The Voice | Spring 2020

5/15/2020

Volume 8 | Issue 2

Chair's Corner

Betsy Lynch Theroux of Georgia, 2019-2020 LINCS chairHello, everyone! I hope you all are doing well during these uncharted and uncertain times in our country. Here in Georgia, our legislative session is suspended indefinitely, and my colleagues and I are anxiously awaiting the day that we can return to our offices to continue on with our session, and we are trying to figure out what session will look like whenever we are able to safely return. However, as many of you have probably experienced, the work of the legislature doesn’t stop, even though much of the rest of the world has seemingly come to a temporary halt. 

As a result, we are finding new ways to adapt to working and communicating in this new environment. Now, perhaps more than ever, the work that we do as communicators is essential. Whether you are an active member of LINCS, or you just discovered our staff association, I welcome and encourage you to reach out to me, our NCSL liaison Holly South, or any of the other executive committee members with any questions or suggestions you may have. 

I hope everyone is finding ways to stay motivated, positive and productive. These are incredibly difficult times, but we are all in this together.

What's New

Crisis Communications During These Unprecedented Times 

With the coronavirus outbreak, crisis communications has been taken to a new level in statehouses across the country. In Wisconsin, as soon as we learned the coronavirus was going to be a serious public health threat, our first priority was to gather accurate information from state health officials and the White House. We increased communications to our caucus members and constituents immediately to ensure they were getting accurate and timely information from reliable sources.

During this public health emergency, we have found that internal communications is just as important as external communications. No one wants incorrect information released that could undermine a lawmaker’s credibility. The Wisconsin Assembly Republican communications team first developed a caucus resources webpage and now delivers daily updates to members and staff. The caucus also holds frequent teleconferences to share information from individual districts and statewide. Using that information, our offices are increasing constituent communications with more e-newsletters, press releases and social media posts as well as personal phone calls from lawmakers themselves.

Beyond the emergency orders, instructions on implementing regulations and social distancing tips, Assembly Republicans are delivering unique communications that show they’re engaged in their districts. Lawmakers are not just telling people that they support their communities, they’re showing it through Facebook live sessions, pictures and videos. Our representatives are giving blood, buying take-out food or dropping off items at a food pantry. Most importantly, members are listening and responding to their constituents and sharing their stories. At a time when we’re #alonetogether, it’s important to hear from business owners, farmers or independent contractors who are having similar struggles. These stories are getting an overwhelming response on social media platforms, especially on Facebook.

For communications professionals, even though it’s a stressful time, this crisis is providing an opportunity to increase our skill set and grow personally. Many of us know how to assemble an effective press conference, but now we’re conducting them virtually. We’re setting up Zoom meetings and Skype interviews. Technology is playing an even bigger role in legislative messaging.

If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this column, it is that in order to excel at your job, you must take care of yourself first. It’s likely that you are producing more work in a day than you normally would during a legislative session week. It’s physically and emotionally draining. Then you add the stress and anxiety that obviously comes with this public health emergency. 

My advice: Set priorities but be flexible. Those priorities may change from day to day; hour by hour. Then, strike a balance with those priorities. Sure, a legislator can do media interviews or call constituents all day but a legislator also has a family or a business. You have demands at home as well. We don’t know how long the pandemic is going to last. We all need to be healthy in order to do the best work for the people we serve.

A crisis situation is an opportunity to lead and an opportunity to be kind. How you treat others will be part of this life-changing, world event that will fill up pages of future history books. I’m especially grateful for the people at NCSL for all the resources they’re providing to help us make the best, informed decisions in our respective states. We all know there will come a day when we no longer use the phrase “during these unprecedented times” in our communications. Until that time, I wish you well. 

Kit Beyer, communications director at the Wisconsin State Assembly. Beyer recently participated in an “Our American States” podcast on crisis communications. Listen here.

How to Save The World In Four Days 

“Roll with the changes” is something we often hear at the legislature, especially those of us with backgrounds in film and video. Well, during this past month, we have done that to the 100th degree at the Arkansas House of Representatives’ communications department. Not only did key members of our team contract COVID-19, but we were also unable to come to work and access our production equipment when our constituents needed us the most.

Arkansas House met in special session at a local basketball areaIt was late March when I started working from home and received notification of a special session. Typically, there would be no worries. We would come together and crank out production in no time. However, social distancing guidelines meant that we could not be in the chamber and had to create a new production site on the fly! And, to be told we would have to do this in four days (inner monologue screams here) just raised the stakes.

After three conference calls (and more inner screaming), we devised three plans. I worked on the details until receiving the final word on the Tuesday before the Thursday session. To get the show on the road, we partnered with our local PBS station. Like true masters of their craft, they gave freely of their time and talents and fully backed our vision—no egos, just hard work. Together, we moved a four-camera production to a vast basketball arena and arranged for members to sit six feet apart. And we built it all from scratch! 
 
Production began Wednesday morning. After five hours, we built the suite and were running tests. We managed to make this three-day, off-site shoot look like it was routine. Well, that was our goal! However, on the back end, we were far from ready and tweaked the set right up till the end. Much to our luck, the PBS Station went down five minutes before the broadcast, but we made it through. We then broke down the set by 2 a.m. that Saturday.

