Posts From January, 2013

The wisdom of our peers 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:22:00 PM

Political campaigns have always amused me, whether it be the contest for President, Governor or a local office. All politicians sound like they have all the answers to every problem known to man, and if you will vote for them, everything will be fine.

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Politicians - like the rest of us - put their pants on one leg at a time. Part of what I value about my participation with NACIO is that I learn so much just be interacting with PIOs and public affairs directors from across the country. A good Public Information Office does know a lot about media relations, but even the best PIOs are always stretching themselves to learn more.

Several months ago, I started a thread on the LinkedIn website asking on advice on responding to media inquires for local government employees who don't typically deal with reporters. I got a lot of interesting tidbits that I thought I would share with my fellow NACIO members.

The overwhelming piece of advice mentioned by several posters was to prepare for the interview. In fact, most folks who mentioned this repeated the word "prepare" several times - the point being that you cannot be over-prepared for an interview. There is an old military maxim that sums up this point - time spent in reconnaisance is seldom time wasted.

Here are some other good pieces of advice:

  • Don't go "off the record."
  • Don't wear sunglasses! 
  • Always close with a positive takeaway message.
  • Remember that the camera is always rolling, so answer every question asked by the reporter 
  • It is imperative to respond quickly to a reporter's call, but not imperative that you answer a reporter's question with that first call back. (This is a great piece of advice. Many folks not accustomed to working with the media will panic when they realize a reporter is on the other end of the phone and start babbling. Take some time to prepare - see point No. 1 above - and then call the reporter back once you have figured out what you want to say.)
  • Never say "No Comment."
  • Tell the truth. As a good friend of mine was fond of saying, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember what you said."
  • Deadlines don't exist any more. Social media and the Internet have eliminated the concept of deadlnes, so if a crisis occurs, be ready to get your message out immediately.



Top 10 reasons a county should have a PIO 

Friday, January 4, 2013 7:54:00 AM

Over the next few years, I would like to see NACIO develop some resources so that local elected officials will have a better understanding of the value of public information and public information officers. I recently submitted to the listserv a request for folks to send to me their top reasons why a county should hire a PIO.

Thank you to all who submitted ideas. Below is the list we came up with. If you have an idea you would like to see included, please email it to me. Eventually, I want to develop a set of resources that will help county officials understand the value of a dedicated, trained and professional PIO.

  1. "Information to the people ... is the most legitimate engine of government." (Thomas Jefferson). There is no more important function than providing information to the people. Why trust someone else to do that for you?
  2. Citizens need to know the full gamut of work done by the county, and by their elected officials, to make smart judgments about the government “by and for the people” in a democracy.
  3. Don’t leave it up to the traditional media to determine what is news. A good PIO can not only influence media coverage, but can also help generate positive publicity using a county’s internal media outlets (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, website, etc.)
  4. Outsourcing PR and marketing duties is more expensive and less cohesive. Branding and marketing are synergized and more effective when using your own staff. Your own PR staff understands your organization better and is more loyal and committed to it.
  5. A PIO can get out good, positive news about what’s going on in your county to help to balance the times when there is a negative story. If people only see the negative, they think that’s all the county is about.
  6. A PIO can provide training and guidance for elected officials and management staff on working with the media, especially during a crisis or a potentially damaging story.
  7. A PIO can save money by preventing many problems that stem from NO external communication or very poor communication. Time and again, important public efforts end up costing more time and money when the public is not informed in a timely and effective manner. When that happens, as it does all too often, PIOs can be instrumental in resolving the problems.
  8. A continuous supply of credible, easy-to-understand information is necessary to obtain and maintain public input and support. PIOs don't just get information OUT. We also help get information IN to the county. Informed citizens get involved and make positive contributions to policy development and service delivery.
  9. A good PIO can also manage internal communications. Informed employees provide better service and serve as ambassadors for the county in the community; they inform others - neighbors, relatives, friends - who ask them all sorts of questions about the county.
  10. Through constructive communication, the county becomes more effective, efficient, and sustainable, and partnerships are forged to leverage public and private resources, including people and expertise.