Managing Social Media for a Government Agency with Joseph Galbo

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Managing Social Media for a Government Agency with Joseph Galbo
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Just because you’re a government organization doesn’t mean you can’t have a little personality. That’s what my friend Joe Galbo proves day-in and day-out over at the Consumer Products Safety Commission. I’ve wondered for some time how they manage their social media strategy there and Joe’s the brains behind most of the operation. We’ll talk content, memes, data and more, as well as how he can get it all done at the federal level. 

Show Notes

Transcript

Intro: Just because you’re a government organization doesn’t mean you can’t have a little personality. That’s what my friend Joe Galbo proves day in and day out over at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. I’ve wondered for some time how they manage their social media strategy, and Joe’s the brains behind most of the operation. We’ll talk content, means, data, and more, as well as how he can get it all done at the federal level.

This is a really fun conversation. Joe and I had been friends for a long time, so it was great to catch up with him, as well as get a little insight into his job. Again, it’s a really great conversation. I think you should stick around for the whole thing. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Joe: Hey, everybody, and welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, how did you build that? Today, I am very happy to have my guest, Joseph Galbo with me. Aside from us going to the same grammar school and high school, Joseph is the social media specialist at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. You might know some of his work because he creates very funny graphics across their social media channels to make sure that people are staying safe. Joseph Galbo, how are you?

Joe Galbo: I’m good, Joe. Thank you so much for having me. I’m very, very excited to be here on the podcast.

Joe: I am very happy to have you on the podcast. I really love your work. This season is focused on people creating content and I thought, who better to have about creating good social media content than somebody who creates interesting social media content for a government agency? Because I think probably that’s not what people immediately think about when they think about government agency social media presence.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, I think I would agree. Before I get too far in, I do just want to share a quick disclaimer with everybody. Everything I’m saying today is my own opinion and has not necessarily been approved by the Commission. So you’re just getting the raw Joe Galbo thoughts today, not Commission-approved. Just had to share that to make the lawyers happy.

But yeah, Joe, I think you’re 100% right. I think there is a ton of great social media work happening in the government space. Many, many government agencies are doing a really incredible job. I’m thinking of places like NASA, I’m thinking of places like the Department of Energy, which also has a really incredible podcast if anyone wants to get into government podcast. But there’s a lot of great work happening out there.

I will say a lot of it is very government looking, and kind of what you might expect to see from a government agency. That’s definitely something different than what we’re trying to do at CPSC where things are, like you said yourself, just a little bit more entertaining than what you might typically find from a government social media presence.

Joe: Yeah, for sure. That’s really interesting. I will link to the Department of Energy podcast. I didn’t know they had one, but I am interested. So I’ll link to that in the show notes over at howibuilt.it. Before we get too deep into this, why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do for the CPSC?

Joe Galbo: Sure. So real quick, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, if you’re not familiar with us, we’re a federal regulatory agency. We regulate about 15,000 different kinds of consumer products. And that’s everything from ATVs, to toaster ovens, to clothing, to hardwood flooring, to playgrounds, to…You know, if you name it, there’s an excellent chance it falls under our jurisdiction. We like to say we basically regulate everything except the air, and food, and automobiles, and planes. Planes are under the FAA. But it’s actually much easier to describe the things we don’t regulate than it is to describe the things we do regulate because there’s such a broad jurisdiction there.

My role, I work in the office of communications. I am the social media specialist. Our communication team overall is very small. It’s between 8 to 10 people. My job is actually…there are two rope sides to it. So I do manage all the day to day social media, but I also manage all of our websites. We have about five websites. Our big flagship website, cpsc.gov, where maybe if you did hear about a recalled product is where you would go to find out about it, and learn how you could get that taken care of. And then a few other smaller sites that are tied to our safety education campaigns and other mission-critical things that happen at the agency.

Agency’s annual budget is about $125 million a year. Our communication office budget is about $4 million a year. So it’s pretty small when you think of government. We’re one of the smaller federal agencies and we’re absolutely one of the smallest federal regulatory agencies. So you can imagine like the EPA and the FDA, those are big, huge government agencies. Billion-dollar budgets. They have the same type of mission work that we do, but we’re much, much smaller. So that’s where we sit in the federal space.

Joe Galbo: That’s really interesting. Because you just mentioned all the things that you regulate, so I would expect it to be a little bit bigger. But that said, again, I’ll link to the website. I am part of a Recall Email alert, I think thanks to you.

Joe Galbo: Totally cool. That’s awesome.

