Interview: Scott Meyer – Digital Program Manager – Olathe, Kansas

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…and on the eastern side of Kansas.

Imagine you’re riding a big brown horse in the middle of a fading sunset over a giant field of purple flowers. The wind is lightly blowing and the sound of distant animals produces an amazing natural symphony. That’s what a man in the middle of the 19th century experienced while traveling from the East and arriving in what’s now Olathe, Kansas. He thought it was so beautiful that the area should be named just that. The word “Olathe” – pronounced: “O-lay-tha” – means beautiful in the language of the Shawnee Indians, who are the Native Americans of the land.

Contrary to the beautiful scenes in the area, life in the early days of Olathe was a struggle; the city was essentially created twice because of the Civil War. It was considered a third-class city after a significant amount of destruction from the war, and half of the population was less than 21 years old. On the brighter side, they did build the Institute for the Blind and Deaf. Not too long after the construction, the city amplified its culture and social status through art. With help from the hard-working agriculture profession, those three aspects placed Olathe into a second-class city.

Through progress, there are always a couple of steps backward. For Olathe, those steps were drought, tornadoes, lack of business regulation, and social concerns among many others. However, the people didn’t give up. A technology movement introduced steam heat, electric lights, phones, natural gas, and other technologies of the time. Olathe was on the verge of booming.

At the beginning of the 20th century, they built their first city hall and made it legal for women to vote. School enrollment continued to rise and libraries were becoming filled. Lake Olathe began to attract people from around the area but what really increased the population was the presence of the military, which also increased home values. Nearing the middle of the 20th century, an incredible amount of buildings were being constructed including a new courthouse, a post office, a hospital, and a new elementary school.

The completion of their main interstate, I-35, helped establish Olathe as an economic hotspot. King Radio built a new plant there. Safeway made a new location, and a number of retail stores were constructed. It’s now the mid-late part of the 20th century and Olathe becomes a first-class city.

Mcdonald’s built a location (which obviously is the first sign of a first-class city) and other retail locations quickly followed, including a Town Hall Shopping Center. The culture began to heighten again, introducing “The Daily News” in a new location and a community theater. The only problem that Olathe had was that they were growing too fast – overcrowding in schools, traffic problems, and no plans around parks, streets, and sanitation.

Nearing the turn of the century, council meetings began to be broadcast. Olathe is finally able to catch up to its rapid growth. The city developed seven new elementary schools, a junior high, and a high school. In what I consider a symbol of serenity within chaos, a Japanese businessman donated over 200 Cherry Blossom trees. In 2001, the city crossed 100,000 in population and also adopted its first strategic plan.

Olathe has seen the importance of planning. I’d consider communicating with residents to be one of the more interesting jobs; having to find the best ways to get and give information isn’t always an easy task. With a current population of nearly 140,000 residents, I had to reach out to someone who’s in charge of how the communication happens with the residents in Olathe. Scott Meyer was the Digital Communications Manager when I initially reached out to ask some questions. Since then, he’s moved to the Digital Program Manager, in charge of implementing digital strategies across multiple technologies that will engage and provide residents with their information.

Downtown Olathe, Kansas

An Interview with Scott Meyer:

The first thing I noticed about Scott is that he’s a big sports guy, like myself. He’s worked in media relations for athletic teams and held the Director of Communications position for CAA Football. I sensed that home was in Kansas but he spent nearly a decade in Virginia, so I had to ask him was his favorite sports organization was:

Kansas City Royals (MLB)…The local connection is one of the main reasons, but a closer look at the inner workings of the organization shows a deep belief in people/relationships/family. So often professional sports can lean toward big business, and I don’t believe the Royals lose sight of that – I just feel like they truly care for their employees (players and support staff are on the same) and the families behind those individuals.

A lot of times you do see the values of sports organizations dwindle behind the sight of money and growing the business. It’s good that Scott’s been able to scope out the fact that the Royals don’t do this and that they really put an emphasis on the employees and staff – ultimately running a better organization than the ones with more money.

