Agency communicators nab top honors

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Stellar agency communicators were seeing their names in lights when their work was honored at the Minnesota Association of Government Communicators Northern Lights Contest this year. Five MAPE members from three different state agencies were awarded highest honors for their work in photography, crisis communication response and social media engagement.


For more than 20 years, Deb Rose (MAPE Local 101) has been in her element wielding a camera in all of Minnesota’s natural elements, most recently at the Department of Natural Resources. She submitted her photos (one pictured above) from a recent project working with terns, a threatened species of birds residing on an island near Duluth. The nature of the project made a great story – a retired biologist was training younger biologists to ensure that the work carried on and in turn, so would the terns.

“I think it’s important to show the human element, because it’s people who are doing the work, making sure the terns will continue and their place in the ecosystem will be protected,” Rose said. “Staff are always saying “what’s good for wildlife is good for people.”

Rose described the experience as “fascinating” and said the terns are incredibly territorial, vocal and can be aggressive, making it difficult to capture the up-close photos that won her the Northern Lights Award for photography.

“It meant a lot to be recognized by my peers, to meet their high standards, and to know I successfully captured the story with my photos,” she said. “I am honored that I get the opportunity to photograph my colleagues and their work, providing visual support to the DNR’s mission and our efforts to communicate that mission.”

The name of the story was “A Refuge for Terns” and it ran in the July-August 2017 issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine. 

Doug Schultz, MAPE member at Local 901, knows all too well the value of a well-crafted crisis communications plan. His efforts to guide the Department of Health through the 2017 measles outbreak ended up earning the top spot in the Crisis Communication Response category in this year’s Northern Lights Contest. For this he credits the collaboration in his department and determination of the communications team.

Contest judges noted the team’s “excellent preparation and response as a testament to their professionalism.”

Doug presenting

In the photo to the left, Schultz presents his award-winning response plan to a group of communicators.

“Because of prior preparation and experience, our communications team was able to work within the incident command structure to understand the situation and obtain the information we needed to communicate the appropriate messages to the appropriate audiences. Yet we were able to react on the fly if needed to respond to changing conditions,” Schultz said.

This structure allowed the department to reach people in affected communities with clear, effective, timely and culturally appropriate materials.

“Effective communication requires a multimedia, multichannel, multipronged approach to reach an increasingly diverse population,” he said. “Yet we all represent one agency, so we need to speak and act with one voice. Teamwork, connecting with each other, is critical to success. The same holds true for day-to-day communications as well.”

Schultz said receiving the highest honors was gratifying and “it felt like it was an award not just for the communications aspect of the response, but for all those involved in this successful response.”

A team of Department of Transportation (MnDOT) communicators had a goal to “put a face to the state’s snow fighting crews.” This idea turned into an award-winning project that put a face to MnDOT’s fleet via videos and static profiles that ran on social media.

One judge said about the campaign, “Great planning and execution is evident with this entry. It makes me appreciate snowplow drivers and better understand some the day-to-day challenges that they face.”

Kristin Loobeek, MAPE member of Local 801, said her favorite part about working on this project was seeing the reaction on social media and knowing it was making a difference for snow plow drivers out on the roads this winter.

“One of our motivating factors was we wanted drivers to wave at snowplow drivers with all five fingers, not just one,” Loobeek said with a laugh.

MnDOT profile

Loobeek and colleague Richard Kemp agreed that collaborating as a team was vital to the success of this project, which has evolved over the years MnDOT has been profiling employees.

“Teamwork was really important in this project because it was a group effort,” Kemp said. “From the planning stages to the production to the graphics and video, we needed everyone to work together to get the products completed on time and in a quality manner.”

Their teammate Sue Roe, also a member of Local 801, coordinated with supervisors across the state to select the MnDOT ambassadors, Kemp shot and edited the videos and Loobeek designed the graphics (sample pictured at right) and social media posts.

To watch one of MnDOT’s driver profiles, go here:


For a full list of this year’s Northern Lights winners, go here:

It’s not too soon to think about your 2019 entries. To find out more about the contest, go here: