Qualities of a Successful PIO

Lately, I’ve been interviewing folks for an open position on my staff. The resumes I’ve received and interviews I’ve had so far have been amazing. If you’re looking to fill a position, now is a great time to do it. This post, though, isn’t about my interviews or the position, but my searching to fill the position has prompted to think about what qualities I’m looking for the fill that role.

That thought process has made me think about what types of qualities would make for a successful PIO. Now, understand that this is just a shot in the dark; if you can think of any I might have missed, or there are any that you disagree with, please let me know.

My first thought was quick-thinking. A successful PIO must be able to think on their feet. From a fickle public, to changing media priorities (even within a single interview) to the audacious scope of material and topics the he or she is considered the “go-to” person on, the PIO must be able to skip mentally from complex topic to complex topic without breaking stride–or a sweat. If you’re the type of person who needs time to digest questions and formulate responses, this job might not be for you (though, admittedly, there are techniques that can help with this, you can imagine what the media thinks of a PIO that constantly deflects).

Next, I thought of creativity. While this is similar to being able to think quickly, I find that it’s not covered by it totally. Creativity implies being able to develop novel means of dealing with a situation (for artists, that situation is painting, dancing or writing; for the PIO, it’s developing and delivering messages). A unique view of a response that does not compromise that response will sate a veteran reporter and your responders while serving to amply inform the public.

Next is that PIOs must be easy to work with. Have you ever known a real bastard PIO? Tell me, how long did they last in that position? Many people view the PIO as an intermediary between subject matter experts and the media. Pissing off either (or both) is not a good way to do that.

The next one I thought of isn’t something that all PIOs agree with. I think that the next ten years, however, will show how important tins really is. PIOs should be forward-thinking, or anticipatory. The ability to see situations before they develop into disasters is something that any executive will appreciate, but I think this goes further than just that. A PIO should be able to proactively develop beneficial relationships and partnerships as well as willing to explore new avenues for communication, be they technological or personal.

The final two I considered are small, but just as essential to their success. A PIO should be assertive; one cannot meekly conduct a press conference. By the same token, one must be able to speak up to their executive if something is wrong, or needs to be addressed, or addressed differently. And finally, they must be a quick-study. The ability to read something complex and distill out the essential points in a short amount of time, while not critical, will make it much easier to act effectively as PIO.

Now, please, what do you think?