Scott actually worked in positions around sports organizations before transitioning to the public sector. I have an interest in Marketing in all industries, so I asked him what patterns or themes he noticed when marketing for those sports organizations that he was able to bring over to the public sector:

I’ve tried to impress upon the public sector that constant change isn’t a bad thing. The public sector doesn’t always embrace change, and if they do it often takes an overwhelming amount of time. Now that I’ve been in the public sector for as long as I have I’ve learned to temper my expectations while still thinking forward – trying to create efficiencies and embracing “new ideas”, without overwhelming those that don’t take well to change.

And that’s one of the ideas that I hope to influence in working with local government employees; I hope to make change more comfortable. Although the industry has pushed back hard, it’s good to see that people like Scott don’t give up and continue to think of new ways to approach the same difficult situations.

We all know that there are many different media outlets, from podcasts to news channels to social media. As an experienced marketer and one with expertise in digital marketing, I had to ask him what his favorite media outlet is and why:

Hard to say really…I probably rely most heavily on the various forms of social media – for daily news and knowledge as well as entertainment. Twitter for the news as I want to see it and in the topics I prefer to follow. IG leans more toward entertainment and influential brands that I am curious about. Facebook is for staying connected to friends and family who may not be near in proximity. My wife is into TikTok, but I haven’t adopted it. As far as its involvement in work, I’ve moved away from the “content” role and now am more in the technology embracing idea. Each of these outlets, in addition to the emerging outlets, have a place in how we reach customers and prospective employees. I am now focused on how do we listen in to the conversations and engagement as it relates to Olathe – how can our Communications personnel be present in those conversations; how can our Customer Experience teams manage and use those conversations to learn sentiment if they involve topics relating to services we’ve provided.

I think those are fantastic questions to ask. And one additional answer that I might try to find is which outlets are the residents using to communicate. Although there was a switch from the content creation side of things to more of the technical work, Scott’s emphasizing the importance of finding the best ways to connect and build relationships with the residents.

I respect his viewpoints, which is one of the reasons why I chose to interview Scott. He’s worked in communications positions that I hope to work in one day. As an inquisitive person myself, I asked him what insights he could share with a future local government Communications Director:

I think the biggest insight that I can share is being able to analyze data and connect a plethora of data points. Local governments can create stories to aid in humanizing the services they provide, but in the end, customers come to their local government for service. How can we analyze the data to know what those customers want, where they want it, and if it is working to their approval? With that data comes directions to improve and ultimately more stories to be told of success, advancements, and experience.

I haven’t been selling and marketing in the public sector for much longer than a year, but it’s awesome to see the connections in strategies among various industries. Connecting the dots is an important part of storytelling and being able to lead with a vision.

Speaking of vision, Scott came back to Kansas for a reason after living in Virginia for a bit. I wanted to dive deeper into why he made that leap back home, what inspired him to become involved in local government, and what changes he wants to see in his home state, so I asked him:

I really was just looking for a job after my family moved back home from Richmond, VA. I had a communications background, rooted in the digital area. Olathe was working to transform the way it serviced its customers online so it was a great fit. I work in government, but I am not the biggest follower of government as a whole. People think I am a bit odd in that regard…I pay more attention to where I came from – college/professional sports – than I do to the government! I really can’t answer your question about changes at the state level. My biggest hope for any and all governments is to embrace change for the better – digital transformation is upon us, but that doesn’t mean we are leaving the underserved or underrepresented populations behind. We have to find ways to make change happen for all populations so everyone benefits.

After hearing that, it helped solidify how aligned our ideas are behind working in local government. It’s not necessarily about the politics that draws us in, it’s about the skill set that’s been acquired and how it can be applied to an industry that’s far behind.

And to speak on those skills, I asked him what are the most important skills that help him do his job:

Relationship skills, listening skills – not a day goes by that I don’t have to listen for understanding and listen to learn. If I can do that effectively then I’ve built a relationship with someone to the point they can trust me and I trust them.

The Fifth Habit to Highly Effective People is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”, and it seems like Scott’s great at applying that methodology. Listening is the most important part of communicating and building relationships.

