City Staff Turned PR Firm, Meet Slate Communications

Posted on March 24, 2015

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 On the Move: City PR trio forms own company


Hat tip to Dan Weinheimer, City of Fort Collins, CO for tipping us off about Slate Communications which was founded by former City of Fort Collins, CO employees.

We invited Slate founder Kim Newcomer to tell the Slate story and discuss the current state of local government communications. Kim has more than 16 years experience in communications and marketing communities and organizations. She has proven success blending traditional communication tools with progressive engagement techniques to help governments and publicly funded entities connect with their audiences. Using case studies from her work in Vail, Durango, and Fort Collins, CO she’s presented at numerous national conventions and state-wide conferences throughout the Rocky Mountains.

Background Check on Slate Communications


Connect: Facebook, Twitter, and World Wide Web

For years, the founders of Slate have been helping communities and public organizations connect with their residents, tell their story, and get noticed. Their unique understanding of local government and community engagement coupled with award-winning graphic design and creativity makes Slate the go-to communications team for cities, counties, and communities. Whether creating a community brand, marketing a service, or simply keeping your residents informed, Slate can help.

Lightning Round

What I’m Listening to: 
I’m a podcast kind of gal: The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project (recommended by our Creative Director and fellow-Founder Ryan Burke); and of course Wait! Wait… Don’t Tell Me!
What I’m Reading: 61bWRKFM5kL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_
For work: Street Design, The Secret to Great Cities and Towns by Victor Dover and John Massengale
For fun: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What I’m Watching: 
House of Cards
What I’m Doing: 
when I’m not working? Playing with my kids or running.
What I’m Proud of: 
Slate and the Slate team – this is the career and the business I’ve always wanted, and I’m honored to be a part of the organization.
What I’m Thinking: 
There is true, tangible value to local governments outsourcing their communications department. For the price of one employee, local governments can access an entire team of experts with varied skills and experience.
What I’m Afraid of: 

Bugs, I simply believe that they have too many legs.
What I’m Missing: 
What I Want to Know From You:
Are you passionate about what you’re doing? Because working in local government is an enormous responsibility, a lot of work, and not always appreciated. But it’s important, it’s high impact, and it’s immensely rewarding. If you truly believe that you’re working to make your community better; call us, we’re dying to work with you!

Q & A with Kim

Slate has roots with the City of Fort Collins, CO. Describe how and why Slate was created. 

The three founders of Slate, Claire Thomas, Ryan Burke, and I, worked together in the Communications and Public Involvement Office at the City of Fort Collins for 6 years. We had worked with outside public relations and marketing firms in the past and although they were very talented, we felt that they did not fully understand the needs and intricacies of local government. From an in-house perspective, we identified a legitimate need for creative and professional communication with a focus on effectiveness, accountability, and community. We saw a niche, talked about it over a couple of microbrews (it is Fort Collins after all), and decided to take the leap together.

Highlight three projects that you feel best represent the quality of work produced by Slate.

Larimer County, CO: We produced a six-page info-graphic based annual report, a 4-page budget brief, and community signage to share performance measures, budget details, strategic plan updates, and interesting stories about Larimer County services. This is a great example of how Slate can help local governments simplify information and access professional graphic design to create engaging and valuable content.

City of Castle Pines, CO: We act as the in-house Communications Department for Castle Pines, CO. Over the past 12 months we’ve launched a new city website, created economic development materials, managed their e-blasts and e-newsletter, acted as the primary media contact, and have begun a branding process for the community. Just like City staff, no task is too big or too small. Castle Pines is an example of how outsourcing a core city function – communications – can be cost effective and add value to small to mid sized local government.
Transfort/City of Fort Collins: Transfort is the public transit system in Fort Collins, CO. Slate provides strategic marketing and public relations services. We developed a new brand for Transfort in conjunction with the launch of a new transit service. We planned the multitude of events, promotions, and activities around launch day. And we continue to offer creative and effective marketing services to increase ridership.

Walk us through how we know our city/county needs the help of a company such as Slate.

I believe every community should invest in communications, whether you hire dedicated staff, or decide to outsource. Today’s public demands – and frankly deserves – to be informed and heard. We believe strongly that providing information in a clear, professional manner builds credibility and trust between a local government and a community.

We found that many mid- to small-sized governments don’t have the resources to hire full time communications staff. That’s where we come in. Whether for a project such as developing engaging annual reports or economic development materials, or acting as a contracted in-house communications team, we help organizations connect with their communities.

Give us three areas where you feel local government is succeeding in communications/public engagement.

Commitment to transparency – more and more governments understand that they must let people behind the curtain. It’s a shift from paternal government to collaboration and it’s really exciting to witness.

Exploring/piloting/launching online interactive tools – there are quite a few quality products that help communities engage with residents online, though discussion boards, customer relations submittal forms and smartphone platforms that are used for pushing information out as well as polling.
Performance measurement – Local governments are developing data-driven methods to demonstrate the value and efficiency of the services they provide. Measuring performance aids in strategic planning and process improvements; communicating these measurements helps develop credibility and accountability.
Give us three area where local government needs improvement.

How we deliver on the promise of transparency – it drives me nuts when governments post a 200 page report/document online and proclaim transparency. Yes, that document should be available. But it is also our job to help people understand context, data, and how the information in the report impacts their lives.

Clarity and brevity. In reporting, in writing, in video; government tends to get long-winded and convoluted.

Proactive communication – While many local governments have moved beyond communication as an after thought, there are still those out there that don’t realize the value of investing in communications. Proactive, strategic, and effective communication can save you time, money, and headache down the road. That requires inviting your communications person to “sit at the table” during controversial issues and crisis as well as during daily operations.
images (6)Turning Big Data into valuable information – Local governments have access to enormous amounts of data; we’re just beginning to understand how to best package that data as valuable, easy-to-understand information.
And yes, I gave you four ;o)
Name three local governments that you consider the leaders in connecting with the community.

There are so many communities that are doing great work. But Palo Alto, CA, Fort Collins, CO, and Austin, TX. come to mind.
What are the implementation challenges in hiring a firm such as Slate. How can we (as local government) ensure that the relationship works for both sides?

We approach every client and every job with the same philosophy: we want you to think of us as in-house staff. While we know that we are earnest about that philosophy, it often takes clients a little bit of time to realize that we mean what we say. Building trust and forming lasting relationships with our clients is the most important thing we can do as consultants.
Social media and local government — Is local government maximizing the potential of social media? Which social media platforms do you recommend?

downloadNo, we’re not maximizing the potential of social media, but local government is SO much better than it used to be! I should also admit that governments need to balance the benefits with resources. To be good – really really good – at social media takes a lot of dedicated resource (as in staff time). At the same time, governments cannot solely rely on social media for their communication. When talking with such a varied audience, you need to use social media, traditional websites, print material, newsletters, local media, etc. to reach every person. Knowing that local government resources are limited, I think a lot of governments are doing a decent job of balancing resources.
Lastly, give us three facts about Slate that are not on your website.

  • We’re really nice people. Seriously, we’re fun to work with.
  • We feel your pain. We’ve been on the other side of the relationship. As in-house staff of local government we fully understand the demands, the expectations, the frustrations. Our goal is always to help alleviate stress, while making you look good.
  • We believe whole heartedly that an informed and engaged public makes for better communities.

Supplemental Reading

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery from Slate Communications on Vimeo.

MTM students assist with MAX transit survey

Boulder, Fort Collins Score High in Survey of Wellbeing

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