3 things to keep in mind when issuing a public statement

We all have people or organizations that inspire us. It may be as personal as a grandparent or mentor or seemingly less personal like a celebrity you’ve never met, an alma mater, shoe retailer, or charitable organization. And the messages they send tend to matter (and I’m guessing many of us can admit that we’ve teared up while watching a car commercial that tugs on our heart strings).

What about the many organizations commenting on the intense struggles rocking our world to its core in recent years? From the pandemic to the murder of George Floyd to intensified conversations about racism in our society – organizations are weighing in with their reactions and opinions about the heavy stuff more than ever before.

When you peel back the onion and look at the data, it starts to make sense. Wall-to-wall, 24-7, communications immediately coming from every device and source imaginable. Declining trust in elected officials and government. Rising consumer expectations for brands and organizations to be clear on their values and to actively take a stand on them.

RELATED: When is it appropriate to issue a statement?

When I had the opportunity to moderate this webinar about public statements that featured my rockstar Goff Public colleagues (“Crisis Coach” and COO Jennifer Hellman and Vice President of Public Relations Chris Duffy), I jumped at the chance. Not shockingly, this somewhat cynical politico and discerning consumer learned a few things about navigating and breaking through increasingly volatile public landscapes:

1. Authenticity matters

Dropping a 280-character tweet denouncing racism is an action, not a strategy. Jen reminds organizations to consider, “what are the values that are going to drive your decisions?” Chris noted that consumers “want statements that are tangible, that are bold, that are real and that reflect your organization’s distinct personality.” Phrases like “thoughts and prayers” miss the mark and just don’t cut it anymore.

2. Don’t forget your most important audience

Internal audiences pay the closest attention to an organization’s messaging choices – or lack thereof. Oftentimes, your employees are your most important audience. Make sure you are communicating with them before publishing a statement on social media.

Additionally, organizations can plan for these events ahead of time. The next time a major news event happens, are you prepared to communicate? Do you have a team assembled to make decisions? Do you have a list of questions to ask yourselves when considering whether to weigh in publicly? One pro tip Jen and Chris shared is that organizations should create a plan now to smartly navigate crises later.

3. You don’t always need to say something

Keeping authenticity in mind, not every current event is going to be ripe for comment by every organization. Sometimes that voice can be more powerful by joining other like-minded organizations on a common message. And sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense to comment. And that’s okay. Just be mindful about thinking through a decision not to make a statement just as carefully as when you consider making one.

RELATED: Top 5 takeaways from our ‘Future of Media’ webinar

Special session underway: Legislature scrambles to avoid shutdown

The first special session of 2021 kicked off on Monday, June 14, marking the seventh straight month that the Minnesota Legislature has met. The agenda this month is both to consider Gov. Tim Walz’s extension of the current peacetime emergency and to conclude the Legislature’s work of assembling a two-year budget.

Since the adjournment of the regular session on May 17, legislators have been working behind closed doors to reach agreements. A few committees were able to come to final consensus, mainly those with smaller budget areas such agriculture, commerce/energy, higher education and Legacy funds. Committee chairs that were unable to reach agreement worked with legislative leaders to finalize agreements and in the last few days we have seen deals emerge on housing, transportation, jobs and economic development. Based on comments from legislative leaders, we anticipate more agreements will likely be released in the coming days.

These bills have been released as “agreements,” but we haven’t exactly seen smooth sailing as these budget bills have hit the House and Senate floors. Notably, the House Republican majority spent much of last week (and weekend) filibustering bills. The Senate took up many of the budget bills without too much controversy, but we have seen a few of the agreements break down, hinting at some intra-caucus disagreements.

Photo of the Minnesota State Capitol building.

As of Monday evening, eight of the 15 major budget bills have passed or been released publicly and are awaiting on House and/or Senate floor action. Almost all of these have been negotiated entirely behind closed doors by a limited number of legislators, inciting increased media attention to the legislative process. While the State Capitol officially opened its doors to the public in alignment with this special session, decision-making this special session has been anything but public.

Legislative leaders continue to express optimism that the Legislature will act in a timely way to avoid a government shutdown in advance of the end of the state fiscal year (June 30). That optimism, however, doesn’t negate the need for state agencies to spend significant time and resources to prepare to wind down operations in the event a shutdown occurs. Court cases issued after the last state shutdown have made it clear that previous approaches to a government shutdown may not occur and that any shut down would mean a nearly complete stoppage of all state functions.