On top of the skills that are important in doing the job correctly, I like to know which tools (books, software, planners, people, etc.) that people use in order to help their tasks run smoother and more efficiently, so I asked him what he uses:

Interesting question…I’m not a big book reader. From time to time I’ll read various technical articles on Communication/Engagement; some of which involve tools that are emerging. I try to stay on top of emerging technologies and the way individuals work/play inside of those technologies. I’m a firm believer that technology can aid everyone in the way they live their lives so I am constantly looking for technologies to make me more efficient whether that be at work or at home.

There are so many tools out there to help with any process (and if you can’t find one, build one!), so it’s difficult to pick just a couple. Finding the best tools for your municipality/department is something that should be done yearly or within your 3-5 years strategic plan.

I wanted to continue with the theme of efficiency, specifically in gaining feedback from residents, so I asked him what he does to accomplish that task:

This is something we constantly ask within our organizational groups…it’s not just receiving feedback, but more so the effectiveness of it. Our 311 platform is a great example of areas to improve in the way we receive feedback. Our old standards were focused solely on responding/handling the request. All is well and good, but was the customer satisfied with the resolution provided? The customer had to reach out to find the answer or get something solved…was that step in their process the first thing they did or was it the 10th thing they did in search of assistance. What is the customer journey? Those are the types of things we are now focused on – and on top of that, learning sentiment in the various ways customers interact with our city. That could be by phone, 311, email, social media, chat, etc. All of these are effective ways, but the key now is how do you analyze that data so it paints a bigger/better picture for our organization?

It sounds like “putting yourself in their shoes” goes much further than trying to convince someone to apologize! That’s the type of data that you want to collect and use to paint a picture.

Even though there’s an abundance of tools to help folks in their marketing and communication roles, there’s always room for improvement in each individual situation. I asked Scott what would make his job easier:

My job would be easier if everyone thought and acted like me!! The reality is that will never be the case…we are all human and the job I’m in is directly connected to human beings both internally and externally. That is the part that makes it the most fun/challenging/rewarding. I appreciate and welcome challenges and recognize that everyone I work with is unique in their own way – it allows me to embrace challenges and changes, and find ways to help.

That’s a common answer to this question – everyone thinks they’re perfect; I’m the same way. I’d love it if everyone was as hardworking and empathetic as myself, and I think the world would benefit… I wouldn’t doubt having more Scotts in Olathe would increase productivity.

To close it out, I had to remind him that he has the best position in local government and the most important role, simply because the communication between a local government and the residents is the top priority. I asked him what he’d say to other Communications Directors to convince them of this:

I’d say this is mostly true, but Comms personnel only know what they know. We have to remain informed, be able to listen and receive feedback, and funnel those items to the subject matter experts who can make an impact going forward. The one thing I will say about that statement though is that Comms people can make an impact internally, and help all our local govt employees feel empowered to be part of the communications channel. So many frontline employees interact with our customers on a daily basis. If they aren’t informed or don’t feel empowered to share knowledge then we’ve done them a disservice because they can’t build that relationship with our customers. That then goes back to the ways in which we receive feedback – we oftentimes overlook the face-to-face interactions!

Scott Meyer: Olathe, Kansas

Olathe, Kansas: In Conclusion

It’s interesting to think of what the future holds in that beautiful city on the eastern side of Kansas. The growth has been outstanding since its conception and the momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Olathe has prided itself on the culture and the strong community among residents. They have plenty of community initiatives to keep the city from being complacent; anything from “Third-grade programs” to “construction projects” to “Olathe Teen Council”. Find more ways to get involved in the Olathe community.

There’s no question why Olathe has been awarded over 120 awards in the last decade. On top of being identified as one of the best places to live in the central United States, a couple of others that the city has won are the “NAACP Diversity Advocate in Government Award“, “ICMA Certificate of Excellence for Performance Measurement“(x2), and “Greenest City Award for the state of Kansas” just in the last couple of years. Check out the other 116+ awards that they’ve won.

To sum it up, just keep doing what they’re doing. The employees have established multiple plans for the future, one of which is Olathe 2040 and it highlights the city’s plans through the year 2040.

View a more detailed version of their history.

Take a look at the Olathe comprehensive plan and others through the Kansas page on our website. Join the community in Kansas to talk with other members of local government and find out what’s working!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.