Joe: I think when my daughter was born, I cared a lot more about stuff like that. You don’t want to use something for my kids that is recalled. I’ll be sure to link to that too.

Joe Galbo: That’s good parenting right there.

Joe: Thank you. Thank you. Great. So, thanks for setting the stage there. Now, one of the things at least that tends to catch a lot of people’s attention is the kind of stuff that you do for the social media channel. You have a pandemic-related mascot I think.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, sure.

Joe: Do you want to talk a little bit about…and not specifically, I forget the name. It’s a fox. I know that much.

Joe Galbo: Yes, Quinn the Quarantine.

Joe: Quinn the Quarantine Fox, yes. When you put out stuff around like fireworks and pool safety, I think was another one that I saw, it’s just all very funny and also informative. Your Christmas tree campaign. Now, I’m just kind of showering you with compliments.

Joe Galbo: Sure, I appreciate. I’m going to let you keep going. I’m not going to stop you.

Joe: But it’s been super helpful. Christmas trees, for example. I never had a real Christmas tree and until I married my wife. She was like, “We have to get a real Christmas tree.” There are things that I would not have thought of except for your social media presence. First of all, how do you decide what you’re going to inform the public about? And then how do you come up with the imagery and the messaging for that stuff?

Joe Galbo: Sure. CPSC is a very data-driven agency, and that is in really everything we do. So whether it’s our communication stuff. Like I work on our regulatory side, where we’re creating regulations and standards for various consumer products, you know, again, everything under our jurisdiction. Everything we do is based in data. So for our safety education campaigns, especially, we rely on data from the agency’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. That is, NEISS for short. NEISS. So the NEISS system is basically a network of hospitals across the country that provide us their emergency room data.

So when you go to the emergency room at a NEISS hospital, the nurse, they help you out, they set you up with a room. And then part of their data entry that they do is they plug into our system why you came into the emergency room that day. And what our system does, it takes all of that information from all the NEISS hospitals across the country. It tabulates it, it puts it into a very, very helpful internal system we have at the agency, and it allows us to see what is injuring people across the country. That’s how we determine what we’re going to communicate about at various points throughout the year.

For example, September and October…or let’s choose October in the holiday season rather. So during the holiday season, we see a lot of Halloween costume injuries coming into hospitals. So that enables my office to say, “Okay, so people are out there, they’re going trick or treating with their kids. Maybe they’re not having their kids in a well-fitting costume. So we’re seeing a lot of trip injuries in October, we’re seeing a lot of kids walking into trees and go into the emergency room in October. We should probably do a campaign around Halloween safety and how you make sure you have a Halloween costume that is good for your kids.”

To maybe use a more applicable example, for this time of year, we’re recording right now in the spring heading into summer. We tracked drowning injuries through our NEISS system. So, Joe, you mentioned one of our big campaigns is our Pool Safely campaign. It’s all about making sure kids know how to swim and making sure that parents and adults know CPR and know what they should be doing when their kids are out of pool. All of that messaging comes out of the injuries and the data that we collect through the NEISS system.

That’s how we decide what we’re going to message about. We just look at the data and if the data tell us Americans are hurting themselves from these products that are under our jurisdiction, we create messaging about it.

The second part of the question there, how do we decide to come up with this creative approach for our social media? That was really about me kind of taking a look at what other federal agencies were doing, what other regulatory agencies were doing on social media, and try and come up with a way for us to stand out. Again, we’re a small agency. We don’t have a huge dedicated social media budget. Actually, until this year, we had practically no budget for doing any type of paid social media advertising at all. I use a Stock photography account. It is the cheapest photography account that can be afforded. I do all the Photoshop work myself. I create all the social videos myself. So it is truly a one-person show on a cheap, cheap budget.

So when you’re in that type of situation, creativity is really your ally. You really have to force yourself to be creative in order to even hope to break through the noise on social media platforms. We are engaged on all the major social media platforms. We are on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Of them at this point are very mature. Everyone kind of knows what to expect from each of those platforms. So if you’re a new brand launching in that space, you just have to be creative, and you have to try things that are a little bit out there.

I think there was a lot of great precedent set for trying a front approach when it came to communicating serious stuff. I look at people like Jon Stewart, who for many years on The Daily Show did exactly that. He took very serious concepts and he turned them into very, very fun bits basically right. He did that for years very successfully.

I think being a little bit entertaining allows people to let their guard down when it comes to serious topics and controversial topics, and kind of enables people to open themselves up to learning. And that’s really what we’re trying to do with the fun social media graphics that we create. It’s presenting something in a really entertaining way, but also you’re going to learn something very serious at the same time.

