TCU Takeaways: Rattlesnake and Mao

Posted on July 24, 2016

Chad Doran (LinkedIn and Twitter), City of Appleton, WI, is blogging about his experience at the Certified Public Communicator Program at TCU. 

Friday, July 29

Dispatches from 30,000 Ft.


A few observations from 30,000 ft.:

  • Texas has a lot of airports
  • Rainbows can be seen from the sky and they’re prettier up here
  • Seeing the world from above helps keep it all in perspective
  • Being back home is where it’s at!

This is a little late. It was a fun and furious finish to the TCU CPC course this week. I started writing this on the plane Friday from high above somewhere over Alabama or Mississippi.

I’ll recap where we left off Thursday morning. Following the great session on legal issues and social media with Dr. Joshua Bentley, Dr. Bright gave us a deeper look into the concept of brand manifestos where the key takeaways are: to make sure that your brand clarifies, why you do what you do, to internal staff and the public. She also taught us to ensure that the brand is written from the voice of your entire organization and that it acts as a call to action for others to join.

This was followed by an exercise to get our creative juices flowing with Dr. Stacy Grau. We paired up with fellow cohort member and had 30 minutes to design our ideal wallet, from sketch to prototype. It was harder than it seems, and more so, if you stink at drawing like I do. I took away from exercise the importance of team work and how we need to not fear failure. Conceptualize, design, prototype and test an idea. Do it without fear and do it relentlessly. You can rely on the strengths of others to make up for your own weaknesses, and in the end, you will have  a better product. Whether designing wallets or strategic plans.

Following the last full day of class, we participated in a ceremony for the cohort before us as they completed their training to become Certified Public Communicators. The graduates logged long hours collaborating with their city, county and school district staff to develop a comprehensive communication plan that will serve their communities for the next three years. They also worked and bonded with each other through three different sessions at TCU over the course of two years. A well-deserved honor for each of them.

After the ceremony, a group of guys headed out for BBQ. Since I’ve never been to Texas, my friends said I had to try it. The Woodshed Smokehouse is a top notch BBQ experience. I had the Butcher’s Sandwich, which on this day included pork, beef brisket, rabbit and rattlesnake sausage. Three meats that I hadn’t tried before, but I were a delicious palate-pleasing combo.


We finished the night playing the card game Mao. I’d never played before, but if you are looking for some laughs over a fun game, give it a whirl. There are many variations of how to play and we played silently, which led to the game being anything but. We were at it until the wee hours of the morning and until no one could laugh anymore. Long past bedtime for many of us middle-aged municipal servants.


Our final morning was an opportunity to meet with our faculty advisors. I’ll just plug that the TCU strategic communication staff are amazing to work with. They are a phone call or email away. We were also paired up with a graduate of the program from this week and they will mentor each of us through the program.

Professional development, no matter what area of local government you are in, is important. I’m fortunate to work for a Mayor who believes strongly in training. I’ve been fortunate to go to different types of training each of my two years working for the City of Appleton. For me it’s a great chance to experience what other professionals are doing and learn new things we could implement. But I also come back from a week of training and refreshed and ready to tackle new tasks. 

I’m looking forward to the next few months as we begin drafting our strategic communication plans. Lots of challenges lie ahead but, we’ll be back together again in January for short stay. More in-depth training and a check-up on how our plans are developing. A nice getaway from sub-zero temperatures here in Wisconsin.

Editor’s Note: If you can’t get enough of Chad, check out:

Chad’s friends are our friends. We invite TCU CPC graduates or current students to join ELGL. Details here.


Thursday, July 28

#CityHallSelfie Day Begins Early

In the spirit of #cityhallselfie day on August 15, we deemed our last full class day #cpcselfieday






Thursday and Social Media

Thursday is already off to a rocking start. Despite the long nights we’ve had exploring the town and bonding, Dr. Joshua Bentley lit up the room with his talk on law and ethics. When the conversation veered toward social media, it went off the rails. Everyone in the room started peppering him with questions and the best part was he was cool with us derailing his presentation. He spent time talking about our real-world examples of social media issues. We learned a ton. Note to TCU comm students: take his class!