The evolution of this special session should not come as a surprise considering Minnesota’s divided Legislature. The trend: Each body brings forward deeply partisan issues that had little chance of becoming law, compromise seems to only be found by completely removing these controversial items, and only a handful of legislators make final decisions.

Our Goff government relations team continues to birddog client issues and advocate for successful resolutions. We remain hopeful that, while this session is certainly bumpy, a June ending is within reach.

Five steps to people-first community engagement

From public policy initiatives to housing developments to road construction projects, clients turn to Goff Public for strategy and support when engaging the community in their work. Projects and initiatives are made better through effective community engagement, and we help our clients achieve this by creating inclusive processes to gather community feedback, evaluate the project through a community lens and communicate with stakeholders every step of the way.

Here’s a look at how we approach community engagement at Goff Public.

We get to know our audiences.

The first step in successful community engagement is the same for almost any communications project: identify your audiences. Knowing who you are trying to reach will inform the tools and messages you use. This is also when we work to identify any barriers to reaching certain groups and brainstorm creative ways to connect with them. For example, if the primary audience for your project doesn’t have reliable internet access, your community engagement plan would likely emphasize print materials – such as flyers and postcards – over digital advertising.

We also find it incredibly important to understand our audiences’ history and existing attitudes toward the issue or project, and the context of what’s going on in their communities at the time. For example, if a recent road project was very disruptive to residents during construction, they might need to hear more about the benefits of a project before showing support for another construction season.

The Goff Public team installs sidewalk decals encouraging the community to provide feedback on a Minnesota Department of Transportation road project.

We put the why before the what.

It’s easy to stick to the facts when communicating about a project – the type of work that will be done, how long it will take, how much it will cost. But these facts aren’t the most important messages for community engagement. People need to understand why a project is happening and how it will impact them before they can take in the details, provide feedback or champion your project. At the earliest stages, we focus our messaging on the benefits of the project and addressing the existing emotions of our audiences to start from a place of shared understanding.

We forge relationships directly within the community.

Trust is paramount when going to a community and asking for their time and feedback – especially if they’ve had experiences that lead them to believe they won’t be listened to. We partner with leaders and organizations that community members know and trust to facilitate information sharing and provide insights and feedback on the project.

We look for the gaps.

A key part of the community engagement process is continually evaluating to make sure you’re reaching your audiences. Key questions to ask:

Are the tools and feedback mechanisms being used?

What haven’t we heard?

Who haven’t we heard from?

What misconceptions or misinformation are we hearing?

Flexibility here is key. If something isn’t working, we reevaluate our plan and messaging, and make space for our audiences in the process. Even if we have created multiple channels and opportunities for feedback, an individual might give their input in whatever way is best suited to them – and that’s okay.

We continue the two-way dialogue.

Community engagement is only successful if both parties are communicating to each other – and if you both show that you’re listening. We always make sure to report back, and if there are unresolved conflicts, we make a plan to revisit them with affected community members.

And finally, we know that community engagement typically begins well in advance of a project or initiative. Communities change, and the same people who provided input at the beginning may not be the same people who need to hear from us as the project advances. We make sure to repeat our approach when the project (figuratively or literally) breaks ground.

Interested in learning more about Goff Public’s community engagement practice? Have a question about an upcoming project? Shoot me a note at ashley@goffpublic.com.

End-of-session deal leaves much left to do

Special legislative sessions have become more the norm than anything “special,” and this year is no different. After a relentless legislative schedule last year that was in session every month, many hoped this year would bring a reprieve. But as the 2021 regular Minnesota legislative session adjourned last Monday, it was very clear that business was nowhere near done.

About 12 hours before session’s adjournment, Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman announced a budget agreement. In other years, a “budget agreement” included a framework for spending priorities with some specificity and resolution of certain controversial policy issues. This year, however, that budget agreement represented more skeleton-like budget priorities without much meat on the bones. Many speculate that the agreement was an opportunity for both Republican and Democratic leaders to declare victory on major session priorities (e.g., no new taxes and significant education spending) while collectively kicking the can on everything else further down the road to a special session.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Senator Julie Rosen leave a press conference where they announced a two-year budget agreement on May 17. Photo by Paul Battaglia, Minnesota House of Representatives.

So, with the end of the state’s fiscal year looming on June 30 and a requirement that the Legislature pass a biennial budget to avoid government shutdown, legislative leaders laid out a framework for committee chairs to follow to assemble a budget deal by mid-June. By May 28, committee chairs should come to House-Senate agreement on spending items within their committees of jurisdiction. By June 4, committee chairs should find agreement on spending and policy items.