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And now back to the show.

Joe: So first let’s go back to the NEISS hospitals. First of all that’s NEISS. When you said it the first time, I was like, “Oh, it’s something like nicer hospitals or whatever?” No kidding.

Joe Galbo: NEISS, yeah.

Joe: My wife is a nurse and that’s not really something that dawned on me. They have a very complex, charting system through a program called Epic. And it didn’t really dawn on me that they would report this information to more than just the medical governing body. That you’d get some of this information and then you can react on that. I think that’s super cool.

Joe Galbo: Sure. I think one of the challenges at the commission is that because we’re such a small agency, I think a lot of Americans, first of all, don’t know who we are. Then second of all, don’t realize the types of services and programs we’re running. The NEISS system is to me…Like, as soon as I got to the agency, and I learned about it, I was like, “Wait a minute. What? What are we doing?” I’ve only been at the agency for years and I had never heard of it before, before I applied for the job. So when I heard the type of system we are running there, I was like, “Oh, my God, what do you mean, I can look up how many people were injured by NEISS last year across the country. That’s crazy. Who even knew this was a thing that existed?

Joe: That’s so cool. I love data, so I could ask you a million questions about that. I’m sure the data is probably privy. Well, actually, you’re a government agency. Is that data published somewhere? Or is that for your eyes only?

Joe Galbo: Oh, yeah. Oh, no, absolutely. It’s very, very public. We encourage people to use it whenever we can. It’s available on our website. Our website is cpsc.gov. If you were to go to the main menu on cpsc.gov, there’s a subhead there that says “National Electronic Injury Surveillance System.” Then on that page, there’s a button that takes you to the NEISS query portal, which is a not very well designed piece of software. As the person who runs the website, I’m allowed to say. I’m big enough that I can tell you when we’re not doing as good a job as we can.

So, but basically, through that query portal, you can create your own custom search through the data. Or you can just download an Excel file of all the data itself. And again, I know this is not what this episode is supposed to be about, but one of the things I’m trying to do with our websites is make our data more transparent, make it easier to use. Again, if you’re a developer, and you’re listening to this, and you go to our website, and you see a bunch of ways it can be better, please let me know. There’s a button on the bottom of the website that says “website feedback.” I read everything that comes in through that. And I definitely want to hear exactly what we should be doing a better job of.

Joe: Wow, that’s great. I will. I’m absolutely going to check that out. As a developer person but also just a person generally interested in data like this, that’s super cool.

Joe Galbo: Sure.

Joe: I think that’s really helpful for the listeners, right? Because you are creating content based on data. I think it’s really easy to just say, “Well, I thought of this content, so I’m going to put it out.” I think a central theme that’s been around other people I’ve interviewed for this season is figure out what’s going to serve your audience the best and put content out based around that. That makes it shareable and helpful, and people are going to develop trust in the information that you’re putting out.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what we’ve seen, Joe. So the fun approach, you know, when I first kind of brought this up to my supervisors and brought it up to our senior management, that was a big concern was that if we do this kind of fun social media approach, it’ll somehow harm the credibility of the agency. One of the incredible things that I saw, as soon as I was able to get people over that idea was how many people on social media started reaching out to us saying, “I actually trust you guys more because this is how you’re presenting the information to me. Because you’re presenting the information to me in a way that I find entertaining, in a way that I find useful.” And I think that is what people are looking for.

Especially when it comes to establishing trust, whether you’re a federal agency, or a company or whoever you are. They want to see you trying to meet them where they’re at. That really, really starts with knowing your audience and understanding your audience as best as you can. For me, that is supposed to be all 350 million Americans. If you’re a business owner, obviously, you’ve hopefully already thought of who your target customer is. This is the type of thing that’s tried and true. You have to understand your customer base as well as you possibly could using all the data applicable.

For us, I actually feel like my job as far as understanding Americans and what’s hurting them is fairly easy because we have a great data system that helps me do that. The average business person might not have that. You’re going to have to read a lot, you’re going to have to maybe do your own focus groups, you’re going to have to get out there and see what your competitors are doing. We do all those things, too. It’s just on top of it, I have a system that’s telling me, “Yeah, this is how many people are being injured, and this is where you should go kind of thing.” So I do consider myself as a marketer, very fortunate that I have this big database to help me do my job.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. Right, finding good sources of data is so important. I’ll link to an episode I did of this show with Ron Gijsel, who talked about taking advantage of Google Analytics, which is free, and what you can learn about what your customers or your visitors are doing on your website. Then any information more than zero will help you hone your message. So I think that’s really important.

