Counties have multiple entities with the ability to reach a wide span of audiences including school districts, emergency services, law enforcement, cities, chambers of commerce, and county government. Each of these organizations has protocols as well as connectivity platforms to reach target audiences. Some of these may be common among the entities, while others are specific. Some are highly successful in connecting and communicating, having dedicated staff and resources, while others not as much, with communications assigned as part of the scope of a larger role. Each tends to have a unique relationship with local media outlets with varying degrees of success in getting the intended story told.
Those organizations without dedicated communication professionals end up relying on the person that either volunteered or was “voluntold” and rarely have the training and experience to help support these roles. All of these factors led to the development of the Kaufman County Communication Coalition (KCCC). The purpose of the coalition is to provide a training and learning platform and a network of people willing and able to share accurate information with the residents of the county.
This is a new approach to communications within the county developed by creating a network of individuals representing several teams with a common purpose: to learn together, build trust, and share accurate information.
Invitations were sent, and an initial meeting was hosted by the county in mid-January 2020 with more than 30 entities participating. Attending the meeting were law enforcement, emergency management, local ISD communication leaders, city leaders, county officials, and supporting partners. There was overwhelming support and agreement among the group to set the coalition in motion.
Regularly scheduled meetings occur on the fourth Wednesday of each month. The coalition is dividing its training into two distinct arenas: crisis management and publications/promotions. Guest speakers are brought in to speak to specific topics ranging from communicating during a crisis to how to get the most from social media. Included on future agendas are a hands-on press release writing workshop, group review of member websites, and presentation skills training, where members will be recorded presenting a topic and receive feedback from the group.
The KCCC continues to draw interest in and around the county with our latest member, Star Transit, joining the group in February. In just a very short period of time, the coalition is already setting new practices in place, such as the “trusted friends” group. This is a group of trusted contacts where information may be unofficially shared in order to curtail any misinformation in advance of an official statement in need of more investigation or follow-up.
Another benefit is improved connectivity with local media by the coalitions meeting and learning the “do’s and don’ts” of an effective press release, appropriate picture formatting, and the importance of publishing deadlines.
With the onset of COVID-19, the KCCC was put to its first real test. The first communication came from one of the city members who provided an update on the city’s action plan. Soon to follow were three of the independent school districts, another city, and multiple non-government partners expressing appreciation. It quickly became and remains the central platform for communication regarding the virus and has solidified its place as the “go-to” communication platform for Kaufman County.
Submitted by Jerry Dean, county administrator, Kaufman County