interview here.
Meet the Practitioners
Brian Ligon, Multimedia Specialist. Brian has worked for the City of Round Rock since 2012 and prior to that he worked for a local news station. He’s usually the man behind the camera but he also made an acting appearance as Ron Pitchman. Twitter and LinkedIn.
Will Hampton, Communication Director. Will has worked for the City of Round Rock since 1998 and prior to that worked as an editor for the Round Rock Leader. Will makes an appearance in both videos as the straight-man, telling the audience what Ron Pitchman and James Bond are trying to say. Twitter and LinkedIn.
The Q & A
First off, give our readers a sense of the biggest issues facing the City of Round Rock.
Every two years we do a community customer satisfaction survey where we ask a whole range of questions. Folks are generally really pleased with the services they get from the city, I mean really pleased. The company that does the survey said that the quality of responses we got are among the top in the nation, with one exception – traffic. We’re in one of the fastest growing cities, in one of the fastest growing counties, in one of the fastest growing states, so it’s been one of the biggest issues facing the city for a long time. Otherwise we’re doing a pretty good job of managing growth.
Outside of traffic it’s how do we continue to improve on the quality of life here in town that has made this place such a fast growing place. Be it public safety, parks and recreation, the library, those sorts of things. And trying to keep it all affordable too. We do pretty well here.
Talk about Round Rock’s overall communications strategy.
We’ve been doing that survey since 1998 and one of the questions we always ask is, where do you get information about the City of Round Rock? So we’ve been able to watch the long term trend of how people get information. It used to be local TV news and the large metro daily newspaper. That’s changed.
Our citizen engagement process has been high tech where it can be, but high touch where it needs to be.
Our strategy has become, on big picture issues to deliver where most people say they get their information. We try to hit the big picture stuff in our mass market media, in the newsletter, in the utility bill. We were an early adopter of social media and that’s been an effective way to reach the public on more specific issues. Our citizen engagement process has been high tech where it can be, but high touch where it needs to be. That approach has served us really well for difficult and controversial projects.
We always start with the problem that we are trying to address, and then we let people know that this is our responsibility – we’re the ones that need to tackle this problem. And then we talk about the proposed solution and how it is reasonable and responsible, we’ve done our homework and looked at alternatives. It’s about being transparent with the process, what we’re trying to do and why. The last thing we do is show that we’re listening and that we care. To those people whose toes we are going to step on, who are going to be impacted the most, those are the people we want to talk to first. And we try to go to them, not make them come to city hall.
With social media, where does Round Rock direct most of its attention?
Going back to our survey, most people don’t get information from our social media, it’s like 8 percent. But we’re there and we have multiple Facebook pages and Twitter accounts – parks and rec, police and library all have their own accounts. It’s a real conundrum for us right now, because the survey shows us that most people aren’t getting information about the city from social media, they’re getting it from the utility bill newsletter and the monthly publication. Those things require hours a month of attention, whereas social media requires hours a day of attention.
So as a communications professional trying to weigh the return on investment, we’re still trying to figure out that balance. The way we’re doing it now works for us with it being decentralized. I think that’s where we are with social media today, we’re there but it’s not the most effective tool for us. Particularly because of the changes in the Facebook algorithm. I’m also convinced that a person isn’t on Facebook to say, “Hey what’s the City of Round Rock up to today?” They are there to see what’s going on with their friends or family.
Walk us through how the videos were created.
The Bonds video really came out of a brainstorming session on a way to update everyone on the bond package that was passed. However, we didn’t have shovels in the ground to show them, it was all plans – or what I would call in the video world, pre-production. That was the stage we were in, but how do you show that to people? Our brainstorming session sort of devolved into bad puns and James Bond references, and I think we suddenly realized that maybe this is the video.
I started doing a really bad Sean Connery impression around the office and we thought maybe there’s something there. I found a piece software called Crazy Talk that makes photos talk and we found a perfect photo of the Sean Connery era Bond and that mixed with a horrible impersonation became, Bonds… City Bonds.
A budget can tell a story, sort of like rings in a tree, there are some thin years, some fat years, and every year there was a set of circumstances that made that ring in the tree what it is.
We made a conscious decision as a city to start crafting videos that are shorter and a little more creative. You have to deliver your message in two or three minutes or you’re going to lose people. You have to really be focused and really creative or people will move on to the next cat video. The goal is to make government video that doesn’t suck, if we can do that we’re doing our jobs.
The Ron Pitchman thing was really the same, every year we go meet with the Finance department and they give us the lowdown on what the budget is and we try to interpret their numbers and turn it into words. We always try to figure out, “What’s the story?” A budget can tell a story, sort of like rings in a tree, there are some thin years, some fat years, and every year there was a set of circumstances that made that ring in the tree what it is.
What are three tips you have for organizations that want to communicate better?
- Buy in. It’s really important to get buy-in from the top, we’ve been lucky that we’ve always had buy-in and people willing to take reasonable risks. Also, some departments get it immediately and have a ton of ideas that are all great. But there are other departments that don’t really want to participate or they’re taking themselves a little too seriously
- Time management. Since we’re a small shop we can’t get to every idea or every department. We’re trying to empower departments to do a little on their own and get them comfortable with trying something new or doing something on their own. One compromise we’re striving for is to get departments to do the filming and we’ll do the editing.
- Saying no. Sometimes you have to be willing to say no to yourself. You have to understand how the community will view certain issues.
It also helps a ton that we work for a really well managed city. We have a ton of creative freedom because because, for the most part, we have a good story to tell.
Are there other local governments that you feel are communicating effectively?