It’s very cool to hear that doing the fun, creative campaigns has helped with the credibility of the agency. But what was it like? Again, this is maybe my personal perception, but I feel like there’s probably a lot of red tape in government. And it seems like you have a bit more autonomy than I would have expected working inside a government agency, especially the very front facing part of it.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, sure. In those early days, when they hired me right out of the gate, I said to them, “Listen, things are going to look different here. The way you’ve been doing social media hasn’t been working as well as it could. If you bring me into the position, expect a change, expect to see things that are a little bit different than what you’ve been doing.” So right away with my immediate supervisors, I was able to establish this kind of expectation that there was going to be stuff and it was going to look different than what was before.

They maybe didn’t anticipate all the talking animals. I don’t think they anticipated. I don’t think they anticipated the wild animals for human safety or the unicorns flying on the moon or the talking cats and talking dogs and all that type of stuff. There was no way they could have anticipated any of that. But I did try to establish very early on, “Hey, listen, like it’s not going to look the way you think it’s going to look.” To their credit, they were very open with that. And I can’t tell you how important it was in those early weeks and months to kind of establish a lot of trust between myself and my bosses.

What I was able to show to them was, “Yeah, I can do the serious government messaging you want. And all the serious things that you need to have happen from our social media accounts, I can do that and I could take care of that and I’m going to competently communicate incredibly important things to people when you need me to. But also, here’s a talking dog that’s going to teach people how not to set their house on fire. So I need you to support me over here too.” And figuring out that dynamic was super important.

Again, if anyone here is listening, and you are the leader of an organization, I can’t tell you how valuable it is to give your people space to be creative. That’s really what the agency has done for me is they’ve given me a lot of space to explore and try things. My role has been to kind of move on a little bit faster than the pace we were going as far as the risks were taking, but also to do it in a really calculated way. I think that’s been the thing that’s opened me up to being able to take as many liberties as I have with the messaging.

Again, it’s a partnership between what I want to do from an artistic perspective, and what they need to see from the government is doing its job perspective. So striking that balance, it did. It took a while. It took months. Absolutely in those beginning days, I had some graphics. If you’ve seen the ATV rider riding away from a [unintelligible 00:22:56] wreck promoting ATV safety and wearing a helmet, that graphic took me weeks and weeks to get approved. Because, for them, it was so out there. And for me, it was so obvious that it would be a hit on Twitter and on Instagram. And we were very far apart. It was. It was negotiating and it was calming their fears and eventually getting to a place where they’re like, “Okay, we’ll try it, and let’s see how people react.” That, of course, is the moment where I knew like, “Oh, this is going to go great.” I knew it was going to be a graphic that was really well perceived.

But yeah, it’s absolutely been really encouraging, honestly. I think one of the things that is different about CPSC from a bigger agency like the EPA or the FDA, we have a much shorter approval process. So all of my graphics have to get approved by my two immediate supervisors. They get to request changes. I’ve had to make plenty of changes on things. There’s been graphics where I make it and they approve it right away. There has been other graphics where we’re going like 10 and 15 rounds on language and on imagery, and is it the right tone? Is it the right moment?

And that’s just doing creative work. Anyone who’s maybe worked for an advertising agency, or if you’ve worked with a client, I mean, it’s essentially a very similar process. I think the biggest thing that they’ve seen that keeps this strategy alive, is the success we’ve had as far as our engagements as far as our social media followers. I mean, basically, in the span of four years, we’ve produced more engagement and more followers than the agency had in the previous like decade on social media.

Again, that type of success just can’t be ignored. It’s better for everybody when you don’t ignore it, and instead, you try to understand it, and you try to cultivate it, and you do everything you can to make it better. We have no budget, so when these graphics started rolling out and we got into a really great rhythm and then all the engagement started pouring in, it became very obvious that like, “Oh, we should keep doing this because not only are we getting a ton of attention, but we’re spending practically zero money.”

Galbo is doing this with literally the worst Stock photography account anyone could ever imagine having. So when you have that type of success, it’s just…to me, it’s like a no brainer. But again, when you’re in the government space, there are a lot of things to consider. Another big reason we chose this strategy is because CPSC has the strictest communication law in the government that it needs to kind of always keep in mind and always be beholden to. It’s a law referred to as 6(b). And basically, it’s a law that says we cannot use any creative, we cannot mention any companies without their approval first.

