August 9, 2017 Lauren Finley

Say What? Communicating Complex Topics

I was recently invited to speak to a crowded room of city officials from two counties, all working collaboratively to find solutions to what I’d argue is the number one issue facing municipalities today: skyrocketing pension costs. What do I know about pension costs, and CalPERS specifically? Not much, which I joked makes me uniquely qualified to speak on the subject. Because you see, those closest to an issue often have the hardest time explaining it, especially to an uninitiated audience. And since rising pension costs affect more people than those receiving the pension benefit and the city stuck footing the bill, it is beneficial to both city and citizen when everyone (every taxpayer at least) understands what proactive steps their city leaders are taking to control costs. I give examples of “before and after” pension key messages in the following presentation.

But my spiel is relevant beyond CalPERS. The ability to step back from an issue and speak to what really matters is what separates an effective leader, a successful business, and a trustworthy government. Today, we need to be crystal clear storytellers because our audiences exist in a sea of mixed messages, coming at them from every angle.

When developing your key messages, always ask yourself, “who cares?” And, “how does this affect my (audience’s) money, health, safety, or family?” If the issue isn’t framed this way, it’s unlikely to stick.

Luckily, we have more tools than ever to disseminate this information at our fingertips, some of which are noted in the following slides. Press releases alone just won’t cut it anymore. And, with demographic targeting available to anyone with a Facebook account, we have no excuse to not define our audience and speak to them in a way they want to be spoken to. This is the core of public relations – breaking down information into relevant information that matters to me, the citizen, the staff member, the council member or the bargaining group.

I think you’ll take away a few good reminders about effective communication from these slides. If anything, I bet you’ll avoid the term “unfunded liabilities” without providing some context.

Courtney Meznarich, Account Manager

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