CFM Strategic Communications

Audits Point to Smarter Communications

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Direct communications are the most important avenue to learn about what’s happening in schools. Communications audits can reveal whether your communications strategies and tools are clicking.

“If school districts don’t communicate effectively, others will fill the vacuum of describing what’s happening – and you may not like what they say,” says CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland, who presented the value of communications audits to the annual conference of the Washington Schools Public Relations Association on April 29 in Leavenworth, Wash.

David Beil, communications director for the Central Kitsap School District, provided specific before and after examples of e-letters, social media and the district’s website following a CFM-led communications audit. Beil said post-audit communications relied on stronger imagery, less text, a sharper audience focus and more links. 

The audit was invaluable, he said, in convincing school administrators why changes were needed and that additional resources were warranted.

Audits involve an inventory of print and digital communications, a battery of research and an analysis of actual communications, Eiland explained.

Results from a communications audit can shape a communications plan, clarify who manages communications, prioritize audiences and organize communications tools, he said. “You can make decisions based on data, not hunches,” Eiland indicated. “You can refresh or reboot websites, e-letters and intranets with greater confidence they will deliver more value for the people you need to reach. They also can help earn the resources you need for success." 

Beil and Eiland emphasized communications audits identify how “people communicate and where they get information,” as well as “what information people want and need.”

“This is a disciplined approach to decide what communications tools work or how they can be made to work better,” Eiland said. “It is also a way to measure actual results."

A Little Bragging about a Successful Session

CFM has always been a lobby firm dedicated to achieving client results. There is no better example of our work than the recently completed 2016 Oregon legislative session.

Our team of five lobbyists, led by CFM Partner Dan Jarman, worked on challenging legislative projects ranging from funding major sporting events to health care to low-income housing. Their work mirrored CFM’s intentionally diversified client portfolio that takes our lobby team to every corner of the state Capitol in Salem.

Success doesn’t happen by accident. “In a short session, there is a lot to do and not very much time to do it,” Jarman says. “You have to conceive a good plan, maintain the discipline to execute it and have the stamina to withstand all the turmoil to succeed. Our team did.”

Success doesn’t always occur in a single session, particularly a short one. And just because you succeed doesn’t mean that success is permanent.  “It takes vigilance to notch a client victory,” Jarman adds. “It takes just as much or more vigilance to preserve that victory.”

The CFM team in Salem consists of Dale Penn II, Ellen Miller and Tess Milio. Case studies highlighting some of their successes during the 2016 session are featured on CFM's homepage.

Michael Skipper, the fifth member of CFM's state team, joined the firm's federal affairs team in Washington, D.C., after the session. He has become the latest member of the CFM staff to work as a lobbyist in both D.C. and Salem.

There has been little time for the state team to rest. After writing their 2016 session reports for clients, they are already at work on legislation for the 2017 session as well as initiatives that voters will decide in the November general election.

“The cycle never stops,” Jarman said. “We can’t either."

Skipper Joins CFM Federal Affairs Team

Michael Skipper will join the CFM Federal Affairs team after working with the firm’s state affairs team during the 2015 and 2016 Oregon legislative sessions and assisting on political campaigns in Corvallis and Sherwood.

A political science graduate of Oregon State University, Skipper will assume the role of CFM Federal Affairs Associate.

"Michael's broad understanding of the issues facing the Pacific Northwest, ability to handle complex assignments and record of accomplishment in Salem makes him a perfect fit for the CFM D.C. team,” says Joel Rubin, CFM Federal Affairs Partner. "Having someone who understands the legislative process at the state level will integrate nicely into our comprehensive service model.” 

Skipper assisted the CFM State Affairs team with client, legislator and committee relations, monitored relevant legislation and provided general support. He brings solid communication, research and organizational skills to his new post.

“I’m looking forward to working in Washington, D.C., which has been a goal of mine,” Skipper says. “I’m delighted to continue my association with CFM in this new position.”

Skipper already has a working familiarity with some of CFM’s federal clients, which the firm represents at both the federal and state levels.

For fun, Skipper enjoys hitting the links, traveling, reading and spending time with family and friends. He is an avid sports fan who can routinely be found at any Trail Blazer or Beaver football, basketball and baseball games.

Skipper can be reached at michaels@cfmdc.com

Friends Tenderly Roast Retiring Fiskum

Photos by Tom Patterson.

Photos by Tom Patterson.

Lured from a putting green into the dining hall at Illahe Country Club, CFM Partner Emeritus Dave Fiskum was welcomed by a roomful of friends, coworkers and former clients who warm-heartedly roasted him after his retirement earlier this year.

The evening was filled with a mix of funny and tender stories about Fiskum's work as a lobbyist, his devotion to golf and his ongoing struggle with technology.

Former CFM staffer Elizabeth Remley, whose job included IT assistance, recalled Fiskum asking her how to "get rid of the blue dots" next to his emails. She said: "Just read them."

