You are the new public information officer, or public affairs officer, or communications director or specialist or outreach officer or
spokesman spokesperson. Perhaps you applied for the job, or volunteered, or were voluntold, or just plain assigned to the job. Maybe you’re a recovering journalist?
Regardless, it’s you.
You’re the one your co-workers will point to when they refer to “the media.” You’re the one who may end up on camera, in print, online or on social media or all of the above. We’re here to say congratulations!
You have the unique opportunity to represent the ideas, interests and work that make your agency or organization great. You have a chance to tell your community, stakeholders or the world what great work your tremendous co-workers do. You may have to handle the occasional bad news. Or you may have bad news all the time. You may be in a position of having to rebuild credibility and trust with the community or news media.
Are you feeling pressure right now? Or are you feeling optimistic? Or both?
Both feelings are normal and OK. The important thing is to remember that you are not alone in this. There are dozens of people, probably nearby, who want to lend a hand — who can stop you from reinventing the wheel.
Two things to consider as you get started:
1. Get training
This is the part where PIOs who have already had their baptism by fire smirk or roll their eyes and launch into their baptism story. But for everyone else, get training. Each state’s emergency management agency offers training to emergency responders, school district personnel, hospital staffers or anyone else who may find themselves starring down the barrel of a shotgun microphone. Contact your state’s EMA and ask about training for PIOs. Consider FEMA’s Public Information Officer Awareness course IS-29 as a starter. Don’t forget about Basic PIO (G290). We’ll post course dates as we get them on Twitter. Look for more training ideas and courses in the future.
2. Reach out
This may be the uncomfortable part because no one wants to say those three dreaded words: “I need help.”
We have a saying that PIOs need to leave their egos at the door during a Joint Information Center activation. Leave it at the door now when you are starting out and need some help. Just ask. People want to help. They want to like you. Make some phone calls, follow some people on Twitter.
Welcome to this great world of public information. Many of us who have started on this path haven’t looked back. It won’t be long before you are congratulating some new PIO to a job with your story of how you remember when you started.
For now, take the job and run with it. You were selected because someone trusts you. You have something special.
So, yeah. It’s you.