The budget agreement did not resolve any of the outstanding controversial policy and spending proposals being carried in the House and Senate, like police reform, California clean car standards, and paid sick and safe leave. However, it did note that controversial items will need to have agreement from the Governor, House and Senate to move forward.

We anticipate the Governor will call the Legislature into special session on or around June 14, as the peacetime emergency may need to be renewed. What we do not anticipate is that committee chairs will make any more progress on any controversial items in the next three weeks than they did during the regular legislative session, leaving many of these decisions to be made by “the tribunal” that was highly criticized in past sessions.

Our government relations team continues to navigate these tumultuous times for our clients and look forward to heading back in person to the Capitol when it reopens in June.

A new and improved “normal”

After more than a year of conducting business mostly virtually, organizations are returning to the office and to more in-person settings. The huge shifts we made during the pandemic, like working from home and hosting events and trainings virtually, are now becoming less about necessity and more about flexibility, accessibility, and choice.

Now is the time for leaders to assess their organizational, employee, and customer needs to take the best of what we have learned while engaging remotely and combine it with what we know about the human need for connection and the importance of building relationships. Strong relationships and trust are often at the core of business success.

When does convenience take precedence? When is it important for people to interact in person, feed off the energy in a room and take notice of non-verbal communication? Being intentional about how and when you gather with employees, customers and the business community at large will be key to successfully implement hybrid models.

Consider conducting a communications audit to better understand your organization’s strategies and how they should be modified in this new environment. Analyzing what you currently have in place can reveal what new tools or opportunities would help keep your strategies relevant and effective.

Ask yourself how your customers’ needs and wants have changed post-pandemic. How do they want to engage? Is it time to survey them to find out?

We have seen community engagement rise dramatically ever since people have been given more opportunities to conveniently engage online. What might you consider going forward?

  • If the event is fully virtual, determine how important it is for the event to be live. Could it be just as effective pre-recorded?
  • For hybrid events, consider enhancing the video quality and capabilities. People at home want to feel like they are getting the same quality experience as the people attending in person.
  • Consider opportunities for people who work from home to appear and participate in person.

Companies and organizations have essentially been in crisis mode for more than a year, and the dust is finally beginning to settle. It’s clear that what we once thought was temporary isn’t – and that things will continue to evolve. Make sure your communications are ready to flex with the times.

Seeking state bonding funds? What to do in 2021 to be successful in 2022

From wastewater facilities to community centers to cultural amenities, communities across Minnesota benefit from state general obligation (“G.O.”) bonds, which allow the state to borrow funds for the acquisition or betterment of public land and buildings. In Minnesota, there are always more requests for G.O. funding than there are funds available, which can lead to a huge backlog of projects and communities waiting for a chance to be included in state legislation. While there is still a chance for a bonding bill in 2021, the 2022 legislative session will also bring another “bonding year” and an opportunity for local governments to seek additional project funding.

Funding for bonding projects is always highly competitive. To be successful, local governments and their partners should start communicating about and advocating for projects well before the legislative session begins. Here are some steps to position your project for success.

1. Submit a capital budget request through the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget.

Local units of government need to officially request funding from the administration. This application process helps the state understand the rationale for the project and determine if the project is appropriate for state funding. Project submissions are due by June 18.

2. Establish the purpose and value of the project.

How would this project solve challenges in your area? What regional or statewide value would it bring? What is the local investment in the project? Clearly defining the project’s public purpose sets you up for success to secure bonding dollars.

Legislators toured Ramsey County’s Riversedge site using virtual reality technology to envision what the development could look like.

3. Think about how the messaging and branding of your project will be perceived by lawmakers.

Understand how your project’s messaging fits into the greater context of the state Legislature’s priorities. Articulate how this project aligns with current (and future) community needs in ways that captivate legislative champions.

Lawmakers will want to know why this project should be funded now. This means you will need to clearly communicate the benefits (economic, social and political) in terms that legislators can relate to. Bonding projects are a state investment in your community – if you’re not looking through that lens when communicating, you’ll be in trouble.

4. Share visuals that demonstrate impact.

Renderings serve a practical purpose, but what other visuals can you use to help people understand the full scope and impact that your project could have? Consider aerial photography, videos and collateral materials that communicate creatively about your project’s potential. Strong visuals can also generate media attention.

