3 Proven Ways to Thrive as a Public Information Officer

For those in any type of communications role, you could be called to serve as your agency’s PIO at a moment’s notice. Are you prepared?

Public information officers, or PIOs, are the communications coordinators or spokespersons of certain governmental organizations — particularly during an emergency. They are typically a “one-man-band” or serve their agency as a PIO part-time.

In the event of a communications crisis, PIOs are often expected to arrive quickly on the scene, gather facts and then distribute those facts to the media, who are usually first on the scene of an incident. Like many other industries, PIOs can sometimes work late nights and early mornings during a crisis or natural disaster. The only difference is that their off-hours may include the added pressure of being camera-ready.

Here are three proven ways to thrive as a public sector PIO:

1. Provide sources relevant info. Media pros are busy and usually work under tight deadlines. Make their job easier by being a valuable resource to them. A few examples may include:

  • Sharing contacts of those who may be good additional sources for a story
  • Providing quality, high-resolution graphics as appropriate for story packages
  • Being responsive and forthcoming with information, yet not allowing the media to control your timeline or message

2. Develop a message; deliver it clearly.

  • Have three points. Know your points and refer to them in a pinch. Remain relaxed and personable, but don’t get too comfortable.
  • Speak clearly and succinctly. Don’t over-explain. Remember your TV and digital media outlets only need a clip of sound, so speak in brief yet complete statements.
  • At the end of the interview when you’re asked: “Is there anything I forgot to ask, or anything you’d like to add?” Say something! This is your opportunity to drive home what you want viewers to walk away with. Clearly and succinctly reiterate your three points, keeping in mind this ending of the interview may be the clip used in the reporter’s story package.
  • If you don’t know, don’t guess. Let the reporter know you’ll check into their question and follow up soon after the interview.

3. Prepare a ‘go-kit’. You’re always on the go as a PIO. Keep the essentials on hand to make life easier, especially when you’re working a crisis. These may vary by person, but most kits should include:

  • Electronics: laptop, camera, cell phone, audio recorder, extension cord, earbuds, cell phone camera mounts and speakers. Don’t forget the chargers and batteries, including a juiced-up portable charger.
  • The basics: Notepads, pens, business cards.
  • Loaded flash drive: Easily store important documents, media kits, fact sheets and contact lists on a portable device.
  • Apparel: Change of clothes, rain jacket, hat, sneakers, socks.
  • Personal: Cleansing wipes, hair ties, comb/brush, tissues, a painkiller.
  • Food and drinks: Bottled water, granola bars, trail mix, dried fruit. Throw in peppermints or cough drops to help prep your speaking voice.

Remember: when it’s go time, channel the public speaker or spokesperson you’d like to emulate and deliver your message with confidence.

Kelda Senior is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a business development and accredited public relations professional from Florida. For the past 10 years, Kelda has served as a communications and community outreach specialist in local, state and federal government, with an emphasis on the transportation sector since 2012. Kelda is the owner of Senior Communications LLC, a boutique public relations firm focused on helping emerging brands cultivate their message and move their audiences to action. Kelda holds a B.A. in journalism and a master of public administration – both from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. You can read her posts here.

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