One of my interns asked me to help with a class assignment. Sharing this Q&A in case it might be helpful to others interested in the field of PR or government.
1. Please briefly describe the duties and responsibilities associated with your position and give the name of the profession?
I am the communications director for a large department (bureau) of an agency within the federal government. The scope of my duties includes external and internal communication.
2. In your opinion can you briefly describe public relations? What are the general goals? What would you say are the usual techniques for achieving them?
Public relations is the practice of obtaining third-party endorsement, particularly by the media. The goal is to enhance the client’s reputation and therefore marketability to their customers. The usual techniques involve writing official press releases, and subsequently calling or emailing reporters and editorial representatives.
Some PR specialists work in the field of crisis management and so their focus is on helping clients navigate situations where their reputation is at risk, by managing their presence on broadcast media. Another specialization is event planning, trade shows, and so on as events tend to generate press.
A newer focus that has gone mainstream is social media, although in the blogosphere there is additional focus on the authenticity and objectivity of the speaker – so PR representatives face a level of distrust that undermines their job if not handled skillfully. It’s a very difficult job but addictive if you enjoy it.
3. Would you describe your position as a managerial position, or a technical position?
It’s a combination of technical, and coordination between various offices.
4. How would you describe the goal of your work in relation to public relations? Are you trying to create a specific image? Maintain an existing one? Create a specific relationship with certain publics?
Our goal is to provide accurate information in a manner that is both clear and engaging.
5. How would you describe the goal of your work internally? Does your work have an effect on morale? What type of message if any, do you communicate to shareholders?
Internally our #1 goal is to make our employees’ jobs easier by providing them with a coordinated communication service that supports them operationally. That way, when they are asked to provide information to the public they can do that quickly and effectively. Our second goal is to engage employees as part of a unified bureau. Our third goal is to raise the profile of communication as a critical skill that enhances all the other work that we do.
6. What types of strategies are you employing to achieve said goals?
The strategies we use are customer-driven. When people (externally or internally) ask for things over and over again, it means that there is a pain point. When you solve the problem once, you also learn about how to develop solutions they may need in the future. That is what we want to focus on the most. The language we use to talk about that is customer service.
7. What skills would you say are most relevant to your work?
The #1 skill in PR is the ability to synthesize an incredible amount of incoming information to generate actionable insight.
8. What training/education helped you to achieve this position? In what ways did that education prepare you for the real world? In what ways if any were you surprised when entering the actual occupational field?
Studying sociology, in addition to writing, was great preparation. But the best education is always outside the classroom. I learned most of what I know from life experience – internships, reading, and also from interactions with my family.
9. How would you say the nature of your organization in terms of profit/non-profit effects how you do your job?
Working for the government means that you are accountable to the taxpayer, and it’s a responsibility that I take extremely seriously. We are under more scrutiny than those in the private sector as well. So there is a heightened sense of transparency and accountability (even if the public does not believe that). Also, there is a stereotype that government employees don’t work as hard, and are not as qualified. If you take yourself seriously you have to work harder, produce more, and demonstrate that the environment in which you work not only doesn’t negatively affect your skills but in fact enhances them (which is true, for me at least).
10. Are there any examples of media used for purposes of public relations, or internal relations that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
A guide to contracting that we distribute to the public in direct response to their need for greater accessibility of information. This is exactly what good public relations does – provides useful information that is real, accurate and helpful to the audience. In the end those efforts are what enhance the reputation of the client.