Former State Rep. Vicki Berger, who had worked with Fiskum to pass a huge local school bond measure, said she asked him for advice after she was elected to the legislature. "He explained to me how to play lobby golf."

Lynne Saxton, who now heads the Oregon Health Authority, described the search for a lobbyist for ChristieCare, the nonprofit she directed for many years. "Someone suggested Dave, then added that he golfed a lot," she said. Fiskum got the job anyway, but after two years Saxton said her nonprofit ran out of money to pay his fee. "Dave said that wasn't a problem and went on representing the organization for many years, helping thousands of children from around the state."

Former State Senator Neil Bryant noted Fiskum paid little attention to him when he was first elected, but suddenly wanted to become best friends when Republicans gained control of the Senate and he took the chairmanship of Senate Judiciary. In that role, Bryant pledged to write implementing legislation for the physician-assisted suicide measure approved by Oregon voters, but opposed by one of Fiskum's main clients.

"I created a work group to iron out details, but insisted that everyone on the work group had to agree to support the recommendations they come up with," Bryant said. "When I returned from a trip to the East Coast expecting to meet my wife at the airport, I was greeted instead by Fiskum who said, 'I have a problem.' I listened to his problem for the hour it took to drive me to Salem."

Amid the roasts were praise for Fiskum's unflagging loyalty to friends, clients and family and for his unwavering integrity. Roasters teased him about his passionate, arm-flailing monologues on issues, his Capitol hallway vents after a vote went against him and his habit of removing his glasses before making a profound comment.

"One thing for sure," said CFM President Gary Conkling, who has known Fiskum since they both attended Seattle Pacific University, "is you couldn't ask for a better business partner or a friend."

Dave Fiskum Golf

Fifty or so friends, plus Fiskum's wife and daughter, attended the reception and dinner that is part of CFM's 25th anniversary celebration this year.

"Dave played a large part in the creation and culture of the company," said CFM Partner Dan Jarman, who suggested the roast. "We know Dave didn't want a big deal made of his decision to retire, but we couldn't resist saying 'thank you' to him in some tangible and meaningful way, surrounded by his friends."

Admitting his surprise at being roasted, Fiskum said, "It was a great party and very gratifying to see a lot of my friends in one place at one time, to hear a lot of fun memories recounted, some at my expense."

"I enjoyed it, I have to say.  And, as you know, I have absolutely no regrets about my 25 years at CFM. It was a great run, made better with friends like you."

CFM Earns Press Coverage for Local Nonprofit

PBJ-CCC-bed-bug-story.jpg

CFM helped local nonprofit Central City Concern show off its social entrepreneurship through an article this week in the Portland Business Journal that featured its innovative bed bug resistant bed.

Frustrated with the beds available in the market, CCC invented its own in 2010 to use in its newly built Madrona Studios for its homeless clients. CCC partnered with a Clackamas County manufacturer and used its knowledge from waging a mostly losing battle with bloodsucking parasites to create a durable, safe bed, which it called Central City Bed.

After receiving unsolicited inquiries from other nonprofits, CCC realized it had a going business on its hands. The bed has continued to impress and now is turning a small profit for CCC, which goes to support its job training programs.

Central City Concern also sells Central City Coffee as part of a growing effort to create revenue streams to support its integrated approach to helping homeless people get back on their feet with housing, health care and work.

CFM's Hannah Smith developed the story pitch to the Portland Business Journal emphasizing CCC's social entrepreneurship, contacted the publication and coordinated contacts with key CCC personnel. PBJ took the story and ran with it.

"Central City Bed is a great product," Smith said. "It reflects a smart approach to build awareness, support and revenue for the agency's important work."

The story about the bed appeared online, and a longer version is scheduled to appear in PBJ's weekly print edition.

Start the Customer Conversation Before an Ask

Gary Conkling gave a presentation designed to help water officials make a big splash with their marketing. Water utilities need proactive, out-of-the-box communications strategies to connect with constituents who care about clean water, but don't it much thought in their daily life.

Speaking at an Oregon Association of Clean Water Agencies conference in Salem, CFM President Gary Conkling urged water officials to concentrate on information that is useful and relevant to their customers, presented in easy-to-access and easy-to-understand ways.

"Your information needs to be presented simply, packaged effectively and designed imaginatively to pull readers to your content and connect with your agency," Conkling said. "And it's all not just about a website. Friendly, helpful counter clerks and service techs who deal directly with customers can project an agency that wants to help."

His presentation on "Mapping a Communications Strategy" was part of a workshop that also included discussions on how to win community support for water projects. Around 150 people from throughout the Pacific Northwest attended.

Conkling encouraged water officials to embrace a marketer's perspective in their communications, starting with grassroots research that enables them to develop "customer personas." "It is easier to see how to talk about water to a personalized face instead of a statistic," he said. "Your communications will be closer to the mark if you aim them at people who are your customers."

An advantage enjoyed by water agencies, Conkling said, is having a database of customers with whom the agency is in monthly contact. "Your database can be a platform for finding out what matters to your customers," he explained "and turning them into your community partners through regular engagement."