We’ve also got more social media on tap for today, this time social media strategies. Looking forward to that one this afternoon. Tonight is a graduation ceremony for the class before us. Should be a fun experience and likely get us pumped for heading home to work our plans so we can graduate next summer.


Mexican Buffet

We spent our night bonding over a buffet dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. It gave us a chance to meet our assigned mentors from the cohort that graduates this week. We haven’t spent much time with them, as they are working on practical exercises while we are still in the theoretical stage. It was great to meet the people that will help us and be sounding boards for our plans. It’s nice to know that we can hit them up for questions as we struggle with getting our plans off the ground. So if anyone is considering the program, and I’ve been giving you pause about the depth and volume of content we’re learning, just know that the staff here at TCU and the mentors are very willing to help. It will come in handy when we are sent home to start our plans.


Improving Local Government Communications


One more thing before we get back to class. I’ve been meeting and getting to know some amazing communications people from other cities and towns. ELGL highlights ideas and people that are making local government better, I want to highlight a few star here. I don’t have time to highlight everyone in our class. Each of them are doing great work and are dedicated to communication just by the fact that they are here taking this course.

One of my favorites is someone some of you may recognize. Brian Ligon can say more with pictures and videos and do it better than some people standing at a podium. Brian is a mulit-media specialist (not his official title – that would be media genius) for Round Rock, TX. He’s in charge of the video, photos and graphics work for the city. If you take a look at Round Rock’s Twitter, Facebook or YouTube pages, you’ll see Brian’s finger prints all over the place. If you want to make your municipalities pages stand out, take a page from Brian/Round Rock’s book and up your game to that level and you’ll definitely grow your followings and build better engagement when you are putting out better content like they do.

ELGL on Round Rock:

Bonds… City Bonds & Communicating with Round Rock, TX

GovLove: The Characters Behind Ron Pitchman and Chad Vader


Potter Box

It’s been a busy 24 hours but I’ll try to sum it up as best I can.

Hump day was a tough one. We dove deep into communication ethics with Dr. Lambiase. Again the magic “theory” word, but she drove it home with a great exercise. Using a Potter Box, we worked in groups to create a statement for a scenario where a tiger escaped a zoo and killed/injured some kids. It was an exercise to show how many of us immediately went into a “PR mode” to craft a sympathetic, yet vague statement. Using the Potter Box was an eye-opening experience in helping craft a better message. I’d recommend it for crisis practice with your communication teams.


Dr. Ashley English then discussed the evolution of government, and it’s impact on communications then and now. An interesting look at how government communication has changed through the years, and the future challenges facing government. Takeaways from her talk: As we create our strategic communication plans, we should keep in mind our organizational values as they relate to the current climate of communication.

One more topic from Wednesday:  Crisis communication. It’s a important part of any municipalities communication strategy. If you don’t have a crisis plan, you need to get one. We had a great discussion with Dr. Amiso George about crisis communication. She’s an expert in the field and has a great personality too.


Wednesday, July 27


Today, we’re starting with a robust discussion of organizational culture, communication and ethics with Dr. Lambiase. I’m not a big drinker, despite being from Wisconsin, but someone should have started a drinking game for the number of times we’ve heard the word “theory” this week. By Friday, we wouldn’t be able to walk into class.

What we’ve learned this week in terms of theory is helping us see the bigger picture of how it sets the foundation for our next steps. We’re looking deeper at our organizations and how we are structured to get a grasp on our culture, goals and how we can improve our communication internally to help us improve communication externally.

Also, today is a presentation on the evolution of government and its impact on communication. This should be a good one from Dr. Ashley English. Later in the day, we’re digesting the principals of campaign planning with Dr. Wendy Macias and then crisis communication theory with Dr. Amiso George.

Tonight is a group dinner and networking event. It’s great to get to know the other students on another, more personal level because we’re in the same boat here, doing the same thing. There are some rock-stars here doing great things for their cities/counties/school districts. I’ll start highlighting some of them in the coming posts.