5. Identify champions for your project.

While finding bill authors is crucial, you also need to find other advocates outside of your local government leaders who can be vocal supporters of your project, like leaders from local schools, chambers of commerce, businesses or simply a resident who can tell a compelling story. These supporters need to buy in to your project so they can help you engage the broader community.

6. Generate excitement about your project.

Tell the community about your project through media stories, open houses, site tours and pop-up events. The more awareness and excitement you can bring to a project before session starts, the better.

By being strategic about how you conceptualize and introduce a bonding project, you can garner critical success early on, set your project above others, and give your project the best chance of being funded.

Capitol remains closed as Goff’s government relations team prepares for end-of-session push

The Minnesota Legislature is on spring break through April 5. When legislators return to work next week, they will have some of the pieces in place to start constructing the parameters of end-of-session deals.

Both the House and Senate majorities have released their budget targets, which committee chairs will use to construct their omnibus bills. Governor Tim Walz also recently released his supplemental budget, which has significant differences from both the Senate Republican and House DFL budget targets. Despite the February announcement of a $1.6 billion projected budget surplus in the next biennium, the Governor and House Democrats continue to advocate for tax increases for additional state spending. Conversely, Senate Republicans have committed to not raise taxes and instead proposed across the board cuts to state government.

Layer on the complexity of billions of federal dollars flowing into the state after the passage of the American Rescue Plan, and we expect the next month to be full of political posturing. The legislative session will adjourn on May 17, and lawmakers must find agreement on a biennial state budget by then or in subsequent special sessions before June 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Many political observers – like some on our government relations team – are speculating that a global agreement may not be reached until June.

The Minnesota House continues to operate fully remotely while the Minnesota Senate is functioning in a hybrid capacity. Our government relations team continues to be engaged in all the happenings at the Capitol and will keep our clients updated every step of the way.

A billion (dollar) difference 

Senate Republican FY22-23 proposed budget: $51.9 billion

House DFL FY22-23 proposed budget: $52.5 billion

Governor Walz FY22-23 proposed budget: $52.4 billion

Top 5 takeaways from our ‘Future of Media’ webinar

By Chris Duffy

The local and national media landscape has evolved a great deal since I transitioned from broadcast news to public relations nearly 13 years ago. Nightly newscasts were the bread and butter of the TV news business. Legacy newspapers poured significant resources into print editions. Online coverage was growing, but still an afterthought to traditional news delivery.

Since then, the state of journalism can be summarized by one phrase: rapid change. Industry changes were apparent well before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the international health crisis – coupled with renewed conversations about racial and social justice – have only punctuated the challenges (and potential) that face journalism.

On March 25, I was fortunate to moderate Goff Public’s latest webinar, a discussion on the future of Minnesota media. Some of the most recognizable names in statewide journalism joined me: Axios Twin Cities Correspondent Torey Van Oot, Minnesota Reformer Editor in Chief J. Patrick Coolican and Eden Prairie Local News Editor in Chief Brad Canham.

Here are my top five takeaways from the conversation:

1. Profitability is possible in a volatile advertising market 

Nationally, advertising revenue – which accounts for roughly 70% of funding for traditional newspapers – has decreased at least 25% since the start of the pandemic. But locally, bright spots remain.

“We are growing and we are profitable,” Axios’ Van Oot says, adding that about 50% of the company’s revenue comes from newsletter sponsorships. In addition to local and national advertisers that support the Twin Cities newsletter, Axios licenses and sells its newsletter software, formatting and template-style “smart brevity” training for other companies to use internally.

While Axios’ funding is supplemented by events, an HBO show and podcasts, Eden Prairie Local News funding is supported by developers, banks and other local sponsors, plus a Board of Directors that culls funding.

Unlike many traditional news outlets, Axios, the Minnesota Reformer and Eden Prairie Local News provide all content to readers for free (no paywall here).

2. Don’t just know, listen to your audiences 

With increased news segmentation, all panelists stressed the importance of knowing and listening to your audiences. It’s about meeting them where they are, they say.

“I think we’re forcing the bigger players to be more aggressive in their newsgathering,” Coolican says. “The only way we’ve been able to grow our audience is by scoops, breaking great stories.”

In observing the trends over the last year, Coolican says the Reformer audience has grown from a largely Facebook-dominated audience to one that’s more active on Twitter. The team is also considering adding an Instagram presence.

“We’re not chasing pageviews per say but we wouldn’t be successful without an audience,” he says.

Added Van Oot: “Organizations that don’t put their audiences first are going to struggle. You can’t just keep doing things the way we used to be doing them. You need to be listening to your audience and really putting them front and center in everything you do … At Axios we will not waste your time and will not BS you.”

