Monday, March 30, 2009

March Lunch: Communications at the DEA and the DEA Museum

What a great lunch! Our friends at the DEA did such a great job with this month's lunch. They were entertaining. Funny. Informative... If you weren't there, you really missed out!

Highlights from Sean Fearns, Museum Director, DEA Museum and Visitors Center:
  • Volunteers: The museum has convinced the "powers that be" at the DEA that it's a benefit if DEA staff (special agents, chemists, etc.) volunteer time during the day at the museum. And TPTB agree. This gives Sean a crazy knowledgeable team of volunteers. (His second pool of volunteers are retired workers.)
  • Funding: Sean has a hard time getting funding for the museum from the DEA. Understandably, $$ go toward the DEA activities versus the museum. He's solved this issue by forming a Foundation that provides financial support for the museum from outside the DEA.
  • Working with the Schools: One way Sean has been able to attract school groups to the museum is by ensuring that the museum -- and the activities related to it -- speaks to the Standards of Learning that teachers much teach to.
  • Media: The museum also has been a great in-roads to new media who otherwise wouldn't write about -- or pay any attention to -- the DEA's activities. More media = more visibility.
Highlights from Garrison Courtney, Director of Public Affairs, Drug Enforcement Agency:
  • They've got an incredibly small team handling public affairs for a huge agency. (Makes it kind of hard for the rest of us to complain about our work load...)
  • The DEA is constantly being asked to participate in documentaries, TV shows, etc. Garrison has a handful of questions he asks, including: 1) How are you funded? (If you aren't funded, they won't work with you.) 2) Let me see your script treatment. (If you don't have one, you're not ready or focused enough for them to work with you.
  • Surging: Garrison's work style is to see where the focus is. For example, he may spend 4 months focusing on documentaries, then 4 months focusing on magazines (based on readership trends), then 4 months with his resources focused on online, etc., etc... It's a smart way to work for a small shop.
  • Garrison's division always includes a special agent. It's a rotating position, but an important one. The special agents Garrison trains during their time with his department become billboards in the field for the importance of public affairs.
Highlights from Special Agent Brian:
  • Brian provided a unique perspective because he's not trained in public affairs, but was assigned to Garrison's division. But his was an important lesson. He said that when he was in the field he was trained to believe that newspaper coverage was bad and they should stay away from the press. Now that he's at headquarters working with Garrison and his team, Brian understands the importance of the press, and he's relaying that message to people in the field. (Lesson: Nothing beats firsthand experience! If you can bring your non-PA folks into your department to work for a few weeks or months, the experience will be invaluable to you and to the non-PA employee!)
I'd love to hear what others who were there had to say about the day... and about what they learned. Post comments below!

P.S. -- I didn't get to take the museum tour. (Handling official CCG business instead.) But for any of you who were on the tour, post below and let us know how cool the museum was!

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