Members physically distanced during the Arkansas House special sessionThis experience also prepared us to manage the new challenges presented by this year’s Gubernatorial State of the State address and the fiscal budget sessions. Traditionally, the governor speaks to guests in the spacious House chamber. This year, with the help of the Arkansas Educational Television Commission and the producer for the Senate, the governor’s office moved the event to the Senate chamber and was able to use a satellite truck and YouTube connection to stream the address to basketball scoreboards in the arena for House members to watch. We had a day and a half to make this work (again, internal screaming), but it was exciting! The live production came off seamlessly, and we timed it perfectly and, in a way, made history. It was the first time a State of the State address had been done remotely by us, and it was the first time that a governor gave it from the Senate chamber. Once again, no egos, just hard work. We turned a stressful time into a success.

I write this in hope of being an example for everyone. You never know if what you’re doing will become historical or wind up being “just another meeting.” Still, if you remain committed to the task and treat everyone with the same respect and drive, those tasks that come out of nowhere will always work out. These times have been uncertain. But what is not uncertain is that we were one team with one goal, and we made it happen. This crisis not only brought the best out of the Arkansas State Representatives’ committee staffers, it also brought our community closer. 

Will Tracy, production assistant, Arkansas House of Representatives

Tips on Working from Home

The key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance is to, well, live life! While working from home, consider doing these six things to keep you and your loved ones happy, healthy and in good spirits. 

For more tips on working from home, see these articles from NPR, Business Insider and CBS News.

  1. Divert Your Attention: In the midst of an unprecedented public health pandemic, it’s easy to get carried away and continue working after the typical close of business time. It’s even easier to worry about what’s next. And with new information continuously hitting the airwaves, it’s pretty obvious why! Considering diverting your attention from news stations and press conferences and instead start the latest season of your favorite series, check off a title on your reading list or blast your favorite radio station. As much as possible, try to avoid content that reminds you of work.
    • Need a show suggestion? Check out this article in the New Yorker.
    • Looking for a good read? Town and Country magazine has compiled a spring 2020 reading list complete with titles spanning a wide range of genres and topics, including culinary arts, presidential history and self-identity.
  2. Focus on Health: With so many grocery stores facing food shortages and increased demand and so few restaurants open, planning for mealtime can be stressful. But healthy and balanced eating habits, along with a dose of creativity, are crucial during this time. For ideas about what to cook while working at home, check out this article from ConsumerReports.org. And make sure to get outside. Research shows that physical activity not only benefits the body, but also the mind and spirit. If possible, designate a workout space in your home and take advantage of the many available free online workouts, and commit to a routine schedule. Being active will undoubtedly make up for the walking—and sprinting—that you usually do around your legislature!
  3. Digital Detoxing: Unplug … literally! You’ve earned the right to step back and disconnect from the world during a portion of each day. Sure, we can never fully turn our devices off, but we can be more mindful of our total daily screen time.
    • Don’t reach for your phone, laptop or similar devices first thing in the morning. A 2016 Business Insider article suggests that our first activity of the day should be aligned with our truest needs. Will brewing that cup of coffee (or the second cup) increase your productivity? Need more time to meditate or get through that morning exercise routine? Perhaps a family member is vying for your attention? Take a few moments to gather yourself before jumping into your day.
    • Silence all electronic devices when eating meals. Uninterrupted mealtime can improve your mental health and social relationships over time.
    • Set daily limits for your social media usage, and don’t spend more time scrolling than is necessary. Taking some time off from social media is a sure way to help your mind slow down and relax. Before making a final determination, be sure to account for the time you will have to spend on social media for work-related purposes.
  4. Quality Time: For the most part, everyone is likely home and on a similar schedule. To the best of your ability, use this time to connect (or reconnect) with your extended family, friends, former colleagues and others. And plan your “virtual-meets” in advance. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype or any one of Google’s numerous applications (Meets, Duo, Hangouts), can be used to arrange video conferencing for large groups—just like we do for work! For more intimate one-on-one conversations, consider using Facebook Messenger’s video tool or the video call function on Instagram if you have personal accounts on those platforms.
  5. Camping Out With Kids During COVID-19: The term “working parent” has taken on new meaning. In recent weeks, BBC News and Yale Medicine have enlightened us on what it is required to maximize this newfound quality time while supporting parents and children in their professional and educational endeavors, respectively.
  • Schedule, schedule, schedule! Creating a daily schedule with, and not for, your children will not only empower them but give them a sense of responsibility and ownership. Consider making each day a little different and clearly block off time for food, fun, and academics—and set bedtimes as well.
  • Enjoy each other’s company. Gather everyone for weekly lunches or consider prepping family meals together. Family nights can revolve around a movie, puzzle or board game. Disconnect from your devices during this time, too!

NCSL News and LINCS Resources

By now you’ve received NCSL Executive Director Tim Storey’s email about canceling the annual Legislative Summit in Indianapolis this summer. We are deeply saddened that we won’t be getting together in person to connect, educate and network. We hope to have a series of virtual sessions on topics of critical importance in the coming months and also encourage LINCSsters to take advantage of the listserv (lincs-all-l@ncsl.org) to communicate with colleagues around the country.

NCSL has compiled coronavirus resources for legislative staff covering a range of policy areas including continuity of government and elections. In addition to updates on state actions, there are distance learning opportunities such as webinars and podcasts. And be sure to visit the Comms Shop, a new resource on NCSL’s LINCS webpage with research on legislative social media sites, crisis communications, media access and credentialing policies, and more.

In case you missed any of the resources from the recent Legislative Staff Week, we’ve provided them here – please bookmark and share with colleagues!

For more information, contact Holly South

 Suggestion Box

 Have an idea for a future issue of The Voice? Want to contribute a short feature?
 Contact LINCS Secretary Emmanuel Brantley