So for example, I would not be able to use something like a SpongeBob meme, or any other type of meme based off of creative that the agency does not have. So it does put us in this position where we do have to be very original and create things that are original because it’s literally illegal for us not to do that without getting express permission first. So it’s been interesting. For me professionally, it was a great example of like, hey, sometimes the constraints that are put on you help you be more creative. And that’s exactly what happened. I’m just thankful it worked out, honestly. I think I’m definitely surprised at how successful it’s been because the public has just embraced it in such a really great way.

Joe: Yeah. And getting buy-in from your higher-ups is so important. I think that, like you mentioned, if you manage employees, give them a little bit of freedom because they’re going to think of things that you’re not going to think of. I’m looking through the CPSC Twitterfeed right now, and I nearly laughed out loud while you were talking. There’s one that say, “Quinn the Quarantine Fox says, ‘Keep your hand sanitizer in its original bottle not in something like a maple syrup bottle — a real thing I saw someone do.'” And I thought that was extremely funny.

Joe Galbo: That’s the truth. At this point, I’ve been running the agency social media for four years now. So I’m at a point where my close friends, if they see something that they think I would find interesting, they’ll send me a picture of it. Someone literally sent me a picture of I think it was their grandmother had taken hand sanitizer and put it in a maple syrup. Obviously, it didn’t look like maple syrup. But there it was. If you weren’t paying attention, you could have just easily grabbed maple syrup and squirt it out some hand sanitizer on a pancake. That’s a good example of a real-life scenario.

Joe: That’s phenomenal. I will say like having containers clearly different and marked is good. We were at IHOP one time and my dad poured coffee on his pancakes because he thought it was…But at least it wasn’t hand sanitizer.

Man, this is really fantastic.

Joe Galbo: I’m giving you a lot. I apologize. I talk a lot.

Joe: No, dude, I totally understand. I mean, so do I. So it’s better you the guest because people hear me talk every week. I like what you said. There’s a much shorter approval process, but you do have strict communication. And then you mentioned finding the right tone. As I’m going through your feed here. I think that probably the image that stands out the most to me is the drowning stat, which obviously is inappropriate to have something funny kind of communicate the statistic. This is also from Pool Safely. right? This isn’t exactly from…Oh, which is part of?

Joe Galbo: Yes. Our Pool Safely campaign, we have an independent PR contractor who runs that social media for us. It looks very different than what we do from the CPSC.

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And now back to the show.

Joe: Again, that’s a very obvious example where I think that anybody with a little bit of common sense would know not to make light of that. But have there been times where you’ve kind of struggled with exactly how to strike the right tone?

Joe Galbo: Yeah, absolutely. Tone is something we talked about probably three or four times a week. I’ve had a number of bosses now at the agency, a number of communication directors and every single one of them, this has come up like you know, “Well what is the right tone for either specific message or for the moment?” A good example is, I think a few months ago, the agency had to put out some safety communication about in-home elevators. So there’s a problem within home elevators where kids can get trapped underneath them. Actually, the injuries are incredibly serious. So that’s a good example of an issue where it wasn’t really appropriate to use a funny graphic.

If you were to scroll back on our feed and find those graphics, you would see that they’re very straightforward. It’s a lot of text. The image is something…it’s almost like a recreation you might see like on the news. There’s no cute animal communicating safety tips about in-home elevators. Again, it’s all about what’s the right timing.

For this issue, especially the agency had just been criticized for not doing enough about the issue. This was part of our communication strategy to get the message out there. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to do something like create a mascot like we did with the quarantine. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to take, again, a flying unicorn and deliver an in-home elevator message. So we did take a more serious approach.

To me, that’s not to say that down the road, maybe we don’t try to come up with a way to do a more creative execution for in-home elevators. It was just in that moment where we’re dealing with something incredibly serious and the agency was seen as being behind on the issue. We chose to do something much more serious. I say that all the time. ATVs that’s a great example. ATVs are probably the deadliest product we regulate. ATVs kill about 600 or 700 Americans a year.

Joe: Wow.

Joe Galbo: A lot of those deaths are sadly kids under the age of 16. Again, it’s about the balance between how much is communicating the death data more effective, maybe even communicating something like “wear a helmet.” I think for any of the subjects where we’re skewing towards the prevention side, in the ATV example, “Hey, wear a helmet side,” it’s better to go creative. It’s better to do something fun, because a lot of our safety tips seem very common sense. And the situations that people find themselves in are very dire and can be very deadly. At the same time, if you’re trying to deliver a common sense message in a very plain-spoken way, people aren’t going to pay attention to it.

