What I learned at Advanced PIO, part 1

Note: This is a multipart series discussing some of the lessons learned from attending the Advanced PIO Course at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, MD. I attended the course in February 2018.

Strategic communications is a thing.

I would never call myself a planner. I am someone who loves to dream up a fun idea and then just go do it. There is so much satisfaction in seeing creativity come to life rapidly.

I always had a sense that planning is important, but that it is so easy to plan yourself to death and never get anything done.

The first time I felt that I could be an advocate for planning came during an emergency management exercise a few years ago. During the exercise, I received a request for a certain type of news release. And lo and behold, I had a pre-scripted version of that news release ready to go. I just had to change a few details. The amount of time that one pre-scripted news saved woke me up to the possibilities.

Fast forward to 2018 in Emmitsburg.

In the new E388 – Advanced PIO Course (see upcoming offerings here), the instructors really hammer home the need for strategic communications planning. They take you through the process step-by-step so that you can fully assess the situation, and set SMART goals, identify your audiences and tailor specific messages to them.

8 steps of communications

During the week, I saw strategic planning work. And I began finding myself making a strategic plan for certain things that I could do once I returned to work. Here’s a picture of a strategic plan I started drafting for conducting outreach to our Spanish-speaking community in my state:

draft strategic communications plan

We have a way to go with this plan, but identifying our audiences is a great first step. Next step is to work on specific messages and channels for each segment for each audience.

When I returned to work, I met with a co-worker who is struggling with a project and asked for help. And I found myself suddenly taking her through the strategic planning cycle. We identified a mission, set goals, identified the audiences, and identified the messages those audiences would need. So now, the next step is to develop the materials for those audiences. And the stuff we are working on… it’s pretty exciting.

Hearing the strategic planning guidance come out of my mouth made me realize that I am now converting to someone who plans and who relishes a good plan. And if I can be someone who uses that plan as a map to accomplish great things, so can you.

How about you? What has strategic planning done for you? If you have plans you are willing to share, we can make them available here and give you a nice shoutout.

Joe Dougherty is the founder of ArtOfPIO and works full time as PIO of the Utah Division of Emergency Management. He tweets from @PIO_Joe


Summer site updates

We’ve been hard at work this summer making progress at building out the resources on this site.

Remember, this site is for PIOs from PIOs. So if there’s something you need or want, let us know.

Updates for July include:

  • A new page with links to professional associations, both nationally and in the states. If your state’s PIO association (formal or informal) is missing, let us know here:

  • We’ve also added a page that includes links to online and classroom training information for PIOs and conferences around the nation. Again, if yours is missing, let us know using the form above.

Well, that’s it for now! Thanks for all you do in service to your communities.


What Would You Do? News roundup for August 12, 2014

Just a sample of news happening around the continent that could, maybe,  just maybe, perhaps, involve a PIO.

It’s a chance for you to think about how you would respond given a similar event.


 1. Robin Williams’ passing has saddened many as the world mourns the loss of a funny man and a talented actor.

At some point there will be a funeral, which has the potential to be a very public event.

  • How will such an event affect the public?
  • What information will they need to know, such as road closures?
  • Where will you get information?
  • If you were the local PIO, who would you reach out to first?

2. Ebola patients are being treated in the United States. It is unlikely that the disease will spread, but …

If an outbreak of Ebola or some other communicable disease occurs, how prepared are you?

  • Where are your sources of information?
  • What relationships do you have with your local or state health department or the CDC for getting info?
  • What tools do you have for getting information out to the public?

That should be enough to freak you out for now. What can you do to get better today?

 — @PIO_Joe