Since people aren't sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear from a local water agency, "you have to find useful and even entertaining ways to connect with them," Conkling said.

"It's a lot better to have the conversation already under way," he advised," than waiting for the moment when you need to ask customers to agree to a rate hike."

Conking leads CFM's public relations practice, which includes strategic communications counsel, managing public issues, crisis response and reputation management.

CFM Donates Books to Encourage Reading in Ethiopia

CFM has donated more than 80 books to a school located in Debark, Ethiopia. The donation will help encourage students to develop a love of reading.

Several CFM staff members selected books they or their children love to be part of the donation. “Some of the books I chose were my favorite books as a child, my son's favorites and adult authors I love that also write children's books,” said CFM Bookkeeper Beverly Melven. “Growing up poor, the library was my favorite place to be, and I'm thrilled that we are helping other children grow up with books as their friends.”

CFM purchased from Better World Books, a website that sells books to help fund high-impact literacy projects in the United States and around the world. For each book purchased through the site, Better World Books donates another book to an organization promoting literacy. The majority of books CFM purchased were also used, which helps books get to people in need rather than in landfills. Many of the books CFM purchased promote self-esteem for women and girls, environmental responsibility or feature people with disabilities.

The book drive was organized by Peace Corps Volunteer Mellissa Chisolm, who took to Facebook asking her friends and family to donate books. “Their school libraries are mostly filled with big, boring, reference books,” wrote Chisolm, “I would love to get some new exciting, easy, fun books to add to their collection.”

“I began by personally supporting the project because it seemed like such a simple way to make a difference,” said CFM Digital Strategist Hannah Smith. “I was so proud when CFM also decided to support the project in such a big way.”

Upon learning of CFM’s donation, Chisolm said: “I will be forever grateful to CFM for helping out the children in my town. It is wonderful knowing that there are people and companies that support literacy programs around the world. I am amazed at their generosity and feel extremely lucky for all of the support.”

Those interested in purchasing additional books for donation should contact Hannah Smith through the CFM website.

Quick Action Saves School Access

Medically fragile school-age children will be able to continue in Portland Public Schools this fall because of legislation passed in the Oregon legislature as a result of advocacy by CFM's state affairs team.

The issue cropped up relatively late in the 2013 session, but CFM's Jessica Adamson, Ellen Miller and Tess Milio jumped into action, worked with legislative champion Rep. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and got an amendment added to House Bill 2747, which is now on its way to the governor's desk.

It all started in May when Portland Public Schools declared it wasn't legally obligated to educate 26 children housed in the Providence Child Center because their parents lived outside the district's boundary.

The amendment in HB 2747 ensures the children can attend school in Portland for the next school year while lawmakers and others ponder a longer term solution that takes into account financial responsibility for the children's education for consideration in the 2014 session.

"There may be a credible discussion to have about who is responsible," Gelser said to the Oregonian about the passage of the bill, "but that should be invisible to the kids and their families."

Parents of children at the Providence Child Center expressed relief about final approval of the bill. They said their children have difficulty adjusting to change. PPS officials also voiced support for the plan that provides continuity of education for the children.

The Providence Child Center, which has operated for 60 years and is located in NE Portland within the PPS boundary, is the only facility of its kind in the Pacific Northwest that provides full-time residential care for medically fragile children.

"I'm proud of our team for taking on a tough issue late in the session and finding a workable solution that benefits children and their parents," says CFM Partner Dan Jarman. "This is the kind of advocacy work that makes all the hard work worth it."

Phillips Joins CFM, Bolstering Public Affairs Team

Public affairs professional Page Phillips is joining CFM, bolstering the firm's capability to address major public policy issues in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

Phillips serves as Washington State Director for the Columbia River Crossing Coalition, a role she will continue after joining CFM. 

"Page has emerged as the go-to public affairs professional in Southwest Washington," says Kelly Parker, president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce. "She is a quick study who looks for pathways to success and understands how to motivate people."

Phillips represented Washington Senator Patty Murray and former Congressman Brian Baird in Southwest Washington. Prior to that she worked five years in Washington, D.C., two years for former Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse and three as a consultant. Her resume also includes work as a public affairs consultant and on campaigns in Oregon, California and Colorado.

Among her past projects are organizing stakeholders around the controversial issue of designating Mount St. Helens as a National Park, dredging projects on the Columbia River and designating rivers as wild and scenic. In her current role, Phillips is responsible for stakeholder outreach and strategy and mobilizing local advocacy for the Columbia River Crossing project. 

"We are pleased to have Page join our team," says CFM President Gary Conkling. "She brings energy, a fresh perspective and a wider set of contacts to our work. Most important, she gets the intersection between good policy and politics that is at the heart of solid public affairs work."

Phillips will work out of CFM's Portland office. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Puget Sound and a Master of Community and Regional Planning degree from the University of Oregon. In good weather she likes to hike and bike, and in bad weather she cooks and reads. Phillips has a five-year-old daughter and lives in Portland.