An Egg for an Avatar

It’s Wednesday and we’re back in the classroom. We’re starting to feel the drag of long class days filled with a ton of information. It’s like we’re in grad school or someth…oh, wait.

Before I explain the exciting day ahead, let’s recap the highlights from last night’s trip to the ballpark. The Texas Rangers have a great stadium. Here’s a funny side note to something that happened to one of the players before the game too.


We were fortunate that one of our fellow cohorts, Casey Moore, had a connection to score us a suite for the game, complete with a smorgasbord of food and drinks. Amazing views, and in the heat of the Texas summer, it was awesome to be able to sit outside, and then head into the air-conditioned suite between innings to refuel and cool down.

Throughout the week, I’ve been sharing the ELGL blog with my classmates and talking up the greatness of ELGL. They’re enjoying the recap and the pictures, and hopefully you are getting a glimpse of the greatness of the TCU CPC program.




I’m throwing in a Twitter plug for ELGL’ers to help Jenna Roberson, Yukon, OK PIO. ELGL members (Twitter list of ELGL members) are active on Twitter. She is learning the Twitter ropes, and as we drove to the game last night, we learned she had one follower and was egg for an avatar. We have tried to jazz up her profile page and started the #FollowJenna hashtag, reaching out to the Rangers and her hometown star Garth Brooks. I think a boost of ELGL followers would also convince her to join the organization. (Editor’s Note: In case you need it, here’s the link for joining ELGL. We welcome all TCU CPS to join the ELGL Trust Tree.)

Tuesday, July 26

Third Culture


What a day! We took a step forward in building a foundation for creating our strategic plans.

It started with what could have been a pretty blah presentation, but Dr. Johny Garner’s talk on Organizational Communication and Leadership exceeded expectations and is my clubhouse leader for talk of the week so far.

I tweeted a few key points he made, essentially his takeaways were to improve your listening skills. He discussed the typical bad habits we have while listening – we criticize, we interrupt, we’re defensive, we’re planning a response while listening, etc. We completed a few exercises to determine our areas of weaknesses.


He also discussed tips for improving the way that we package information by creating a more concise format that’s easier to understand. My favorite takeaway was how to create a “Third Culture” in our organizations. It’s about getting your departments on the same page and delivering the same message. Garner calls it a “City Culture” instead of different departmental cultures. He discussing sharing visuals with departments about how their area fits into the organization, along with encouraging a “We’re all in this together” mentality.

I’m sure that’s a common problem with many cities and organizations, and Appleton is no different. I’m excited to talk with our staff about this approach.

We also reviewed the results of our Gallup StrengthsQuest test. I had never completed one of these before. We learned about our five key strengths, and how to focus on your strengths, and strengthening.


In the afternoon, Dr. Bright hit us with more theory…this time research. It’s the down and dirty information necessary to validate our communication plans. It’s the stuff we’ll be gathering in the next few months as we develop our plans. Dr. Bright and Dr. Lambiase have excelled at presenting the information and providing references to address any lingering questions.


We have a private Facebook group page for the CPC classes, and it’s fun and funny. We used the page to share information before we arrived.  The page has turned into a brag page for the fun that we’re having at night.  This probably has something to do with the daytime “Brain Dump” as our pal Brian Ligon likes to call it. At night, we just need to vent and Facebook is good for that.

(Editor’s Note: Listen to the GovLove podcast with Brian Ligon/Ron Pitchman.)

We ended the day with a session led by Dr. Emily Farris which focused on encouraging public participation. Her presentation gets to the heart of what we are here sweating it out (mid-90’s so far) in the heat of Texas for…better communication and participation by our communities. Emily is focused on studying how to build an inclusive community and inclusivity in politics.  (She also dropped a Parks and Rec reference in her talk about the citizens of Pawnee.) We discussed the pros and yes, even the cons of having citizen participation. We, as communicators, want and love to talk about the benefits of public participation, but we rarely discuss the costs in terms of time, money and frustration for both sides.