3. New ventures are deeply personal 

Combined, Canham, Coolican and Van Oot have decades of experience covering Minnesota. When Eden Prairie News and Lakeshore Weekly News closed in August 2020, Canham knew something had to be done to sustain local coverage.

“I truly hated the idea that Eden Prairie really had no resource to approach the upcoming elections with objective insights into who you’re supposed to elect,” he said. “I took it personally.”

Today, the outlet employs 12 journalists who cover everything from the Southwest light rail expansion to local hockey and the city council.

4. Gaps in coverage persist – particularly in Greater Minnesota 

Following a slate of news outlet closures, from City Pages and the Southwest Journal to the Hastings Star Gazette, the panelists say local coverage gaps are problematic. News access is particularly problematic in Greater Minnesota.

“It’s certainly something we hope to improve upon in the future. Clearly Greater Minnesota and just rural media in general are struggling and will likely continue to,” Coolican says. “It seems like the quality of the journalism happening in the metro is surpassing the smaller cities and regional centers at this point and clearly the Star Tribune sees an opportunity here.”

While the state’s largest newsroom, the Star Tribune recently expanded their coverage of Duluth and St. Cloud with dedicated staff and email newsletters, Coolican predicts future expansion could include Rochester and Mankato.

“There’s room for more voices. The more people watching government the better,” Van Oot added.

5. Supporting and sustaining news remains important 

How can you support and sustain Minnesota media? Smash that subscribe button. It’s good for business and good for democracy.

Here are just a few outlets you can help:

Axios Twin Cities

Eden Prairie Local News

Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine

Minnesota Monthly

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Minnesota Reformer


Sahan Journal

The Minnesota Daily 

Star Tribune

Key communications takeaways from 2021’s virtual legislative session

As we roll into the thick of the 2021 legislative session, it is clear that the original, short-term novelty of governing and lobbying in a virtual environment has worn off for many. While the Senate has shifted to a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual work, the House continues to operate remotely, as do most people who are otherwise usually physically present at the Capitol this time of year.

Legislating remotely accomplishes its goal of keeping people home and safe from exposure to COVID-19. But as the length of time spent virtually tuning into committees grows, so too does frustration. Constituents and advocates are finding it difficult to participate in virtual hearings and committees as legislative staff experience delays in bill drafting and legislators spend extra precious time sourcing accurate, comprehensive information – all while facing increased pressure and needs from everyone.

Paired with no formal back-to-the-Capitol date in sight, these challenges have made it easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure. Below are my top takeaways from this virtual session so far, with observations on how to best work and communicate with the people you need to make a positive impact on this session.

1. Everything takes longer.

One of the challenges of any legislative session is the timeline in which work needs to happen. Session is only about five months long and there is a lot of work that needs to get done in that time. With hallway conversations and quick post-meeting debriefs being a thing of the past, communicating, negotiating and responding to complex topics takes much longer than it used to. Persisting through this challenge can be mind-numbing, but stick to respectful follow ups and be comfortable with timelines beyond your control.

2. Some things change, while others stay the same.

It used to be incredibly taboo to call or text a legislator or staff person unless there was a five-alarm fire in their district. While it is still important to be respectful in the use of those precious cell phone numbers, use them. Legislators, like the rest of us, are doing their level best to respond and keep up with the information coming their way. They may actually appreciate a gentle text nudge if something has slipped their mind.

3. Email is key.

While their inboxes are certainly full, email still seems to be most effective way to reach legislators and staff. When you write your email, make sure it is scannable, to-the-point and that your ask is featured either in the subject line or the first sentence – this helps incentivize a faster reply. That said, it will likely be a while before you get a response. Be patient.

4. Create compelling materials.

There are literally volumes of information coming at legislators and staff every day. Written testimony and materials are being encouraged during this virtual time to help manage this. Remember that legislators and staff are real people, too, and that they gravitate toward what’s interesting and new. Think carefully about your testimony, whether delivered in person or in writing. What unique perspective are you bringing to the table? Showcase that. Can you effectively deliver your message through an original, creative presentation? Do that.

5. Remember we are all human.

Keep sight of the huge pressure legislators have in putting together a $50 billion state budget from the isolation of their living room, away from their colleagues and staff while feeling like they have limited information and pressure from all kinds of places. Understanding where they are at mentally and managing expectations from there is incredibly important, not only for calculating your next tactic, but also for extending the grace and empathy that many need during this particularly difficult time.