I think we all know that we should wear our seatbelts, right?

Joe: Right.

Joe Galbo: But if NITSA, the National Highway…I forget what it stands for. Sorry NITSA. If NITSA is going to put out a seatbelt PSA and they decide to do it with a boring execution, at this point, people are going to be like, “Well, yeah, of course, I should just wear my seatbelt. Dah, why did they even spend money on this sort of thing?” I never want us to be in that position. I never want people to see our stuff and think, “I can’t believe they did this in such a mundane and boring way.” Because my big fear is that they’re going to think that about our message anyway, you know.

And that’s, again, part of the reason why taking a more fun approach has been super helpful. Because when you see a message that says, “Hey, make sure you stand by your pan. And don’t leave your cooking alone on the stove, because it could cause a fire,” your brain doesn’t think, “Oh, well, that’s really obvious.” Instead, you’re entertained by again, either the unicorn or the talking dog or whatever. And then you receive the safety education message of, you know, “hey, stand by your pan, because most home fires are caused by unattended cooking.”

Again, it’s definitely a judgment call. Like I said, we talked about this constantly with everything I do. It’s every time we have a new thing to tackle. Beach umbrellas. You know, last year the agency had to tackle the subject of beach umbrellas. Beach umbrellas, if you don’t put them into the sand deep enough, they can blow and they can impale people. I think sadly last year, there were some very serious injuries with beach umbrellas.

Joe: Wow.

Joe Galbo: So again, that’s one of the subjects where it can be life and death. The approach we took at the time, because beach umbrella messaging was very common sense messaging, you know, it wasn’t like in-home elevators where the messaging around there was not so common sense. Beach umbrella, it’s like, hey, make sure you dig it deep enough.

So we did do a dual campaign where at the same time, we were running serious graphics. But we were also running the more fun and entertaining graphics. The joke in the fun graphics wasn’t necessarily about like, “Oh, how ridiculous is this?” It was more along the lines of “Hey, there’s something bad is happening to you, and here’s how you can approve it.” I’m not doing a good job describing it. Please find one of the beach umbrellas graphics and link to it. Because I think when you see it, it would be better understood.

Joe: Awesome. You’re absolutely right. My brother says I have no common sense. So maybe this is me. I’m looking at one right now where I feel like you have found the perfect graphic. It’s about not plugging your Space Heater into a power strip and the Space Heater looks terrified. Did you do that on purpose? It looks like two eyes and like a shocked open mouth.

Joe Galbo: Yes, yeah. What’s the rest of the graphic look? Just out of curiosity. I’ve made so many space here ones over there.

Joe: This is one. It’s with Quinn the quarantine Fox at the top. It’s orange. The text is blue. Well, it has a blue background. But it’s a white Space Heater, there’s two knobs that look like eyes and the actual heating part looks like a mouth and like you’ve positioned it. It looks like it’s terrified, which is really funny.

Joe Galbo: Absolutely. One thing I try to do, I do try to take products and turn them into different things. So we have a whole series. Actually, it’s promoting the NEISS system itself, where we have products attacking cities as monsters. I’ve one graphic where a portable generator has been turned into a Leviathan and it’s being chased by a pirate ship. We have another series of graphics where the products, again, are turned in spaceships.

I do try to take people outside of the normal world a little bit. I think taking products and giving them human qualities is a really fun way to do that. So the Space Heater that looks a little scared. Or the, again, the coffee pot that’s attacking Dallas. Those are the kinds of things I think people appreciate.

I do love product design, and I love products. One of the reasons I even looked for the position at CPSC was because once I found out what they did, I was like, “Wow, this is a really great way to maybe find a new appreciation for the stuff I own and the stuff I like to read about.” So anytime I can have an opportunity to take a product and have a little fun with it, I always try to do that.

Joe: That’s great. For my own edification, now, why shouldn’t you plug a Space Heater into a power strip? Because this whole thing I’m like, “Maybe it’s common sense but I have no idea why.”

Joe Galbo: Sure. So Lifehacker actually wrote a really great article about this I think three or four years ago, that’s still perfectly relevant. So Space Heaters and power strips, the power load is not always equal between them. So basically what happens is, you’re asking the power strip to do too much, and it just explodes. And it explodes in a glorious fashion.

Joe: Wow. Oh, my gosh. I’m looking at pictures right now.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, I was going to say you should definitely Google some photos of this because it’s kind of gnarly. The thing just kind of blows up almost like a lithium-ion battery when it expands. It’s pretty crazy looking stuff. But again, it’s the type of thing most people don’t think twice about. I mean, in my whole life, I probably was plugging Space Heaters into power strips, not even thinking about the power load between them.