So, that’s enough learning for today. We’re headed to the Texas Rangers game in Arlington. My friend Casey Moore of Edmond, OK hooked us up and will be  hitting the Rangers game “Texas Style.” Pics for proof tomorrow!

Texas-Sized Breakfast Buffet


This morning, we’re back in class after a Texas-sized breakfast buffet at the TCU student union. We’re back to more deep thinking on communication theory. We’re starting with a presentation by Dr. Johny Garner, TCU communications professor. He’ll be talking about Organizational Communication and Leadership. I’m hoping to get tips from this one as I’m the only person in my city organization dedicated to communication, and this could be valuable info to help us get our “house in order” so-to-speak.

An exercise in learning about our personal strengths using the Gallup StrenghtsQuest test is also planned. I completed my assessment prior to arriving on campus. I’m excited to find out the results.

This afternoon, our class will focus on research principals for public communicators with Dr. Bright. We finish the day with a presentation by Dr. Emily Farris, also a TCU professor, about the “Ladder of Citizen Participation.”

Tonight…another fun time on tap. A Texas Rangers game at the ballpark at Arlington. Pictures to come, but I’ll just tease it to say that we’re definitely going to follow the Texas theme of “everything is bigger” in Texas with our ballgame experience.


Introducing the Popsicle Shop


Not everything that is “bigger in Texas” is better. Case in point, last night I learned about the giant centipede. I mean, what the…I seriously scanned every nook and cranny in my dorm last night before I shut off the lights.

Some of my classmates and I ended up taking a detour of our original plan to go to the Stockyards area of Fort Worth last night. We had it on good authority from some locals that it is a better spot on a Thursday night, so we took their advice and hit the 7th St. area instead. We ate at a trendy restaurant called the Rodeo Goat. It was voted best burger in Fort Worth and that was enough of selling point for us to give it a shot.

After dinner, we wandered the area and stopped for dessert at a Popsicle shop. I didn’t know such a place existed, but Steel City Pops is a hot spot in Fort Worth, and given the temps, it’s not a surprise why.


Monday, July 25

First Full Day of CPC Observations


  • While we’d prefer a five-star hotel over a college dorm, the dorm isn’t bad. It’s air-conditioned and without any odd smells. I think we’ll make it.
  • Dr. Laura Bright told us first thing in the morning to expect this week to be like grad school, not a conference. “We’ll hit you with grad-level work and it will be challenging.” Now I’m nervous.
  • The goal of the first week is to give us the tools to start crafting our strategic plans. My focus for our city is an overall strategic communication plan. Others in the group are focusing on a social media strategic plan and an emergency communication plan.

Day One Rundown


The day started off with a great presentation by Dr. Laura Bright on the “Framework for Communication Planning.” It was based on theory as much of this first summer of work will be. Next summer, the session will be more practical and focused on putting into place the programs we’re learning.

We learned about ghosts…well, GOST anyway. The foundation of the communication plan lies in the following four pillars:

Goal: Have a goal in mind

Objectives: Create the measurable objectives

Strategy: Strategize how to get there

Tactics: Choose the tactics necessary to succeed 

It’s great theory to help center you on the idea of what you are doing each day and why.

We spent a good deal of time discussing the different ways we are bombarded by messaging in today’s digital world. Much of what we’re learning is based on marketing and advertising principals. This is done to get us to understand how people consume messaging, so we can cut through the clutter and get our messages heard. It’s important to keep messaging simple because the average person receives upwards of 5,000 messages a day.

The other morning session was a practical exercise to humanize our organizations. Glenn Griffin walked us through a series of questions to describe the type of person our organization would look like. It was eye-opening to think of my city in those terms, and helps put in perspective what I think about it. You could also survey your community to get a broader idea of what your community thinks.

image1 (1)

This afternoon we’re working with Dr. Jacque Lambiase on PR Principles for Public Communicators. Again sticking with the theory aspect, learning the definition of public relations and info on building engagement. Then we spent a good portion of time learning about how to prepare for one of our first homework assignments after we get back home – a communications audit.

