The Minnesota Association of Government Communicators (MAGC) traces its history back to 1980 when a small group of largely state government public information officers elected to organize themselves into a state chapter of the five-year-old National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC).
The founding cadre dedicated themselves to building membership, offering professional development opportunities and enhancing the stature of the communications function within their agencies. The emphasis was on high quality programming and services at the lowest costs.
Before long MAGC found itself in financial difficulty brought on partly by compelling programming with outsized expenses. The major budget buster, however, was the requirement of the national office that 75 percent of $50 annual dues collected from each member be forwarded to national headquarters to sustain its operations.
By the mid-80s, some MAGC board members began questioning whether they were receiving value from the national organization commensurate with the dollars the local unit — which comprised about 15 percent of the national membership rolls — was sending upstream.
The issue percolated until 1987 when the board polled the general membership about withdrawing from the national body. With membership support, MAGC “disaffiliated" itself from NAGC in September 1987. A small number of members elected to stay affiliated with NAGC and created the Voyagers chapter, which continued to the mid-90s. Even in the midst of the internecine drama, MAGC continued with robust member activities, offering a bi-monthly newsletter, monthly programs, a member directory and professional development opportunities, including an annual conference.
Highlights of the period included creation in 1982 of the Northern Lights Awards to celebrate the best examples of government communications in a variety of categories. In 1986 MAGC established the Communicator of the Year Award to recognize an individual for “outstanding contributions to governmental public relations.” The first three recipients were Ted Kolderie, senior fellow at the U of M’s Humphrey Institute, Dr. Michael Osterholm, Minnesota state epidemiologist, and Jan Smaby, co-host of public television’s Almanac public affairs program. The Communicator of the Year award then went dormant until the MAGC board revived it in 2011. Click here for a list of annual winners since 2011.
MAGC membership got a boost in the mid to late 1990s as cities in the Twin Cities region began adding communications staff. The impetus in many cases was seed money from counties to promote educational efforts for recycling. In addition some cities were hiring a staff member to coordinate cable access television programs using cable franchise funds. Job responsibilities quickly expanded to include traditional public relations functions. Soon a City Communicators Group was formed to share best practices and advance the profession. Members of the group found shared interests with MAGC, joining the organization as active members and then advancing to leadership positions on the board of directors.
Through the years, MAGC has attracted quality speakers on a variety of topics, assembling thought-provoking programming for an annual conference, awards banquet, summer speakers series and ad hoc meetings. Notable presenters have included Paul Ridgeway, special events impresario; Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad; George Latimer, mayor of Saint Paul; Nick Coleman, Pioneer Press and Star Tribune columnist; Jack Kelly, 1990 Olympic Festival director; Dr. Stephen Wilbers, grammarian, lecturer and Star Tribune columnist; Barry Callen, UW-Madison professor, author and branding guru; Dave Mona, public relations professional and WCCO Radio sports show host; Don Shelby and Esme Murphy, WCCO-TV anchors, Mike Veeck, minor league baseball promoter and co-owner of the Saint Paul Saints; and Mike Freeman Hennepin County Attorney.
Meetings did not always focus on prominent speakers, often using subject-matter experts to explore timely subjects on emerging technologies and communications surrounding news events. These included sessions on website development, social media trends, online videos, public communications in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse, crisis communications and more.
To broaden its reach and offer wide-ranging professional development opportunities, MAGC has co-sponsored events and programming with an array of like-minded organizations. At the time of the split with NAGC, the board engaged in merger discussions with the Minnesota chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Those talks led to a successful joint conference in 1988. Later MAGC held joint meetings with local units of the International Association of Business Communicators and Women in Communications. The group also co-hosted a well-attended regional conference of the City/County Communications and Marketing Association. Recently, the Minnesota Association of Community Telecommunications Administrators (MACTA) has partnered with MAGC in support of video judging and programming for the Northern Lights Awards.
Membership building has been a perpetual focus of the MAGC board. Some years the emphasis was on free programming for members, socializing and networking events, reduced registration fees, monthly programs to increase visibility, a quarterly newsletter, job postings, a Northern Light film festival and hosting showings of the annual Clio awards film depicting the best in national and international advertising. Membership rolls have fluctuated, but have grown steadily over the long-term. Examples: 1985 with 95 members, 1990 with 90 members, 1995 with 54 members; 2005 with 70 members, 2010 with 150 members and 2017 with 298 members.
Just as MAGC has been committed to the quality programming for its members, the board also sought to operate the organization professionally and efficiently. This led to the 1987 bylaws being updated and circulated to members in 2006. The bylaws included a Code of Ethics patterned after the national organization. The board established itself as a 501c3 nonprofit in 2008. It streamlined some of its paper-based administration by utilizing Cvent, an online software to manage event registration, bookkeeping and mailing lists. In 2013 a part-time administrative assistant was employed, followed in 2014 by a part-time bookkeeper. Admin Branding Box currently handles the association’s administration functions utilizing the online YourMembership platform for membership, event and communications management.
Since its founding in 1980, MAGC has benefitted from a committed all-volunteer board of directors willing to devote time, energy and expertise to enhance the professionalism of government communications and its practitioners. Those serving as president through the years understand their leadership successes rest on the shoulders of their boards and members.
Here is a partial list of MAGC presidents:
This brief history would not have been possible without the recollections, reflections and records shared by the individuals listed below. This MAGC history is a work in progress that can be amended and enhanced by you. If you have thoughts or documents that could improve or expand upon this history, please share them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
MN Department of Health
City of Woodbury - Retired
City of Edina
MN Department of Health
City of Bloomington
City of Golden Valley
MN Department of Health
City of Plymouth
MN Historical Society - Retired
City of Eagan
MN Dept. of Human Services
MN Dept. of Transportation - Retired
Public Relations Consultant
St. Cloud State - Retired