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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Communication is the backbone of being a successful PIO

Interview for a news story.
I’m a Public Information Officer or PIO for short. It’s basically public relations for a governmental entity. A PIO’s job is to share information with the community. We do so in a number of ways. We write press releases, speeches, talking points, articles and blogs. We provide community outreach and create educational campaigns. We craft messages to provide critical information to the public. We do interviews with reporters. We network with other PIOs.

The last one is crucial to being a good PIO because informal communication is an integral part of our job. At the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) our jobs get busy when an emergency or disaster strikes, which is no time to call a bunch of people that I do not know asking for help.

Getting together when there are no emergencies or disasters is the best way to build relationships. So when that disaster does hit, not only will I know who to call, but I’ll have a better idea of how they can help. And just as important, they will know who I am and understand my needs.

State and county PIOs participating
 in  a drill.
The State of Arizona has more than 800 PIOs representing state, county, city, tribal, police and fire, hospitals, schools, military and volunteer agencies. Each one does a great job working together and building those important relationships.

Last summer, when the Slide Fire was burning in Coconino County, PIOs representing 13 state, county, federal and volunteer agencies held daily conference calls to share information and discuss communication needs for the community. The calls were civil and productive, and it was helpful to know the people behind the voices.

The Slide Fire conference calls are an excellent example of PIOs working together to discuss whatever the problem may be and to determine who needs to do what.

Arizona PIOs have ample opportunities to get together to share information, network, and learn from each other. 

The Arizona Information Officers Association was created so Arizona PIOs could meet regularly to train, network and discuss issues and concerns.

2015 PIO Symposium
Arizona Public Service (APS) and Arizona State University (ASU) team up every year for the Arizona Public Information Officer Symposium. The symposium draws close to 200 PIOs each year with keynote speakers, panel discussions, and networking time allotted.

One of this year’s keynote speakers was Fernanda Santos, Phoenix Bureau Chief for the New York Times. Santos talked about the importance of the relationship between the media and PIOs. “We can be powerful allies,” she said. “Our jobs are interconnected and interdependent. We need each other. We all want to get the job done well and right.”

As a PIO, I spend time participating in exercises and drills to prepare for potential emergencies at DEMA, working through incidents with partners from multiple agencies and organizations. Developing those relationships with other Public Information Officers is just one more way to prepare for that potential crisis. 

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