We’ve wrapped up day one, now it’s time for our first free night. A group of us are going to visit a Texas staple, the Fort Worth Stockyards. I’m not quite sure what it’s about, but we gather that it’s an entertainment district with restaurants, bars, shops and more. It’s built around the history of  Texas’ cattle history. Fun Fact: It’s the only place in the world to still see an authentic cattle drive. Unfortunately, it happens in the morning and early afternoon when we are in session. Time to shut down the computer and our brains for the night and go be tourists.

Tomorrow it’s a deeper dive into communication theory, organizational communication and more on citizen participation.

The Cohort

There’s 25 of us in thr cohort. At our meet and greet Sunday night, I learned that a lot of the people are from Texas…makes sense since this is where the program is based, but there are some of us from around the country. Wisconsin, Colorado, South Carolina, California are just a few of the states represented.

What’s also interesting is that we aren’t all just municipal communications either. We’ve got school district PIO’s, Special District PIO’s, City, County and even a non-profit PIO. A diverse group of backgrounds, all focused on the same mission of better communication through strategic planning.

Mornin’ Time, Mornin’ Time


Started off the first full day of the Certified Public Communicators certification course at TCU, just like we left off last night. Steamy and hot. I’m guessing that will be a recurring theme for the week.

Early observation. Aside from the stellar architecture on campus, the student union is pretty nice too. Lots of food options, restaurants and even a little Starbucks to start your morning out right for those 8 a.m. classes.

Thankfully our session starts each day at 8:30 a.m. giving us “old” people a few extra minutes of sleep. We’ve got a busy day ahead today. We start off with a group goal planning session for each day. 30 minutes to get ourselves focused. Plug here for Dr. Laura Bright and Dr. Jacque Lambiase for putting this certification course together.

Jacqueline Lambiase, Ph.D.

Jacqueline Johnson Lambiase, associate professor of Strategic Communication, joined the faculty in 2009. She teaches writing, principles, ethics, advocacy, cases in strategic communication, and diversity courses, often combining service-learning and public service opportunities with course instruction. Students in her spring 2010 Public Relations Principles course were the top fundraising team for the Fort Worth Relay for Life; other students traveled to Austin during the 2011 and 2013 legislative sessions to meet with advocates, staffers, and legislators. She has provided faculty leadership during 2013-2014 for TCU’s new FrogFolio program, and she has traveled to London with students for the study abroad program in summers 2013 and 2014.

Laura Bright

Laura Bright is a three-time graduate of UT Austin with specializations in interactive advertising, media planning, and consumer behavior. Her research interests focus on consumer interactions in online environments, including social networking sites, customized websites, RSS feeds and new media applications. As an assistant professor at TCU, Dr. Bright teaches channel planning, campaigns, and strategic communication in new media.

Now starting its fourth “cohort” we’re also on campus with the third cohort who we will graduate Thursday night. Some of them will mentor the new class on our journey to create strategic communication plans.

This week is all about theory of communication Dr. Lambiase told us Sunday the first weeks’ focus helps us prepare for diving into the creative portion of our strategic plans when we get back to work next week.

Sessions today include two hours on the “Framework for Communication Planning,” followed by a fun hour in the sandbox…the creativity sandbox that is. Another fun exercise with Dr. Glenn Griffin who did a great presentation last night on “Nimble Thinking.” I’m pretty excited to see what the sandbox is all about. Griffin’s background is in advertising/marketing and he is all about the creativity.

Other sessions for today include PR Principals for Public Communicators and another session in the sandbox. This one is the power and influence sandbox. After that it will be 5:30 and time for some dinner and a shower to rinse all that sand out of my shorts. I’ll live-tweet some highlights of the sessions for today.


Sunday, July 24


I made it to Fort Worth and TCU. First impressions – it’s hot…like open up the oven and “whoosh” hot. Also, TCU is a beautiful campus. The buildings have some amazing architecture. The dorms are actually air-conditioned which is a blessing for a guy from such a northern climate.