Again, CPSC it’s an agency based in science and when you get into the standard side of what we do, our scientists are really in-depth on this type of stuff. There’s a lot of engineering involved, obviously. Again, if you’re a person who loves science and you’ve always thought like, “Oh, I wonder what it looks like when you’re trying to do science in regards to products,” really go to our website, take a look at our stuff. Because we produce reports about incredible, incredible things. Very engineering heavy, obviously, but also from an epidemiology standpoint, especially with our injury data, super, super fascinating reports.

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And now, back to the show.

Joe: As we come up on time here, I want to ask you—and I haven’t really prepped you for this question—so, just like things that have worked for you. What are some tips that you can give to listeners about creating some unique content? Obviously, we can’t guarantee it’s going to stand out but obviously what you’re doing for the agency works really well for you. So what are some tips that you can give the listeners?

Joe Galbo: Sure. I’m deep into pop culture. I love movies. I love TV shows. I love comic books. I read everything and I try to experience everything I can. Actually, a lot of my graphics, if you were to look at them holistically, have a very Spielberg quality to them. It’s a lot of epic imagery. It’s a lot of we’re the worlds type things. I think that’s where I pull inspiration from. I try to learn from other artists and other creators.

I’m not deep into Reddit. I’m not deep on imager. I’m not deep into meme culture, honestly. It’s kind of funny because a lot of people have looked at our stuff and been like, “Wow, look at these crazy memes this guy is producing.” For me, I mean, I guess they are, and I have described them as safety memes in the past. But it’s not like my goal. My goal is to just create a great graphic that people will find entertaining. So get deep into it creative work from other people, you know, study the Masters, study the Spielberg.

Again, I think at this point, there’s a great sense of who our great storytellers are. If you’re listening to this, you probably know of great storytellers that I’ve never even heard of before. Again, your, you’d be pulling from a whole different inspiration base than what I have to create your stuff.

Then once you kind of have that, again, think of your audience. and think, what is it that they’re looking for, that they might be looking for from my brand and what we deliver? And that’s going to be different for everybody. But I think kind of approaching it from this perspective of, “Hey, I have to be entertaining first, and then sell a product,” or “I have to be entertaining first and then educate people.” That to me was the big change when it came to my thinking about our strategy, this idea that I’m not just involved in public health or public education, I’m also partially being an entertainer. That’s how we’re going to accomplish our mission best.

Joe: Wow, I really love that. Be entertaining first. Hook your audience more importantly. Your audience, like you said, they’re looking for something. They might be looking for something. And they’re not immediately just going to go for the sale. You need to convince them that you are worth their time. And no matter what you do, or no matter how you do it, just keep that in mind.

Joe: Exactly, Joe. Again, my job every day I come to work and I say to myself, “Okay, no one cares about the Consumer Product Safety Commission. No one’s ever heard of us. No one cares about what we do. How can I make people care?” I think taking that type of, you know, hey, we’re starting from scratch, we’re starting from zero approach has just been tremendously helpful because it changes your whole frame of thinking. It puts you in a position where you say to yourself, “Okay, my future customers or my future audience don’t actually need me and don’t need anything from me. So how much harder can I try to make myself relevant to them?” Again, it just helps put everything into a much clearer perspective as far as strategy goes.

Joe: Man, I love that. I love that because it’s absolutely true. You read marketing pages for small businesses, I’m guilty of this too, and they talk about, like, “We did this with just the best material” or “I coded this with the latest programming language.” Nobody cares about that. Like nobody cares how you made it. They want to know how it’s going to help them.

Joe Galbo: Yeah, yeah, exactly. For us, especially at the agency, I always try to put the public first and I try to put…I have a lot of things because I work for the government that I don’t have to think about. We don’t have a profit line. We don’t have shareholders. All we have is the American people and our congressional representatives who oversee us. My goal is to do a great job for the American people. And if I’m seeing our engagement numbers go up, if I’m seeing our follower numbers go up, those are the types of KPIs that tell me “Hey, we’re doing okay.”

I know we’re coming up on time, but that’s a whole other discussion we could have about KPIs and the types of things you should be measuring. Again, getting back to your earlier point about Google Analytics and how you can use data wisely, it’s so easy these days to take a look at data and leverage it to help your own business. So the more you know about it, and the more you learn about it, the better off you’ll be over.

