Lessons for Labor from… Don Draper?

by Carl Fillichio on November 1, 2010 · 1 comment

AMC's Mad Men

The closing scene of the season one finale of AMC's Mad Men. (Credit: AMC.com)

Recently, I had the chance to speak at a conference on DOL’s use of “new” media. As an “old media” guy–someone more likely to pick up the phone than to send a tweet–I was a little surprised when I got the invitation. But I always encourage people to take on “stretch assignments” and I thought I should practice what I preach.

During my first stint at the Department of Labor in the 90’s I saw unprecedented changes in the workforce… and in the workplace. It was there that I was first introduced to great new inventions called “electronic mail” and the “world wide web” and saw how they created amazing new opportunities… as well as new challenges.

When I came back to DOL in 2009, I found many of the same people, but a very different place. The Office of Public Affairs now gets calls from Huffington Post as well as the Washington Post, our shop includes an entire team of professionals devoted to our various websites, and I’m tethered to the job by a phone that does a whole lot more than the rotary dial I left behind.

But even with all of the new tools at our disposal, our job – our mission — remains the same… to communicate the work of the department to the public we serve. We’re story tellers.

I was reminded of this recently, when I was watching a rerun of AMC’s Mad Men.  In the last episode from the first season, the main character Don Draper is giving his pitch to some executives at Kodak. In it, he has a line that strikes me as good advice for government.

Technology is a glittering lure, but there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash.

Communication, whether through new media or “old media” isn’t about the technology, it’s about taking people places, making a connection, and saying something that matters.  That’s something that Secretary Solis and I are trying to do.  And here’s how:

Secretary Solis visited the Deepwater Horizon shortly after the explosion that killed 11 workers on the rig. During her trip, she met with crews taking part in the cleanup efforts, local business groups reeling from the lost tourism revenue, and she flew in a coast guard helicopter to see the damage first hand. Through new media–like twitter–we were all there with her.

Through this blog she also took us along on trips to Mexico City, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and showed how U.S. funding for programs abroad are raising the bar for all workers — including those back home.

And when she visited a green construction project in New Hampshire funded in part by the Recovery Act, we all had a chance to see exactly what green jobs are and how they are helping to grow our economy.

Whether tweeting from a helicopter flying over the gulf oil spill, visiting a job training facility, or blogging her thoughts and reactions during trips abroad, she’s not only saying something that matters to her, she’s inviting all of us all to share in the same experience.  And that’s engaging the public on a level beyond the flash.

Ed. Note: Carl Fillichio is a Senior Advisor to Secretary Solis for Public Affairs and Communications.

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