After check-in I started making some friends with some fellow CPC’ers…the short version of our soon-to-be new titles upon graduation next summer. A great group of about two dozen people from around the country focused on communication. It’s about 5:30 p.m. and we’re all checked in and now meeting to kick off the week with our first session tonight. We’re chowing down on a boxed lunch, but they promise the food will get better as the week goes on. This is a quick introduction night and diving into our first session – “Nimble Thinking: Using creativity in your planning process.” Probably a good place to start since we diving deep into communication theory this week as we begin to learn how to create a strategic communication plan. Then we get to meet our mentors who will help us through that process this week and throughout the next two years.

Time to buckle up and chow down this turkey on wheat. More to come as we hit the ground running tomorrow.


Getting There


It’s 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday in Appleton, WI. I am pretty sure in Appleton and elsewhere, nothing much is happening. What am I doing? I am getting ready to board a plane for Fort Worth, TX. Ironically, I’m leaving Appleton in the middle of a true Wisconsin heat wave – mid-90’s and high humidity. In Fort Worth, TX, even hotter temperature await…though as they say, “it’s a dry heat,” so I’m interested to see what that’s like, though not hopeful it will be any less unbearable.

I am not headed to Fort Worth for vacation. I am traveling to Fort Worth to begin the Certified Public Communicators course at Texas Christian University. It’s a two-year certification program in strategic communication planning. It’s right up my alley because:

  • I’m a communications guy and,
  • I have no idea how to create a strategic plan.

I’ve worked in the municipal world for more than two years. Thankfully, my boss (Mayor Tim Hanna) is a huge advocate of strategic planning. When I asked him about enrolling in the program, it was an easy sell because Mayor Hanna “gets it.”

I am bringing you along on my journey in case you’ve been considering attending the program, or if you aren’t able to attend for various reasons but desire to learn the takeaways from the experience. I’ll be happy to share any of my experiences with anyone anytime. If you have questions during the week, you can send them via Twitter.


It’s time to board a little puddle-jumper to Atlanta. If I’m lucky, I’ll have time to write more on what is sure to-be bumpy flight there. If I don’t, I’ll likely be running like a madman to my gate to make my connection to Dallas. Wish me luck.


I made it to Atlanta with no troubles. I made an interesting observation in the air, cloud formations tend to form and follow the contours of rivers. Never noticed that before…someone tell me I’m crazy if so, but it was sort of cool to see.

Also, I experienced one of joys of traveling, I got off the plane in Atlanta and my gate for Dallas-Fort Worth was across the hallway. I’ve flown through Atlanta many times, but I’ve never had this happen. I’ve always had to take the subway train to a different terminal, and for those who have done it, you know it’s dicey if you have a connection of an hour or less.

4-1-1 on TCU CPC Program

11807186_728049380655395_8676928962581486216_o-1The program spans two years with a week on campus each summer as well as a few days in the winter. It’s definitely an investment, but I’ve heard excellent reviews about the experience. Warning: If you’re not a fan of homework, this might not be for you. I have a Dropbox full of assignments and class notes, and I haven’t even stepped foot on campus. Also, it sounds like there are nightly assignments too, but we’re told they are manageable. If we can handle the “dry heat”, there will be time for fun in the Fort Worth area.

I also want to share the official program summary.

“The certified public communicator program builds successful and ethical leaders through experiential learning, strategic communication plan-building, theoretical instruction, case studies, and other interactive instruction led by strategic communication faculty members from TCU, as well as proven and engaging leaders from the public-service sector.

Students graduate from the program with three-year communication plans and policies for their organizations, which are put into action during the year with time for testing and revisions before graduation. In addition, students work with their professional cohort of colleagues, attend keynote presentations with other communication professionals, and engage in a year-long process of professional growth and goal-setting. Organizations that send their managers and communicators to the program receive tested communication plans including social media policies, research-based strategies and tactics, crisis communication plans, and more.”

Supplemental Reading

Close window