Joe: Yeah, love that. I’ll have to have you back on the show. But for now, I do need to ask my favorite question. And as I’ve said previously on the show, this collides a little bit with the tips for listeners, but I’ve asked it in every episode, so I need to ask it to you. Do you have any trade secrets for us? And this is not like government secrets honestly, but something that works for you that you think is helpful, but it’s not said enough.

Joe Galbo: It’s not really a trade secret, but I do think being self-critical and being open to criticism and being your own worst critic, the importance of that cannot be overstated. No one is harder on my work than me. Even when I create something that does well, I still spend time picking out the things about it that are awful. The things I would have done differently, the things I would do differently if I was a more talented designer, if I had more resources if I had more time.

When you do that type of thing, what it does is, when you do have to face public criticism, either from your bosses or in my case, specifically the general public, it puts you in a position where there’s not really much else awful things people could say because you have already picked your own work apart to the point where you know exactly how it could have been better.

I think the other thing that a lot of people have woken up to, especially recently given the protests and everything that’s happened with George Floyd, you know, I’m a straight white dude who has lived his life with a ton of privilege, and my perspective is clouded by that. So, one thing I am working on now for myself is trying to find ways to expose myself to different works to, again, different creators, people who do not look like me and did not grow up in the type of environment I grew up in so that I can learn more certainly. But also in my work that’s meant to reach 300 million Americans, make sure I’m representing those people as well, and not skewing my work towards my worldview, which again, has been frankly, very limited from where I grew up and the type of person I am.

So I think that is probably the biggest shift we’re going to see, especially in advertising over the next few years. Diversity has always been a big talking point, but I don’t think communication professionals, on the whole, have done as good a job at truly implementing what you can learn from a diverse team into actual work. I think a few companies have done an exceptional job. I don’t know if there’s any government agency that’s truly done an exceptional job, but I think there’s a new appreciation for that now, and there’s new appreciation for what different people can bring to a communication environment. I’m excited actually to see where we go with that. Because I do think it’s absolutely what should be happening in the present and will play a huge role in the future.

Joe: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you just said. Being self-critical and open to criticism. I feel that there’s a little bit too much weight on “let’s make everybody feel good.” I think people say facts over feelings, but I think that criticizing your own work and being open to criticism will make you a better person, just like being open to other perspectives and having the hard conversation will make you a better person with a better perspective where you can more effectively communicate to other people. So everything you just said I agree wholeheartedly with. And I think it’s really important as someone just like you who grew up basically in the same town who had this pretty much the same exact upbringing as you.

Joe Galbo: It’s funny to have left, where we grew up from, and to have lived in different areas. There’s that saying, “You truly don’t know a place until you leave it.” I’ve certainly had that feeling a lot over the past few years. But yeah, Joe, I forget who said it. One of the great advertisers working today said, “You want to be passionate about your work, but you don’t want to take it personally.” And I always try to remember that because I am very passionate and I love what I do, and I fight for my silly ideas whenever I can, but at the same time you’re not going to win every battle. You just have to be able to take criticism and move on. I think anybody who does anything creative could probably appreciate that.

Joe: Absolutely. Well, that’s great. Joe, thanks so much for coming on the show. If people want to learn more, where can they find you?

Joe Galbo: Sure. I would highly recommend you follow CPSC on social media. We are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The handle is at @USCPSC. I didn’t get into government to promote myself. So I don’t share my personal Twitter account. And since this is in my official capacity, I won’t share it here. But yeah, if you want to stay on top of what we’re doing at the agency, definitely follow us on social media. Definitely subscribe for Recall Emails on cpsc.gov. And if you ever want to chat about anything here, just shoot me an email at my work email address, which is Jgalbo@cpsc.gov. I’m sure Joe can provide you guys a link to that.

Joe: Yes, I will link to that and everything that we talked about in the show notes over at How I Built It. Joe, thanks so much for joining me today.

Joe Galbo: Thank you for having me, Joe. This was a lot of fun. Really, really appreciate it, man.

Outro: Thanks so much to Joe or Joseph for joining us this week. I love a lot of the tips that he talked about. I mean, first of all, he said he’s deep into pop culture, which, if you are a longtime listener of the show, you’ll know that’s also the case for me. But think about your audience and what it is they’re looking for and what they want to get from you. I think this is super important.

Then he also talks about how you have to be entertaining first and then educate people. Which, again, if we translate that into maybe something you’re doing, make sure you have their attention by giving them a quick win and showing that you’re there for them and not just trying to sell them something. Thanks again to Joe for taking the time to be with us today.

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